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There is an inextricable link between England and Formula One racing. Take three facts: (1) Silverstone is the oldest race on the calendar; (2) England is home - in full or in part - to seven of the teams (McLaren, Williams, Red Bull, Lotus, Force India, Mercedes and Marussia) and (3) the sport’s commercial management is based in London.
The UK has a unique blend of beautiful countryside, great cities and some mouth watering architecture, making it a must-see for all travellers. And London, in the words of Hollywood star Samuel L Jackson, is 'just cool'.
From a driver’s perspective, Silverstone’s 5.8 kilometres are some of the most formidable on the Formula One calendar. The track, a former World War II aerodrome, is fast and a quick lap time requires bravery and finesse.
“I absolutely love my home race,” says Englishman Jenson Button. “Silverstone is a great challenge and some of the corners are the best in Formula One, particularly at the start of the lap. Away from the track, there isn’t much to do, but it doesn't matter because I love racing at home.”
Did you know? No less than 11 Britons have won the British Grand Prix - Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt, John Watson, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard and Lewis Hamilton.
With the closest train stations half an hour’s drive from the track, road is the easiest method of getting to Silverstone, which is located around 130 kilometres north of London’s two main airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, both of which are connected to London city centre by express train links.
The Silverstone bypass has dramatically eased traffic over the race weekend and the circuit’s rural location means parking is plentiful. The other way into Silverstone is by air - helicopter is the drivers’ preferred mode of transport and on race day the circuit becomes the UK's busiest airport.
Many temporary grandstands are erected for the race and stand tickets are split into four different price bands. However, there is also plenty of good viewing to be had with a standard general admission ticket. The entrance to Copse corner, which is taken flat in seventh gear by a Formula One car, is best seen from a concrete standing area, as is the entrance to the infamous Beckett’s 500 metres later.
You never know what the weather’s going to do in England, even in June and July, so be prepared for sun and showers. It can also be very windy because the former airfield is situated in an exposed area.
Where to go?
Hang around on Sunday for the post-race party. It's now an annual affair and usually involves some of the drivers - and is a good way to miss any traffic.
“Whenever I’m at Silverstone,” says Button, who used to live in nearby Bicester, “I always pay a visit to my team. It’s always good to see the guys in the factory, who don’t make it to the regular races.
“There’s also a good gym and spa at the Whittlebury Hotel, adjacent to the track. It’s busy over the GP weekend, so you’ll most probably have to book. Then, if you’re looking for somewhere good to eat, try the Fox Inn in Farthinghoe.”
Where to stay?
Hotels can be found in the nearby towns of Towcester, Buckingham or Northampton, along with many Bed & Breakfasts in the surrounding areas. Another cheap and convenient option is to camp in the grounds surrounding Silverstone and the Force India factory, which lies opposite the main gates.
“I always stay in my motorhome at the track,” says Button. “It saves the hassle of commuting in and out. If, however, I didn’t have it, I’d stay at somewhere like the Crazy Bear in Oxford. It only has a few rooms, but it’s a great place with a very warm atmosphere. It has three restaurants and a very good wine list.”
Of course, you don’t have to stay nearby. Former Ferrari driver Carlos Reutemann used to take the need for a good hotel to extremes, staying each night of the Grand Prix weekend at the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge, London, and then commuting the 130 kilometres to the track by car.
Silverstone is situated in the heart of the Midlands and, compared with many countries, nowhere in the UK is that far away. To the south, the sights of London, such as Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, are barely an hour and a half's journey by car. And from there, a one-hour flight can take you to the natural beauty of Scotland.
“London’s the place,” says Button. “It’s a great city and there is so much to do. You can shop, eat fabulous food, or walk in one of the many great parks. Another place worth a visit is Bath. It’s a great city, close to where I was born, and I have a lot of good memories there.”
If you want an adrenaline fix, don’t leave Silverstone. Try one of their racing or rally school courses to find out if you’re the next Jenson Button. For some Formula One history, head up the M1 motorway and visit the Donington Collection, within the grounds of Donington Park circuit. It is home to the largest collection of Grand Prix cars in the world, with more than 130 exhibits.