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
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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

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