Stormzy meets Silverstone: How the British Grand Prix is embracing music festival culture

Stormzy headlining the British Grand Prix on Friday (JEP)
Stormzy headlining the British Grand Prix on Friday (JEP)

The British Grand Prix at Silverstone has embarked on a brand new off track venture that could finally rival the thunderous roar of F1 cars speeding around the circuit.

The iconic racing track has taken a bold step to blend racing thrills with music festival vibes, in the hope that it can compete with UK music events like Latitude and BST Hyde Park. And with a lineup that featured Stormzy’s only scheduled headline gig in 2024, Silverstone's transformation into a music venue powerhouse is clear.

For years, F1 had attracted an overwhelmingly male fanbase. However, under new ownership, Liberty Media, the sport is no longer just a boys’ club. Today, the landscape is much more inclusive, and gone are the grid girls, along with the tobacco advertising that I saw while watching the sport with my dad as a child.

Social media has certainly contributed to F1’s renaissance, but the Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive, launched in 2018, has also been pivotal to its modern success. The show’s drama has captivated audiences, particularly in America, and the sport has seen a significant shift in its fanbase.

By November 2022, 40 per cent of global F1 fans were female, an 8 per cent increase from 2017. This growth is attributed not only to the series, but also to initiatives like F1 Academy and More Than Equal, which promote women's involvement in the sport.

With renewed interest, Stuart Pringle, CEO of Silverstone, saw an opportunity to revamp the festivities in 2022 for Britain's biggest racing weekend. That same weekend, the circuit broke records selling out its 480,000 race weekend capacity.

Sir Lewis Hamilton pictured after his win at Silverstone (PA)
Sir Lewis Hamilton pictured after his win at Silverstone (PA)

Now, in a bid to reflect the newer, more diverse F1 audience and provide “great value” to fans, Silverstone has leaned into their after-track hours offering with aplomb.

“Silverstone used to be the white middle age, middle class men from middle England, going with their mates,” he told The Standard. “And, you know, that's not what it is. Now, it's much broader.

“It's much more of a cross section of modern British society, it's all the better for reflecting the world in which we live today.”

“There's some degree of elitism about it, from a sporting side,” he says, citing the high costs associated with breaking into the sport, but insists that there are still ways to make it accessible. “Drive to Survive dropped it into everybody's front rooms. It's about getting the offering right to capitalise on that.”

And Pringle is right - gone are the days when former team owner Eddie Jordan and F1 World Champion Damon Hill playing from a drop-sided lorry would suffice as entertainment to crowds trying to avoid traffic.

Instead, fans expect better value today, especially with rising F1 ticket prices. For instance, Silverstone's ticket prices have surged over 200 per cent in the past six years, with a three-day general admission pass now costing £349.

For many, this steep price is difficult to justify, especially given the often cold British summertime camping conditions, which made added entertainment all the more crucial.

Lando Norris taking a selfie with a fan at Silverstone (Getty Images)
Lando Norris taking a selfie with a fan at Silverstone (Getty Images)

The event had previously enlisted British songwriter and producer Jamie Scott as Silverstone’s Director of Music, aiming to create a “feel-good festival atmosphere.” The initiative was a success, with Calvin Harris opening the 2023 event.

ow under new direction, the weekend featured a star-studded lineup including Rudimental, Pete Tong, Stormzy, and Kings of Leon to entertain the masses. This is by no means a small venture – this year they pushed their offering further, revamping the music arena to accommodate 60,000 attendees, with help from Library Productions, the team behind Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage.

Besides the main stage, attendees could enjoy immersive family entertainment and music tributes in a 10,000-seat Big Top. Those less interested in music could catch comedy sets by Russell Kane, Troy Hawke, and Al Murray at the Village Enclosure on Friday and Saturday night.

Trying to balance the entertainment on-site for both sides of the fanbase is no mean feat, and something Pringle noted is still a work in progress. While aiming to attract global acts, the event also wants to champion British artists and musicians who are also F1 enthusiasts. Headline act Stormzy is a known F1 fan while singer Florrie, who opened festivities on Thursday, told us how performing at Silverstone was the “ultimate show” for a motorsports supporter.

She reflected: “As a big F1 fan, this is the ultimate show for me. I went to Silverstone a few years ago and camped on site for 4 days. I loved the energy of the F1 fans, everyone was full of positive vibes and the sun was shining.”

The mainstage at Silverstone (JEP)
The mainstage at Silverstone (JEP)

Once you’re there, the meeting of music and motorsport makes most sense. As the roar of F1 engines fades, the music steps in to fill the void, albeit with a lot fewer revs from the V6 hybrid turbo power units. Still, it has the same oomph.

With Silverstone securing the British Grand Prix for another decade, Pringle hopes in the next five years they’ll have “gained a reputation for being a good live venue for music”. Seeing it firsthand, it seems they’re well on their way.

Despite torrential rain on Friday, I watched fans of all ages – from die-hard team merch-wearing men to festival-ready families and young women – leave their campgrounds and trackside stays at the Hilton Garden Inn Silverstone to trek to the main stage and brave the British weather for performances by Jordss and Ghetts.

I expected many to leave before Stormzy took the stage at 9:30pm given the worsening weather, but instead, they embraced the experience, dancing in their ponchos and cheering as he delivered an unforgettable set featuring hits as Vossi Bop and Shut Up from his three chart-topping albums.

Echoing his remarkable 2018 BRIT Award performance, there’s an undeniable magic to seeing Stormzy perform in the rain, which added to the atmosphere. With this being his sole show of the year, it was always going to be a special evening with the Glastonbury 2019 headliner.