Aintree, horsepower & Formula One racing 05 Jun 2006
This weekend marks the 40th Grand Prix to be held at Silverstone, and in recent years the Northamptonshire racetrack has become practically synonymous with the British round of the championship.
It wasn't always so. Many will remember the British Grands Prix that took place at Brands Hatch in Kent. Between 1964 and 1986 the race alternated between here and Silverstone each year, and Brands also hosted the European Grands Prix in 1983 and 1985.
Far fewer will remember that there used to be another home for the British Grand Prix - one that is now far better known for another kind of racing. Delve further into the history books and you'll learn that, between 1955 and 1962 the race was held at five times at Aintree, near Liverpool, on a circuit right next to the famous horse racing track where the Grand National takes place every year.
The circuit was built around the outside of the Grand National course, featuring mostly slow corners and the decently rapid Sefton Straight. Spectators viewed the action from the same stands used for horse races, meaning the facilities were considerably better than those at Silverstone during the same era.
In 1955 the first race held at Aintree developed into a very memorable contest between two of the greatest drivers of the age. Both the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio and the young Stirling Moss were driving for Mercedes, the dominant team of the era, with Moss snatching pole position by 0.2 seconds from his more experienced team mate. In the race both streaked away from the chasing pack, with the gap between Fangio and third-placed Karl Kling over a minute by the time they reached the flag. But it was Moss who hung on to take victory - his first - by the narrowest of margins, making him the first Englishman to win the British Grand Prix. After the race it was rumoured that Fangio had eased off to allow his team mate victory on home soil, but the Argentinean never confirmed this. Further down the order, the race also marked the debut of Jack Brabham, although he retired his Cooper-Bristol and didn't make it to the finish.
Aintree saw several more dramatic races, with Moss taking another victory - this time shared with fellow Brit Tony Brooks in a Vanwall - in 1957, and Brabham emerging victorious in 1959, the same year he would go on to become world champion. 1961 saw a Ferrari 1-2-3 for Wolfgang von Trips, Phil Hill and Richie Ginther. The final Grand Prix to be held at the circuit was in 1962, where Jim Clark took an easy victory in his Lotus-Climax, crossing the line 49 seconds ahead of second-placed John Surtees and his Lola-Climax.
Aintree also played host to non-championship Formula One races. The Aintree 200 - the 200 denoting the 200-mile race distance - was held nine times between 1954 and 1964. Moss was the most successful driver, winning the event four times, twice in a Maserati, once in a Cooper-Climax and once in a Porsche.
After 1964 Formula One racing left the circuit, Aintree continued to be used for lesser events and club racing, eventually falling into disrepair. Parts of the track are still used by the camera cars that follow the Grand National. The circuit has also been used for events including the Aintree Festival of Motorsport, but more recently demolition work has destroyed parts of the historic Tatts Corner, where there are plans for a new racecourse grandstand. A great shame, considering the historic importance of the site.