That might seem to be one of those throwaway lines, a bit like ‘nobody makes chocolate quite like the Swiss’. It’s not as if the French or Italians were exactly lagging behind in the motorsport department either, especially when you consider that races there were already underway before the dawn of the twentieth century. But it’s equally true that the English have got a certain droit du seigneur when it comes to Formula 1.
In fact it all goes back to Saturday 13 March 1950 at Silverstone – where on Sunday 8 July, the 10th race of this year’s F1 world championship will be held. At this flat aerodrome, Formula 1 as we know it was born: in other words as part of a proper, structured, world championship. The world was finally coming out to play again, barely five years after the nightmare that was the Second World War. The drivers back then were fearless matadors, in their laughable race suits and cork crash helmets. Watching their progress was a certain Elizabeth Windsor, who already displayed the sort of regal attitude worthy of that historic day.
Elizabeth had just turned 24 and she wasn’t yet queen: that would come three years later. As for Bernie Ecclestone, he wasn’t even 20. But of course he too would have been following developments eagerly during that quintessentially British debut, given that his dream was to become a racing driver. Probably neither of them would have guessed back then just how long their respective yet very diverse reigns would turn out to be: with Elizabeth commanding the commonwealth and Bernie being the king of Formula 1. Only one remains on their thrones today, despite both their realms having undergone astonishing changes over the years. As for Silverstone, that was simply the king of speed. It's an honorary title that the British track still retains today, despite the inevitable changes that have taken away a few elements of its intrinsically rapid character.