This year Silverstone will stage its 50th grand prix, the circuit’s connection with grands prix dating back to Luigi Villoresi’s victory in the first ever event on October 2, 1948, two years before the inauguration of the FIA F1 championship in 1950.
And to kick off the celebrations 1996 champion Damon Hill, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and Derek Warwick, former Renault Formula 1 driver and President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) were on hand at the circuit to show off a collection of legendary Renault-powered F1 cars.
Hill, who won the 1994 British Grand Prix, was reunited with his championship-winning Williams-Renault FW16.
“I’d like to think that winning the British Grand Prix is great for any driver, but particularly if you’re a British driver, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “It is one of the biggest events of all the grands prix we go to. There’s such a massive crowd, and to get all that satisfaction and give people satisfaction with a victory at your home grand prix, you just can’t beat it.
“The heritage of Silverstone is so special, and it’s fantastic to be celebrating having 50 grands prix here,” he added. “Silverstone remains crucial to the Championship, it’s a world famous circuit and it keeps grand prix racing here where it should be, in the centre of Great Britain. I think the atmosphere is the thing I’m most looking forward to, I just love the buzz. It’s a great celebration and it’s also a fantastic sporting event. There’ll be extra excitement this year with the strong possibility of seeing a British winner.”
Grosjean, meanwhile, got to drive the Renault RE40, the car with which Alain Prost won the 1983 race at Silverstone.
“Driving the RE40 felt the same, yet different at the same time,” he said. “Downforce, power, braking, the car itself, the behaviour, that’s Formula One – even though it’s 30 years old it feels the same as today. But then of course the ‘H’ gearbox was a bit difficult to get used to at first, and the turbo lag was quite big, so you can’t imagine how tough it must have been to warm the tyres up in the race and get the throttle application right. There are less buttons on the steering wheel though, which is nice! The noise felt like an engine from the past. The unburned fuel in the exhaust made a really nice noise and vibration; it was a really great feeling.”
Also on show on the day was the famous Renault RS01 ‘Yellow Teapot’, F1’s first turbocharged car, which made its debut at Silverstone in 1977. The car was nicknamed the ‘teapot’ due the frequency with which clouds of smoke were seen billowing from it as the company attempted to perfect turbo technology. The RS01 was displayed alongside a Lotus 98T driven by Ayrton Senna in 1986, the Williams-Renault FW14, which Nigel Mansell drove to victory at the British Grand Prix in 1991 and the Williams-Renault FW14B, which also won the British Grand Prix in 1992 in the hands of Mansell, who went on to win the World Championship in the same car.
The cars provided a taste of what fans can expect to see at this year’s race. As part of ‘Silverstone50’ celebrations, a host of iconic British Grand Prix winning cars are being assembled to feature in three commemorative parades – one on each day of the event – and will be driven by some of the biggest names in British and world motor sport.
BRDC President Derek Warwick, a works Renault driver in 1984 and 1985, commented: “Seeing these cars here today brings back many memories of the British Grand Prix. Silverstone is the home of motor racing no matter where you are in the world and it’s the most challenging circuit you’ll ever drive on as a racing driver. Racing in front of your home crowd makes you just that inch taller. You get lifted by the crowd as you go through the front gate, your heart rate goes up and it’s just amazing, you can’t put it into words.
“The British Grand Prix has developed into a four day event now, and this year the fans will be able to get up close to these Grand Prix cars with the parades and Heritage Pits. They’ll also be able to access the open Pit Lane on Thursday. Fans will be able to get into the centre of the circuit and see the history of Formula On and Silverstone, and also the drivers that have been such a part of it. The fans are in for a real treat and I’m really excited about what we’re going to be able to see here.”
Other cars confirmed to be on display in a ‘Silverstone50’ Heritage Paddock at this year’s British Grand Prix include: Nigel Mansell’s 1987 Williams-Honda FW11b, and Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, which he drove to World Championship glory in 2008. Sir Jackie Stewart is also confirmed to drive his 1969 British Grand Prix winning Matra MS80 in the commemorative parade.