I first saw you at the 1975 International Trophy meeting and have been to every Formula One race you have held ever since and probably an equal number of other events too. F3, F2, F3000, Saloon cars, Sports cars, Historics and even club racing. You name it, I have seen it. Except for trucks and bikes that is.
I have spent hours trying to get into your car parks and even longer trying to get out again. I have been chilled to the bone, drenched to the skin and frazzled by the sun in equal measure in your wide-open windswept landscape.
You have played host to some of motor racing’s greatest moments – the first victory for Frank Williams in 1979 and Nigel Mansell outwitting team-mate and arch rival Nelson Piquet in 1987. And some of the worst – Ferrari and Michael Schumacher bending the rules to win from the pit-lane rather than losing the race on track to Mika Häkkinen in 1998. Then there is the chaotic – a rainstorm bringing the 1975 Grand Prix to an abrupt end with 17 of the 25 starters deposited in the catch fencing at various points around the circuit.
Although my first visit was twenty-five years after you had been chosen to host the inaugural World Championship Grand Prix, and thirty years after the end of the war for which you were built as a bomber base, you had not changed much. The old runways were no longer part of the race track – they were now part runway for visiting fixed-wing aircraft and part paddock area – but most of the facilities, with the addition of a couple of rickety grandstands, were housed in the old wartime wooden huts and buildings. The bonus to this though was that with an additional ‘centre transfer’ pass available to all for a little extra, these primitive amenities were shared by spectators and drivers alike, eating in the same café and even using the same public toilets.
Over the years you have undergone many transformations in layout and upgrades but whatever you do the naturally open flat and featureless location that made you so good for an aerodrome does not make you so good for watching a motor race. In 1975 at £2.50 for a race day general admission ticket (£20.80 in today’s value) this was not so bad compared to the £169 (+ delivery charge) I have splashed out for this year’s race.
My annual visit to the British Grand Prix is now more a matter of duty rather than an occasion of excitement or anticipation. You have been left behind as a twenty-first century international sporting venue where accessibility is a priority like those race-tracks you can walk to from comfortable and not overly-priced city centre hotels such as Baku and Sochi. And it’s not just the new venues this applies to. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has it’s own metro station a few stops from downtown Montreal, Interlagos has its own railway station twenty minutes from Sao Paulo and even remote Suzuka is easily reached from Nagoya and other major cities via express train and a circuit shuttle bus system run with military efficiency. And now 44 years on I still find the most efficient way of getting to you without being charged excessive amounts for car parking and local accommodation or being stuck in clogged up country lanes is to park my car well away from the circuit and cycle the last couple of miles.
If this is to be your final Grand Prix then thanks for the memories, it has been fun but I shall not miss you. However, I suspect you will still be around next year and I will be there to see you again.
Note: Many of these images are taken from original prints, negatives and slides that are nearly 40 years old and are therefore not reproduced to the same standard as current day digital images. All reasonable attempts have been made to ensure these images are reproduced to the best possible standard, however, in some instances colour casts and blemishes may be present.