The Silverstone circuit, which was originally an RAF bomber station called RAF Silverstone during World War II, is located on the site of the former airfield. The airfield had three runways arranged in a classic triangular pattern, which now form the outline of the current racing track. The circuit has gone through various modifications since its initial use in the 1940s.
Silverstone saw its first use in motorsport when a group of friends organised an impromptu race in September 1947. One of the members, Maurice Geoghegan, who lived in nearby Silverstone village, knew that the airfield was deserted and suggested it as a racing venue. Geoghegan and 11other drivers raced on a makeshift two-mile circuit, but during the race, Geoghegan accidentally ran over a sheep that had wandered onto the airfield, resulting in the sheep being killed and Geoghegan's car being written off. This incident led to the informal race being nicknamed the "Mutton Grand Prix."

The following year, the Royal Automobile Club leased the airfield and established a more formal racing circuit. The initial races were held on the runways themselves, with long straights and tight hairpin corners marked by hay bales. However, for the 1949 International Trophy meeting, the racing was switched to the perimeter track, which was also used for the 1950 and 1951 Grand Prix races. In 1952, the start line was moved to a straight between Woodcote and Copse corners, and this layout remained largely unchanged for the next 38 years. A chicane was added in 1975 to control speeds through Woodcote Corner, though MotoGP continued to use the circuit without the chicane until 1986. In 1987, a left-right corner called Luffield was added.

The track underwent a major redesign between the 1990 and 1991 races, transforming it from an ultra-fast track where most corners were taken in 4th or 5th gear, into a more technical circuit. The Maggots, Becketts, and Chapel corners were modified to create a challenging left-right-left-right-left sequence, with Becketts being altered for this purpose. A bridge was added to the hangar straight, and a new section of the track with elements named Bridge, Priory, and Brooklands (named after the motor racing circuit) was introduced, along with changes to the Luffield corner after Abbey and Vale were added between Stowe and Club to encourage overtaking.

In 1994, after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, many Grand Prix circuits were modified to improve driver safety and reduce speed. As a result, Copse, Stowe, Abbey, and Priory corners at Silverstone were re-profiled to be slower and with increased run-off areas. A chicane was also added at Abbey after Pedro Lamy's Lotus car ended up in the pedestrian tunnel during testing. In 1997, further changes were made to the circuit to increase speed and flow.

In February 2009, a refurbishment plan costing £5 million was proposed. One of the most significant changes was the addition of a new section called the "Arena." This involved racers turning right at the old Abbey Chicane and heading towards the newly constructed Arena section, which was located in the infield. They would then turn left onto the National Circuit straight before rejoining the original Grand Prix circuit at Brooklands. The Arena section featured three new grandstands and Silverstone claimed that these changes would make the circuit the fastest track on the MotoGP calendar. This new section was also used for the 2010 Formula 1 British Grand Prix. Starting from the 2011 Formula 1 British Grand Prix, the start/finish straight and pit building were moved from between Woodcote and Copse to between Club and Abbey. On December 12, 2020, the straight was renamed the Hamilton Straight in honour of Lewis Hamilton's achievement of winning his seventh world title.

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