No matter how noble the cause, the Silverstone protest was reckless and risked lives

OPINION: Formula 1 avoided a disaster despite protesters launching a track invasion at the start of the British Grand Prix. While the cause is one many will agree with, the situation put innocent people in danger which cannot be accepted

No matter how noble the cause, the Silverstone protest was reckless and risked lives

Sunday’s British Grand Prix could have ended up being a dark day for Formula 1.

On another timeline, one where the resistance to the halo and its alleged sullying of motor racing’s purity proved successful, Zhou Guanyu’s terrifying accident at Abbey could have resulted in far worse consequences. The fact he not only emerged from the crash but did so unscathed is testament to the remarkable advances F1 has made when it comes to safety.

One of the strange consequences of the crash was that the resulting red flag actually played a role in preventing what could potentially have been a very nasty accident, involving people who made their way onto the track for the opening lap of the race.

In the lead-up to the Silverstone race weekend, Northamptonshire police had issued a statement saying there was “credible intelligence” that a protest was being planned for Sunday. Efforts were made to facilitate a peaceful protest for Just Stop Oil, the climate activist group, only for the track invasion to go ahead. Seven people were subsequently arrested.

It is a miracle that no-one was seriously hurt. Fan footage shows the protesters walking onto the track near the bridge over the Wellington Straight, mere metres from the cars racing line, before sitting down until marshals haul them away. It is one of the fastest points of the circuit, renowned for side-by-side action, particularly on the opening lap. We saw with Kimi Raikkonen’s crash in 2014 that it is a point where cars can spear sideways and into the wall. Had the cars been at racing speed, it would have been a terrifying moment for the drivers trying to avoid those on-track, not to mention the volunteer marshals and officials tasked with hauling them away.

Just Stop Oil has undertaken a number of protests this year. The group was only established a few months ago, yet has quickly gained momentum through action such as sabotaging petrol stations or seeing activists glue themselves to Van Gogh artwork.

Protesters found a way on to the Silverstone circuit at the start of the race

Protesters found a way on to the Silverstone circuit at the start of the race

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

But this was different. This was not a way of disturbing something to make a point - a very valid one, it has to be said. This was something that put the lives of so many people at risk and went way too far.

James Skeet, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, appeared on television show Good Morning Britain this morning to discuss it, and felt his very presence proved their success as a movement. “I’m on your programme talking about the most critical issue facing humanity, so therefore that’s a success,” he said, later warning: “If we don’t take action now, we’re all going to die.”

The merits of climate activism cannot and must not be ignored. The world is facing increasing challenges when it comes to ensuring we have a sustainable future - or any kind of future at all - and all of the drivers who discussed the incident after the race were very mindful of that. Sebastian Vettel, a regular speaker on climate issues, noted the desperation many protesters may feel when they see governments failing to act on matters that may force them to take such stupid action.

“I very much sympathise with their fears and their anxieties which I think everybody who understands the size of the problem that's drifting towards us can understand,” Vettel said.

“On the other hand, I see the other side. There's marshals trying to stop people from doing these kind of things. You’re risking people that are involved in the race weekend, drivers, marshals.”

The series has been clear in its push to make environmental concerns part of its plan for the future, aiming for a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 and developing a fully sustainable fuel to be introduced in the coming years

It’s exactly this: potentially putting the lives of innocent drivers and volunteers at risk is not the way to get your point across. It’s reckless.

“You're putting us at risk to be involved in something that we would never ever want to be involved in,” said McLaren’s Lando Norris, who called what happened “worrying”. Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo said the drivers had not been made aware of the initial police statement that a protest was being planned, and that the Silverstone track invasion by a priest in 2003 quickly came to his mind.

Like Vettel, Lewis Hamilton has been a key figure speaking out about issues that go far beyond motor racing, and initially welcomed the environmental protests when speaking in the FIA press conference after the race. But he later took to Instagram to urge people not to invade the track while they are racing to get their points across.

Hamilton welcomed environmental protests but urged people not to invade the track to get their points across

Hamilton welcomed environmental protests but urged people not to invade the track to get their points across

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Asked on Good Morning Britain about the risk of life involved in this protest, Skeet said: “I appreciate it’s counter-intuitive, but history has shown time and time again that civil resistance is the most effective means to bring about the kind of societal shifts that we need to see in the sort of time that we have left.”

Ex-footballer turned pundit and crisp ambassador Gary Lineker shared a clip from the GMB interview on Twitter, said that “history will look back very favourably on these people”, given the importance of their cause, sparking a response from many in the F1 community.

Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle said: “Please don’t encourage this reckless behaviour. They’d have been sliced into 100 pieces and fans, marshals and drivers were wholly at risk of injury and death. We already had one lucky escape. I totally 100% support freedom of speech and opinion, but do it responsibly.”

It is a view that F1 as a whole seems to agree with. The series has been clear in its push to make environmental concerns part of its plan for the future, aiming for a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 and developing a fully sustainable fuel to be introduced in the coming years. More can always be done, and every single one of us must do more to take the climate crisis we face more seriously. Our very existence depends on it.

But there is a way to go about things and to raise awareness. As desperate as things may seem and as frustrated as the lack of real action by those in charge may be, risking lives is not the way to do it.

F1 is aiming for a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 and is developing a fully sustainable fuel

F1 is aiming for a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030 and is developing a fully sustainable fuel

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

shares
comments

Related video

Why Sainz's first win could be costly for Ferrari long term
Previous article

Why Sainz's first win could be costly for Ferrari long term

Next article

F1 legends pay tribute to Sir Frank Williams

F1 legends pay tribute to Sir Frank Williams
The other McLaren exile hoping to follow Perez's path to a top F1 seat Prime

The other McLaren exile hoping to follow Perez's path to a top F1 seat

After being ditched by McLaren earlier in his F1 career Sergio Perez fought his way back into a seat with a leading team. BEN EDWARDS thinks the same could be happening to another member of the current grid

How studying Schumacher helped make Coulthard a McLaren F1 mainstay Prime

How studying Schumacher helped make Coulthard a McLaren F1 mainstay

Winner of 13 grands prix including Monaco and survivor of a life-changing plane crash, David Coulthard could be forgiven for having eased into a quiet retirement – but, as MARK GALLAGHER explains, in fact he’s busier than ever, running an award-winning media company and championing diversity in motor racing. Not bad for someone who, by his own admission, wasn’t quite the fastest driver of his generation…

Formula 1
Aug 7, 2022
Could F1 move to a future beyond carbon fibre? Prime

Could F1 move to a future beyond carbon fibre?

Formula 1 has ambitious goals for improving its carbon footprint, but could this include banishing its favoured composite material? Pat Symonds considers the alternatives to carbon fibre and what use, if any, those materials have in a Formula 1 setting

Formula 1
Aug 6, 2022
The traits that fuelled Alonso's unexpected Aston Martin F1 move Prime

The traits that fuelled Alonso's unexpected Aston Martin F1 move

Fernando Alonso’s bombshell switch to Aston Martin sent shockwaves through Formula 1, not least at Alpine that finds itself tangled in a contract standoff with Oscar Piastri. Not shy of a bold career move and with a CV punctuated by them, there were numerous hints that trouble was brewing.

Formula 1
Aug 4, 2022
The elements Ferrari must resolve to first save face, then win championships Prime

The elements Ferrari must resolve to first save face, then win championships

OPINION: Ferrari's Formula 1 title hopes look all but over after another strategic blunder in last week's Hungarian Grand Prix denied Charles Leclerc the chance to fight for victory, while handing it to chief rival Max Verstappen. The Scuderia now faces intense scrutiny over what it must now do to finally become a genuine factor in championship battles

Formula 1
Aug 3, 2022
The clues about Hamilton’s F1 retirement plans after Vettel decision Prime

The clues about Hamilton’s F1 retirement plans after Vettel decision

OPINION: Sebastian Vettel is set to leave Formula 1 at the end of 2022 and will, rather shockingly, be replaced by Fernando Alonso at Aston Martin. But what about the final chapter of the other driver that defined the post-Michael Schumacher era? In Hungary, Lewis Hamilton spoke about his future in the context of Vettel’s upcoming departure, which offered clues on how long it will last.

Formula 1
Aug 2, 2022
Why all signs point to F1’s Monaco special relationship continuing Prime

Why all signs point to F1’s Monaco special relationship continuing

OPINION: With more potential venues than there are slots in future calendars, rumours have been circulating that the Monaco Grand Prix could be a casualty of F1’s expansion into new markets. But Mark Gallagher thinks this is highly unlikely.

Formula 1
Aug 2, 2022
Hungarian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022 Prime

Hungarian Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

The Hungarian Grand Prix race result, after a dry race held without safety car conditions, bore little resemblance to what was anticipated after qualifying. While certain drivers were nullified by some iffy strategy calls, others shone to grasp opportunities afforded to them in the last F1 race before the summer break

Formula 1
Aug 1, 2022