The beautiful county of Northamptonshire is almost smack-bang in the centre of England as you look at it on the map. Quite apt, then, that The British Formula One (F1) Grand Prix, held on July 8 in the village of Silverstone in that county, comes close to the middle of the F1 racing season and is arguably the centre of the F1 universe.
Yes, there are more glamorous events on the racing calendar. Silverstone doesn't have the posh yachts or the bikini-clad spectators of Monaco or the allure of nighttime racing in Singapore, but what it does have is one of the most famous racing circuits in the world — and a lot of history. (Bet you didn't know, for one, that George Washington's family immigrated to the US in the 17th century from just a stone's throw away!)
Silverstone, which has hosted the British Grand Prix continuously since 1987, used to be an old World-War-II Royal Air Force bomber station, which means the village's residents have been subjected to booming engine noises since 1948.
To British fans, the racetrack is what a real racing circuit should look like. I couldn't understand, when I moved to North America, why the majority of circuits are oval-shaped here. Driving round and round in circles — where is the fun in that? At Silverstone, drivers must negotiate hairpin corners and white-knuckle chicanes. Despite mandatory changes to all F1 tracks in the mid-90s, Silverstone is still a very, very fast track.
In the past, Formula One victories have been criticized as being too predictable, as drivers such as Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel dominated for long patches of time. This is not the case in 2012, with seven different drivers winning the series' first seven races. It really is an open championship this year — which takes me back to the days of battles among Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the mid- to late 80s.
Mansell won the British Grand Prix four times during that period, but Scotland's Jim Clark is the most successful Brit, winning it five times in the 1960s. Only Prost can boast an impressive haul equal to that of the late Clark.
Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton lead the charge for the Brits in 2012 — both are former World Champions but both have been inconsistent this year. Both have won a Grand Prix, but both drove shockingly poor races immediately after their victories. Hamilton won an incident-packed British Grand Prix in 2008, battling the elements and fellow drivers who seemed to forget that playing boy-racers in the rain was recipe for a wipeout. Button, on the other hand, has never been on the British Grand Prix podium.
Both Button and Hamilton will be hoping to recapture some form and delight the home crowd of an expected 300,000 or so visitors to Silverstone over the weekend. Standing on top of the podium, "God Save the Queen" playing in the background, glugging a glass of champagne — what could be better? Well, you and I won't ever get this chance, but Silverstone does allow amateurs to give it a whirl, giving you a chance to see how your Yaris handles Copse Corner. Earplugs are optional. Find full details, including how to get tickets for the Grand Prix, here. Gentlemen, start your engines!
by Matt Goff
Photo: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren during last year's British Formula One Grand Prix. (by Clive Mason/Getty Images)