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View from the stands: Silverstone

It’s where Formula One was born in 1950 and it remains one of the most popular and best-attended Grands Prix of the season.

Once an airfield in World War Two, Silverstone has changed beyond recognition over the years.

Gone are the days when straw bales ‘protected’ the fans from the death traps that the Hamilton’s and Vettel’s of yesteryear hurled around at brake neck speed.

Today’s modern facility boasts a brand new pit and paddock complex, superbly positioned grandstands and provides fans with entertainment ‘e-zones’ and a post-race concert.

I first attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2003. Almost ten years on, it’s a weekend I still remember vividly.

After watching qualifying on the Saturday at a friend’s house, a group of seven of us made the trip up to the Northamptonshire countryside.

The atmosphere at the Whittlebury Park campsite right next to the Copse side of the circuit was fantastic, with race-goers partying long into the night.

Unable to sleep, I crept out of my tent at around 5am and walked through Copse Wood and made my way towards the circuit to discover what I could see.

A short stroll later, I will never forget the moment I emerged from the woodland to the site of the five Copse grandstands lining the legendary (and then first) corner.

Eyes out like saucers, I tried to take in the size of it all. The car parks were already filling up with those ‘general admission’ ticket-holders eager to find the best spot; the smells of the burger vans cooking breakfast for the early arrivals wafted through the air; the ITV studio stood adjacent to the pit straight grandstand, ready for Jim Rosenthal to host the action to millions of television viewers.

The wait for everyone else to wake up seemed endless. Eventually they did and we made our way to a small café on the edge of the campsite for breakfast.

Support races including Maserati’s and the Porsche Supercup entertained an expectant crowd in the morning before it was lights out for the Grand Prix itself.

And what a race it was. Rubens Barrichello made a poor start from pole position, with Renault’s Jarno Trulli and Mclaren’s Kimi Raikkonen nipping ahead at the first corner.

David Coulthard’s headrest falling off his car aside, it was a fairly uneventful opening twelve laps.

Protestor Neil Horan invades the track at the 2003 British Grand Prix

That was until madness struck when a protestor invaded the track on the hanger straight, with the cars driving towards him at speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. The crowd on the pit straight roared when a brave marshal ran onto the track and rugby tackled the man. Remarkably no one was hurt. But the deployment of a second safety car – under which nearly every car pitted – shook up the order in a way no one could have predicted.

What followed was overtaking galore and a truly remarkable drive from Rubens Barrichello to claim his first win of the season.

I made a second visit to Silverstone in 2006.

Again, we watched from what was the old pit straight grandstand overlooking the pit lane entrance. With the aid of a giant screen, this made following the strategies much easier than if positioned at another point around the circuit.

View of the old pit straight grandstand. The pits have now moved to the opposite end of the circuit.

The race was hardly a classic but there was a unique vibe about the weekend with it being a month earlier than usual and on the opening weekend of the 2006 World Cup.

There were England flags everywhere. Sitting in the grandstand with the GP2 race in progress while the BBC’s coverage of the England game was being beamed on the giant screens felt strange, but it kept everyone happy.

For my third and most recent visit to Silverstone in 2009, I decided to watch the race from the Stowe corner grandstand – a fantastic vantage point to catch the overtaking and one which I’d thoroughly recommend.

The parade lap: the cars make their way through Stowe corner before the start of the 2009 British Grand Prix

With the use of binoculars, I was able to follow the action for half of the lap: all the way from the exit of chapel, down the Hangar straight, through Stowe, Vale and Club, before the charge up to the Abbey chicane.

Sadly, this is no longer possible, following the building of the new pit and paddock complex.

The new layout has, however, enabled fans to enjoy viewing from two parts of the circuit at once – with several grandstands offering views of Farm/Village/Wellington Straight and the brilliant Maggots/Becketts complex.

For more information on Silverstone – with advice on getting there, buying tickets and camping – please see my all-you-need-to-know guide.

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