One year ago, the last rites were being read as Silverstone - host of the first Formula One world championship race on May 13, 1950 - prepared to stage the British Grand Prix for the final time. But little in motor racing is forever as it seems. Today, the former wartime airfield is a hub of development activity as it prepares for another Grand Prix race.
Before the 2008 race at Silverstone, motorsport's governing body announced a deal that would take the race to Donington Park from 2010. Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, had long been critical of the facilities at Silverstone, but the circuit management - a private enterprise, without government funding - was reluctant to commit significant investment without the security of a long-term deal.
It was a classic Catch 22 and the upshot was that Silverstone appeared to have lost its annual showpiece. When the Donington Park project ran into financial difficulties, there was a chance that the British Grand Prix might follow its French counterpart and vanish from the calendar altogether. But a rescue plan was hatched: Ecclestone received modernisation guarantees and the circuit was granted a 17-year contract extension.
"It felt like a long, drawn-out process at times," said Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion who now serves as president of the British Racing Drivers' Club, the circuit owner. "Things seem to have rocketed forward since the new deal was announced in December, though. The place was almost completely demolished over the winter. I came here at the start of the year and everything was covered in snow and diggers. It hasn't been easy to get everything done - and really we're still only halfway there."
There is a revised circuit layout and some new grandstands, but the pièce de résistance - a new pit and paddock complex - exists only in the form of a metallic skeleton. It is scheduled for completion before the 2011 race. The Silverstone authorities have made it clear that they want to upgrade the circuit without erasing the heritage that makes it one of the most charismatic venues in the sport.
The revised layout means that Bridge Corner, a high-speed right-hander, has been lost, but other turns remain unchanged. Mark Webber, whose Red Bull-Racing team starts as pre-race favourite following a dominant one-two finish last year behind Sebastian Vettel, describes it as "an absolutely brilliant circuit". Take a glance at a circuit diagram and Copse, the first corner, looks like a fairly tight, right-hand bend - yet drivers take it in seventh gear, with just a slight lift of their right foot. That equates to about 275kph.