John Watson followed third in Spain and second in France with a popular victory in his McLaren at Silverstone.
The weekend had seemed to be set for more Renault domination when Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux smashed lap records on their way to monopolising the front row of the grid. But hints all was not as it should be came when Prost twice had to abandon his car during practice. Most pundits agreed the race was theirs if the cars held up. Watson and his team-mate, Angelo de Cesaris, were in fifth and sixth.
Prost stormed into an early lead but after only 17 laps he had to pit and then retire with a misfiring engine. Arnoux, who started badly but fought back to second by the third lap, built a half-minute lead over Watson before his engine started sounding poorly. Watson wiped out his advantage and took the lead to the roars of the 85,000 crowd. Arnoux still seemed set for second until his Renault coasted to a halt three laps from the end.
Watson had only just avoided coming to grief on the fourth lap when Gilles Villeneuve clipped a curb and veered into the path of Alan Jones. Jones could not avoid the collision, while de Cesaris, blinded by tyre smoke, swerved across the track. Watson just managed to steer through the chaos.
Nelson Piquet, who had been in front of that incident, crashed heavily on the 12th lap when his Brabham suffered a rear puncture. Didier Pironi briefly held third until his Ferrari expired, and Carlos Reutemann made the most of Arnoux's misfortune to take second and in so doing retain his lead in the drivers' championship.
"The crowd's reaction was magnificent," Watson said. "I've never seen anything like it, even in South America when one of their people has been in the lead. But I tried to ignore it until I could see the chequered flag."
Admission for the race was £9, and for £57 spectators could beat the traffic by arriving in a helicopter.