Today sees the presentation of the Segrave Trophy at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall: a living link to the deeds described in this blog and reminding us of just how many great endeavours are made to this day.
It is an astonishing achievement to be able to say that an award inaugurated more than 80 years ago has never lost its relevance or appeal, while acting as an accurate barometer of where British talent and endeavour have been focused throughout the past nine decades.
When the award was founded, the Segrave Trophy represented a Britain in the zenith of her days as an Imperial power. The sun never set on British soil and this inspired a raft of aviators and aviatrixes to reach the furthest outposts of the Empire faster and with greater daring year after year. It was they who dominated proceedings, over and above the many speed records attained on land and water.
Each journey would confront the record breakers with thousands of miles of hostile ocean, jungle, desert and tundra against which they were armed only with light aircraft; usually experimental and frequently unreliable. The frequency with which they succeeded stands as a testament to the airmanship and engineering skills that went into every such attempt.
Motor racing, by contrast, did not feature strongly in these formative years because it was not something towards which the British motor industry paid great attention. While Britain had built the world’s first permanent venue for racing, at Brooklands, her Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders held a long-standing ban on manufacturers displaying ‘vulgar and irrelevant’ competition cars at the annual Motor Show.
When motor racing finally entered Britain’s wider sporting consciousness after World War 2, it was neither the glamour of Le Mans or the splendour of Grand Prix racing which won acclaim – but rather the grit of motorcycle racing on the Isle of Man TT.
The first recipient of the Segrave Trophy for racing exploits was Geoff Duke in 1951, in recognition of winning both the 350cc and 500cc motorcycle world titles with a total of nine race wins, including the Senior and Junior Isle of Man TTs. Not until 1957 would a racing driver claim the award – this being Stirling Moss, and this was both for winning three Grands Prix and setting five world speed records.
Even at this time, however, aviation still held sway… although the differences brought by the war were profound. Records were no longer set in small, lightweight aircraft but by gleaming metal jets. The British Empire no longer existed but another great boundary was targeted and conquered – the sound barrier.
It was with the presentation of the award to Concorde test pilot Brian Trubshaw in 1970 that a fundamental change affected the Segrave Trophy. Where previously it was the setting of records that had provided the majority of winners, it became more a recognition for achievement – a broader definition, bringing a more diverse collection of disciplines to prominence.
In the past 40 years the Segrave Trophy has become increasingly focused upon achievements in motor racing, and of these the overwhelming majority have been attained in Formula One. This is where so much focus in terms of engineering, management and driving talent has been placed – not to mention public interest – and continues to act as the ‘engine room’ for the largest sporting economy in the world.
For more information on the Segrave Trophy, visit the website here.