There are two facts that even the most casual racing fan probably knows about Silverstone: firstly that it used to be a World War II airfield (names such as ‘Hangar Straight’ provide a clue) and secondly that it hosted the very first Formula 1 World Championship grand prix in 1950 (watched by none other than the future Queen Elizabeth II and her father, King George VI).
The airfield was built in 1943, and another straight – the Wellington Straight – commemorates the giant Wellington bombers that were stationed there.
But among the great names synonymous with Silverstone’s history, from Giuseppe Farina (the winner of that first Silverstone grand prix) to Lewis Hamilton, one is conspicuously missing. That of the little-known Maurice Geoghegan: arguably the most important racer ever to have competed at Silverstone.
Because without him, there would have been no Silverstone at all. The story goes that Geoghegan, a Silverstone resident, was looking for somewhere to try out his new Frazer-Nash in 1946. He couldn’t enjoy all the car’s power on the local country roads, so sneaked onto the (now decommissioned) airfield. He was delighted with what he found, driving his car on an impromptu circuit down the abandoned runway and perimeter road, so he told a few of his petrolhead friends about his clandestine experience. The following year, 12 of them of them organised an illegal race...and the rest is history. That first race would end badly for Geoghegan, who hit a sheep. But at least the post-event barbecue would have been a good one.