The Silverstone circuit is not just a site for motoring enthusiasts; it is an institution with a solid history behind it, starting on October 2, 1948, the day on which the post-war hopes of an entire nation were translated into 100,000 spectators channelled towards the first English Grand Prix, organised by the Royal Automotive Club and won by the Italian racer Luigi Villoresi in his Maserati 4CLT.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that first track bordered by bales, ropes, and canvas barriers was invented. Since then, the road has been downhill, from the visit of the monarch George VI in 1950 to the victories of Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, and James Hunt, just to name a few.

The 80s of international drivers such as Prost, Mansell, and Senna led the way to the grandeur of the future with a complete refurbishment at the beginning of the 90s, up to the recent successes of Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who have often referred to it as one of their favourite circuits.

Given its history, it has seemed logical to offer enthusiasts a dedicated museum that would be able to combine the legacies of a glorious past with a constantly evolving experimental route to satisfy the increasingly refined tastes of visitors.

We discover more about it in our in-depth interview with the head of the collection and archives, Stephanie Sykes-Dugmore.

I would like to start by asking you about the creation of the museum. How did it all begin?

Silverstone and its racing drivers have always had an aspiration to have a museum at the circuit, ever since the 1970s. However, it took until 2019 to get there, even if this is something that was always bubbling in the background, even more so as sports heritage has become popular in the UK (with the Olympic Games being a catalyst for that). Many national sports museums started in the country, such as the National Football Museum or the Wimbledon Museum, so it was natural for Silverstone to go on that path. Therefore, we decided to get funding from the National Authority Heritage Fund, so the journey to build the museum started, and we opened in October 2019.

What items do you think are essential in the collection, and what criteria are adopted for adding new pieces?

The main collection is related to the British Racing Drivers Cup, which is a document archive with all the paper records to Silverstone, with race programmes and results. We obviously also have good relationships with car owners and F1 teams, as without them we wouldn’t have any vehicles because we are a site without its own car collection. Our heritage is the tarmac outside, as you can see when you walk back to our building into the old park and priory as part of your museum experience. It’s a difficult process to get the cars and change them frequently. Some of them stay for two years, some others for two weeks, such as star cars, which curators don’t want to let out of their sites for too long. However, by now we collaborate with great people who actually want to loan us their cars because they see the value in it.

How do you manage to meet the different tastes of all visitors, who might be passionate about different teams, drivers, or historical moments in motorsports?

We are very lucky to collaborate with many people who are so passionate about the sport. We work together with a historical advisory group, as well as with journalists and writers, in order to have a precise reference. We always consult the archives and carry out more research to decide what story we are going to tell, as there are some amazing anecdotes about human endeavour, with people racing cars and risking their lives, especially in the 60s and 70s.

We now also have the right STEM to respond to an always more sophisticated audience, and we respond with more science and technology in the exhibition. This way, we react to people’s interests, of course, but, at the same time, we also educate them from a historical and technical point of view. Let us think about the Netflix series “Drive to Survive”, for example, and what was broadcast on the platform… with our exhibition we can show visitors other amazing characters such as James Hunt or Jackie Stewart, who actually made this sport what it is today.

I suppose it is not easy to keep an exhibition dedicated to such an ever-changing reality up to date. What choices do you make to keep it contemporary?

We work on it constantly. We are very fortunate to collaborate with the best audio-visual companies in the country, so we can approach them and ask for a car with specific requirements. The original exhibition was made all in one go, and that allowed us to reflect and improve the visitor experience so that it was responsive and not too static.

Given all the projects mentioned on your site, may I ask what other surprises await future visitors coming to the Silverstone Museum?

This year, we have one feature exhibition and one major redevelopment at the end of the exhibition. We have had a donation to help us tell the story of fuel sustainability, and we might have four cars from abroad for six months. Every year we discuss what we can do and how to do it, what to exhibit, and obviously the Grand Prix (5th–7th July) is our opportunity to raise the profile of the museum with the media and supporters.