Formula 1 green racing car
Charlotte Birchall

Charlotte Birchall

Charlotte a Digital Marketing Specialist. She has a wealth of marketing experience under her belt, and there is no-one better at finding their way around automations.

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From Mercedes to McLaren - a brief history of the British Grand Prix's best bits.

We countdown our top five memorable moments from Silverstone's seventy-one year history.

One of the most established and well attended fixtures in the Formula 1 calendar, the British Grand Prix, was back with a bang this month, welcoming fans to the iconic Silverstone track once again after a spectator blackout owing to COVID-19.

First held in 1926, the 190.26-mile race was made annual way back in 1948. It was officially recognised as a round of the FIA F1 World Championship shortly afterwards in 1950 - the same year that Silverstone became its home. 

In subsequent years, the event has certainly seen its fair share of thrills and spills that have undoubtedly helped to define the sport's reputation for being a high octane, rivalry nurturing, rollercoaster ride of a competition.

Narrowing it down has been tricky, but we've trawled the archives and are proud to present to you a countdown of our top 5 most memorable moments from the sporting institution that is the British Grand Prix.

F1 car in the pits

5) Piling on the pressure - Scheckter causes chaos - 1973

Possibly one of the most recalled races in F1 history, the ninth race in that year's calendar is famous for a catastrophic first lap pile-up that South African driver Jody Scheckter would probably rather forget.

As the race got underway, a strong start from Ronnie Peterson saw him briefly take the lead but after a phenomenally quick start, stalwart Jackie Stewart rapidly moved from fourth to second position. By the time they had reached Beckets, Stewart had slipped effortlessly into pole position, leaving Peterson in his wake, with Denny Hulme and Scheckter following up in third and fourth respectively.

Scheckter's tenacity paid off as they approached Woodcote Corner and he moved to pass Hulme on the outside. Misjudging, Scheckter pulled out too wide and lost control, his McLaren spinning right across the width of the track, hitting a retaining wall of the pits and bouncing straight back into the paths of his competitors.

Amazingly, Hulme escaped the furore alongside nearby drivers Cevert, Hunt, and Regazzoni. American driver Revson looked set to avoid the ensuing chaos caused by the McLaren M23 but as the car ricocheted back from the pit wall, Revson's vehicle struck the rear wing, causing him to lose control and the resulting multi-car pile up made sporting history.

A total of nine cars were forced to retire from the race, with a further two - driven by David Purely and Graham McRae - removed for separate reasons, meaning only eighteen of the original (record-breaking) twenty-nine car line up actually crossed the finish line on that fateful day.

Despite the scale of the accident, casualties were minimal and only a single driver sustained any injuries. Attempts to cut Italian Andrea de Adamich out of his Brabham BT42 took almost an hour, so damaged was the vehicle. While de Adamich's most severe ailment was limited to a broken ankle, the incident ended his single seater career there and then.

With the track cleared and the race restarted for the remaining vehicles at around 3.30 pm, the ensuing circuit was drama-free and saw Revson take the top spot on the podium.

Formula 1 racing circuit

4) The Lion roars - Mansell's famous overtake - 1987

Nothing epitomises Formula 1 quite like a healthy rivalry between drivers, and none more so than that of Williams-Honda teammates Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet.

By 1987, Mansell had blossomed as a driver and was steadily making a name for himself as a prolific winner on the circuit. When the British Grand Prix came around on 12th July, 'The Lion' had bagged himself an impressive eleven wins but had narrowly missed out on two elusive World Championship titles.

In contrast, Piquet's star was beginning to fade. A sluggish start and sub-par performance including a 16 second pit stop and two major lapses in concentration at the previous week's French Grand Prix had the press calling his credibility into question. Former World Champion turned commentator James Hunt famously suggested on air that it "is time he retired because concentration is connected to motivation".

The shifting balance of power, coupled with an increasingly palpable discord between the two led to a terse atmosphere on the day.

Mansell's predilection to drawing motivation from adversity - fueled in no small way by Piquet labelling the Brit an "uneducated blockhead" - made him a dogged, determined competitor. Piquet, on the other hand, confident in his past success, was quick to spot an opportunity to humiliate his teammate on home turf, in front of an adoring crowd.

Things began well for Brazilian Piquet, starting and maintaining pole position for the majority of the race. Scrappy Mansell was tenacious, however and he stayed on Piquet's tail with a manageable 2 second gap until lap 35, when he took the unexpected step of pitting for a tyre change. Whilst not unusual in itself, it is believed that Williams-Honda had provisionally ruled out such pit stops at this point in the race unless absolutely necessary - quite possibly as a result of Piquet's elongated stop in the French.

With fresh rubber and bucket loads of gumption, Mansell resumed his assault - this time with a daunting 29 second gap between the cars. Unfazed, Mansell - to the abject delight of the home crowd - pushed the limits, breaking the lap record eight consecutive times.

With only four laps to go, Mansell was snapping at Piquet's heels. By the time there were two laps remaining, he had closed the gap and moved expertly past his opponent, snatching pole position from his grasp.

Elated, the jubilant crowd engulfed Mansell's vehicle as it limped to a curious stop just after crossing the finish line - believed to be a result of depleted fuel levels. However, closer inspection revealed that in his determination to steal victory, he had actually pushed his car so hard that the engine had exploded as he completed his final lap.

Black and orange racing car in motion

3) Divine intervention at Silverstone - 2003

Sunday 20th July 2003 saw controversy of an unexpected variety at Silverstone, in the unlikely form of practicing priest Corneilus 'Neil' Horan. Now relatively well known for his attempts to derail various high profile events in a bid to spread his religiously motivated belief in the Second Coming, at the time Horan was an unknown entity.

In fact, the British Grand Prix was his first foray into an illustrious string of disruptive appearances that included the men's marathon at the 2004 Olympics, the Epsom Derby of the same year, the 2006 World Cup, media coverage of Prince George's birth, and even an appearance on Britain's Got Talent in 2009. Horan maintains that he believes it to be his holy duty to warn the public of the impending Armageddon and that fateful day in 2003 will undoubtedly be etched into psyche of F1 fans everywhere. 

Here's what happened...

From the offset, Italian Jarno Trulli was on form and looked set to dominate. The Renault Mild Seven driver started in second place, just behind Rubens Barichello, and slipped easily into a comfortable lead which he maintained for 11 laps.

It was here, as the train of cars thundered along Hangar Straight at 280 km/hour that Horan made his move. He burst onto the track dressed in a bright orange kilt and proceeded to charge along Hangar Straight in the opposite direction to the oncoming cars,  brandishing a banner that proclaimed: "Read the bible. The bible is always right".

The safety car was deployed immediately and the majority of competitors pitted until track marshal Stephen Green had managed to apprehend and remove Neil Horan from the course.

From that moment, what should have been a fairly predictable race was thrown into turmoil. Of the drivers who elected not to retreat to the pits two Toyotas, driven by Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis, enjoyed a somewhat surreal moment in first and second place until the race restarted and the power players returned. 

Barichello seized his opportunity and began to overtake anything and everything but failed to pass Trulli until the 27th lap. Whilst the Ferrari driver gained ground, up ahead, Raikkonen stole the lead from da Matta, who finally opted to pit at lap 30.

In a nail-biting battle of wills, Barichello closed in, set the fastest lap and snatched pole position from Raikkonen, who ceded to his second pit stop. The Brazilian maintained the advantage until he too had to concede a second pitting, handing the lead to Raikkonen once more.

Fresh from the pit and undeterred, Rubens caught his rival and piled on the pressure, eventually forcing him to make a mistake and fall behind Barichello once and for all. This mistake also worked in favour of Williams BMW driver Montoya, who claimed second place on the podium while Raikkonen finished in third.

Divine intervention for Barichello maybe, but the deities (and Neil Horan) certainly didn't favour poor Trulli, who was forced to settle for sixth place.

F1 cars racing

2) Schumacher's most contested win - from the pits! - 1998

 Heavy rain had pounded the Silverstone course for much of the morning prior to the start of the British Grand Prix on 12th July 1998, which was to be the ninth race in that year's F1 World Championship calendar.

Although the weather had abated by the time the drivers were ready to begin, the course was left with patchy spots of wet and dry track making it difficult and arguably dangerous to navigate. As a precaution, all but two cars elected to start on intermediate compound tyres to combat the adverse conditions. 

By lap 16, the deluge had started up again and by lap 40 Hill, Coulthard, Herbert, Barichello, and Trulli had all spun out owing to the treacherous nature of the track and worsening conditions. 

Finnish powerhouse Mika Hakkinen dominated the race from the start for McLaren Mercedes and as his peers were struggling to stay on course, he had gained a strong 49 second lead over second-place contender Michael Schumacher. In fact, such was his lead that when at lap 43 Hakkinen's car left the track, did a full 360 degree turn and -amazingly - rejoined, the driver managed to regroup and hold his favourable position. Albeit with 10 seconds knocked off the gap and slight damage to the wing of his car.

As the weather worsened and several more vehicles spun off the track, officials had no choice but to deploy the safety car, effectively decimating Hakkinen's lead in one blow. The race restarted at lap 50 but another careless mistake led to Hakkinen sacrificing his lead to Schumacher.

As the final laps played out, Schumacher looked set to claim pole position until a questionable passing of Alex Wurtz's Benetton earned him a 10 second penalty. Schumacher's grasp on the podium was under threat and and to take the penalty would surely have cost him his lead. Whether a genius stroke of cunning or a simple twist of fate, the outcome was totally unpredictable - with Schumacher taking his penalty and winning the race from the pit!

Confused? So were the spectators.

It transpired that the entrance to the Ferrari pit, was just past the finish line. So in order to enter the pit to serve his penalty, Schumacher had to pass the finish line and by leaving it until the final lap, he was able to effectively win the race prior to taking the penalty.

As you would expect, this surprise twist sparked protests across the board. Ferrari claimed that their win stood because the penalty was issued too long after the incident took place and it hadn't been made clear if it were to be a 10 second stop-go penalty or 10 seconds off the finishing time. The stewards erred on the side of the latter but  McLaren pointed out that this wouldn't have affected the outcome and pushed for a 25 second penalty as an alternative.

Backed into an unenviable corner, the three stewards responsible concluded that neither penalty could be reasonably applied. With no further option for recourse, the win stood. Schumacher and Ferrari slipped into one of F1's most controversial victories to date - and the stewards lost their licenses as a result of the debacle.

F1 tyre change

1) An unlikely hitchhiker - 1991

The early 1990s saw several changes for the British Grand Prix, most notably a vast remodeling of the Silverstone course. The addition of a variety of challenging corners - designed to truly put the drivers through their paces - meant that the iconic track was no longer the fastest on the F1 calendar but it garnered hugely favourable reviews from the drivers themselves.

Much missed Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna had started the 1991 season strongly, with four solid wins under his belt that ultimately would lead him to win his third F1 title. However, the most poignant moment of the Brazilian's season occurred quite unexpectedly on Sunday 14th July whilst the British Grand Prix was in full swing.

Renowned rival of Senna and F1 powerhouse Nigel Mansell started the race in pole position, with Ayrton in second, promising a theatrical playing out of the notoriously fiery pairs' feud. 

In reality, Mansell was on top form and dominated for an impressive 59 laps maintaining a 0.679 second lead over Senna.  Despite Mansell's stellar performance, Ayrton drove tenaciously and looked set to be guaranteed a place on the podium...until, during the final lap, the unthinkable happened.

The panel of Senna's McLaren clearly read that he had adequate fuel on board. But something had gone awry with the technology, and the fuel-less vehicle limped to a disappointing halt on the track. Understandably bereft, Senna could only watch as McLaren teammate Berger stole second place, and Ferrari's Prost sailed into third. The heartbreak of experiencing such a humiliation resonated as a helpless Senna stood impotent on the home turf of his bitter rival. 

Mansell, meanwhile, having secured the win, was embarking on his cool-down lap amidst a flurry of delight from British spectators. Characteristically unpredictable and ever the showman, The Lion shocked the crowd by slowing to a halt mid-lap alongside Senna's car. To the amazement of the officials and spectators alike, Senna swiftly hooked a foot in the cockpit of Mansell's Williams Honda, grabbed the roll-over hoop, and hitched the most iconic ride in F1 history.

Given that Mansell had previously claimed "Ayrton could intimidate pretty much every driver on the grid" this display of sportsmanship and camaraderie between two men who were known for thriving on conflict, went down a storm at Silverstone. The deployed safety steward could only watch as the moment unfolded creating perhaps the most touching spectacle of the British Grand Prix to date.

Want more things Formula 1? We discuss the moments we hoped for from the latest season of Netflix's F1 Drive to Survive.