“The atmosphere of a Grand Prix is unlike anything that I've experienced before within a sporting event.”
We invited Chris Priestley to join BWT Alpine F1 Team over the Silverstone weekend to show us the 2023 British Grand Prix through the eyes of a lifestyle photographer, who has never been to a Formula 1 Grand Prix before.
The 2023 British Grand Prix, the 57th to be held at one of the most famous circuits in Formula 1 history: Silverstone. The circuit’s history began like many others, as an abandoned airstrip after World War II, however after many discussions the airstrip was converted into a racetrack. In 1948, the track was granted permission to hold a race, however the ‘British Grand Prix’ title was downgraded to be renamed the RAC Grand Prix due to a lack of international interest.
The circuit at this point was still being used as farmland, so with a very quick turnaround 170 tonnes of straw bales were moved, 10 miles of signal wiring was organised and 620 marshals were found for the event to go ahead.
The RAC Grand Prix hosted 100,000 spectators which was twice as many as any British motor racing event up to that date. Then in 1950, Silverstone became the first circuit to hold a race in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
Over the last 73 years, Silverstone has hosted and continues to provide memorable moments for Formula 1. Some of these moments include legendary manufacturers such as Ferrari and Williams taking their first Formula 1 Grand Prix wins, as well as some nail biting last lap battles for the win in recent years.
Chris took up photography during university when he was studying a degree he didn’t enjoy. He explained how photography ended up being an escape for him and when he got his first camera, it ended up consuming everything he did.
“I was spending all of my time trying to improve on my skills, I very quickly noticed that I was progressing and photographing motorsport was at the very top of my list of things to accomplish.”
Although the Silverstone circuit has evolved over time, many parts of the track are still significant to its history. Wellington Straight, which was formally one of the old aircraft base runways, is named after the Wellington Bombers that were used during the Second World War. Similarly, Hanger Straight was given its name due to the two large hanger aircrafts that sat alongside it from when the land was a Royal Air Force base.
“It's obvious that Silverstone has a huge history, it’s cemented within Formula 1. I noticed the large presence of the RAF, with the parachute team doing acrobatics above the mainstage in the evening.”
“In terms of infrastructure, you can definitely tell that it was an airstrip and farmland back in the day. It’s pretty much a flat - open space for as far as the eyes can see.”
During the 2023 British Grand Prix, a record breaking 480,000 spectators made their way through the gates and into the circuit. Apart from the racing, Silverstone has a lot to offer the fans with concerts, fan forums, games and competitions. Also, FIA Formula 2 and FIA Formula 3 took to the track supporting Formula 1 with its usual close racing and action-packed sessions.
“I would be walking around, and you would know if you've just missed something like a crash or good overtake, even if it was on the other side of the track a few kilometres away, you could hear the crowd erupt. The atmosphere was unbelievable.”
“Photographing Formula 1 is very different to anything else. If you wait for the cars to come closer to you, that's when it gets trickier. When they are closer, they seem faster in perspective and in relation to where you're stood. But if you want to shoot them when they are further away - before you know it - within a second they are right in front of you.”
As well as being around the large circuit amongst the fans, Chris was invited into the paddock to see how a race team works and how the atmosphere differed.
“In the paddock you get to see every person within the team doing their job in the midst of chaos with spectators all around it, enjoying that experience too. It was different to other sports, a well-oiled machine.”
“I don't think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to go into - I've watched Formula 1 on TV, but that shows very little of what I like to call - the ‘organised chaos’ that goes on behind the scenes.”
After photographing and enjoying the race, Chris followed the wave of fans onto the main straight to enjoy the podium ceremony.
“Seeing all the fans going onto the pit straight at the end of the race was something I didn’t know happened. It is something I would expect to see in photos back from the 1980s, with people storming the track. But to actually see it in person and to be in it was amazing.”
Take a look at the gallery below to see the 2023 British Grand Prix through the eyes of lifestyle photographer Chris Priestley…
Chris Priestley’s Social Media: @chrispriestley__