British Grand Prix: Silverstone, sheep and 10,000 litres of tomato sauce

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Formula 1 stars & cars on London's streets
British Grand Prix on the BBC
Dates: 14-16 July Venue: Silverstone
Coverage: Practice and qualifying on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra (online only), and race on BBC Radio 5 live. Live text commentary, leaderboard and imagery on BBC Sport website and app.

At a time when the British Grand Prix faces an uncertain future, one aspect of the race is beyond doubt - the love the drivers have for Silverstone.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel calls it "one of the best tracks". No driver would disagree. And the section from Copse through the Becketts sweeps is one of the most demanding sequence of corners in the world. To see a Formula 1 car through there - which anyone with a general admission ticket can - is one of the most wondrous sights in sport.

These are the sorts of corners grand prix cars were designed for, places they can stretch their legs, where their capabilities leave onlookers spellbound and awestruck.

Even before getting to Silverstone for this weekend's event, the drivers have been licking their lips about the prospect of driving it in the new faster, more demanding 2017 cars.

Asked what he was expecting, perma-smiling Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo was giggling with delight: "I will try not to say anything too dirty and disgusting. It will be… romantic. I am looking forward to that. Copse will probably be full this year. That is already enough to get me excited."

By "full" Ricciardo means flat-out - no throttle lift, "in whatever gear we arrive there - seventh or eighth", through a nearly 90-degree right-hander, at close to 200mph. It will be something to see. What it must be like in the car is almost beyond imagination.

And great circuits facilitate great drives. Such as Lewis Hamilton's in the wet in 2008, or indeed last year, when he put three seconds on team-mate Nico Rosberg in the first nine corners of the race.

Hamilton has pretty much made Silverstone his own in the past few years. Three consecutive wins have taken his number of British Grand Prix victories to four. Another this year would tie him on five with record holders Jim Clark and Alain Prost.

Lewis Hamilton goes crowd-surfing after winning the 2016 British Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton jumped into the Silverstone crowd to celebrate winning last year's British Grand Prix

If that happens on Sunday, expect a re-run of the scenes last year, when a significant proportion of the 139,000 people who turned up on race day celebrated beneath the podium and Hamilton went crowd-surfing.

Track invasions abound these days - Australia, Canada, Hungary, Belgium, Singapore and Austin all have them after the race. But possibly only the famous tifosi at Monza in Italy surpass the passion and knowledge of the spectators at Silverstone.

It's a reflection of how engrained F1 and motorsport is into the culture in the UK, and by extension an expression of the importance of the country and its race to the sport. Silverstone, after all, is part of 'motorsport valley', the area of southern England where no fewer than seven of the 10 F1 teams have bases.

But how long will this last? This week, Silverstone has exercised its option to end its contract for the race after 2019, citing the fact it cannot afford the current deal.

That poses an awkward problem for F1's new owners. They have made it clear that they see a British Grand Prix as an absolutely integral part of the F1 World Championship. But now they are faced with not having one in three years' time.

There are only two realistic solutions.

British Grand Prix
Jim Clark won the British Grand Prix five times. If Lewis Hamilton wins on Sunday, he will move level with his fellow Briton

Keep Silverstone on a new contract, but that would mean less money for F1, and possible subsequent problems with other races struggling to meet the terms of contracts negotiated with former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Or try to find another location - London's Docklands has been mentioned. But that would mean finding someone who has the money to build a race track and pay an acceptable fee; a tall order.

The other possible solution - no British Grand Prix - is unacceptable to virtually everyone in the sport.

Whatever happens, British F1 fans still have three years, including this one, to enjoy one of the world's great sporting events.

Silverstone might be as flat as a pancake - so flat it feels as if you can see the curvature of the earth - and the weather always seems to be windier and cooler than anywhere else in the immediate environs. But it remains one of F1's great events.

It's not really possible for the roof to come off a place where the sky is about as big as you will see outside Montana. But if Hamilton wins again this year, metaphorically, that's what will happen.

BBC Sport's chief F1 writer Andrew Benson

Is this (almost) the end?

Silverstone
Silverstone has been the British Grand Prix's permanent home since 1987

The future of the British Grand Prix has been left uncertain after Silverstone's owner confirmed it has activated a break clause to cease hosting the race after 2019.

Silverstone first held a Formula 1 race in 1950 and after spells alternating with Aintree and Brands Hatch, it has been the British Grand Prix's permanent home home since 1987.

However, the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC), which owns the circuit, is struggling with the financial cost of hosting it.

"We have reached the tipping point where we can no longer let our passion for the sport rule our heads," said BRDC chairman John Grant.

Best of British

Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray
Last year the British Grand Prix and Wimbledon men's singles title were won by British sportsmen on the same day with Lewis Hamilton and Andy Murray victorious

Resting up before the race

It's a big weekend for Hamilton in more ways than one.

Not only is the British Grand Prix his home race but the Briton will be desperate to bounce back after finishing fourth in Austria on Sunday.

Hamilton is 20 points behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel and has failed to finish on the podium in three of the past five races.

To get himself in the best shape possible, it appears Hamilton has gone away for a bit of rest and relaxation.

Lewis Hamilton
Title contenders 2017: Vettel has won three race, Hamilton 2, Bottas 1, and raikkonen 0
Title contenders 2017: who has finished where so far

The Mutton Grand Prix

The first use of Silverstone as a race circuit is said to have been in 1947.

A group of 11 friends from the nearby village of the same name held an unauthorised race over a two-mile circuit around the airfield, during which one hit a sheep that wandered into the path of the cars, resulting in the informal race being known as the Mutton Grand Prix.

Sheep

Saucy stuff

The British fans at Silverstone love their tomato sauce.

Around 10,000 litres of the red stuff will be used in catering trucks around the circuit throughout the weekend, served up by these guys (maybe)...

Tomato Sauce

The track

Silverstone

A royal visit

King George VI
King George VI at the maiden F1 world championship race at Silverstone in 1950 - the only time a reigning monarch has attended a race

A circuit steeped in history

Silverstone
Silverstone is built on the site of a World War Two airfield from which the RAF deployed the Vickers Wellington bomber - widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the conflict
British world champions wins at the British GP: Hamilton has won 4, Mansell 4, Clark 5, Stewart 2, Hunt 1, Damon Hill 1, Hawthorn, Surtees, Graham Hill and Button 0
Hamilton could equal Jim Clark's British GP win record on Sunday

Did you know?

  • Silverstone hosted the inaugural Formula 1 world championship race in 1950 and has staged every British Grand Prix since 1987.
  • The track is one of only four grand prix from the first year of the World Championship to remain a part of today's F1 calendar (the others being Monaco, Spa and Monza).
  • And together with Italy, Britain is the only country to have held a grand prix in every year of the World Championship since 1950.
  • Although the track is officially located in the county of Northamptonshire, part of it crosses the border into Buckinghamshire.

How to follow on the BBC

Coverage details (all times BST)
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Thursday, 13 JulyPreview21:00-22:00BBC Radio 5 live & podcast
Friday, 14 JulyFirst practice session09:00-10:30Online only08:30 BST
Friday, 14 JulySecond practice session13:00-14:30Online only12:30 BST
Saturday, 15 JulyThird practice session10:00-11:00Online only09:30 BST
Saturday, 15 JulyQualifying13:00-14:00BBC Radio 5 live and online12:30 BST
Sunday, 16 JulyRace13:00-15:00BBC Radio 5 live and online11:30 BST
Monday, 17 JulyReview04:30-05:00BBC Radio 5 live & podcast

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