Lando Norris, McLaren, Silverstone, 2023

Drivers warn against “stupid” on-track protest as activists target British sports

2023 British Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by

The first official track action of the British Grand Prix weekend has begun today admid heightened concerns over possible disruption from climate activists.

Silverstone has seen such protests twice in the last two years. A group from Extinction Rebellion managed to infiltrate the 2020 race, which was held behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and displayed a banner which was seen on television broadcasts.

Another protest which occured during last year’s race could have attracted much greater attention. A group broke into the circuit at the Wellington Straight and sat on the live race track, potentially putting themselves and drivers in serious danger.

However Zhou Guanyu’s huge crash moments after the start meant the race was immediately red-flagged, which deflected attention away from the protest. Several of those who entered the track, representing climate campaign group Just Stop Oil, were subsequently convicted of causing a public nuisance.

Just Stop Oil protesters were arrested at least year’s race
The growing awareness of F1 as one of the biggest entertainment properties in the world, and one of the largest sports competitions in terms of infrastructure, financing and viewership, has made it a more attractive target for those who would seek to disrupt it to gain public attention.

F1 is far from alone in seeing a rise in such protests. In Britain, cricket, tennis, rugby and snooker have all been targeted. Elsewhere in motor racing even all-electric series Formula E has been disrupted by climate activists – a group called ‘Letzte Generation’ (‘Last Generation’) targeted the 2023 Berlin EPrix in April.

Yesterday George Russell called on those targeted F1 to take notice of the efforts the series is making to reduce its emissions as part of its goal to become a net zero producer of carbon by 2030. But climate protests at sporting events aren’t necessarily targeted at whether those competitions conduct themselves in an environmentally responsible manner.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

They seek to use the visibility of such events to get their message seen in front of the biggest audience possible. That is of course if they bring banners, and have time to unfurl them in front of spectators and television cameras before security pin them down.

Protesters also targeted Formula E earlier this year
Motorsport faces a complex challenge resisting this kind of invasion. It may be difficult to break into a race track, but the sheer scale of them as facilities – particularly tree-lined circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps – means there are many unsighted areas, meaning a large security presence is needed to police spectator areas. Greenpeace executed their protest at the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix by attending the venue weeks before to install banners that could be made visible via a remote control.

Local police put out a warning in advance of last year’s British GP saying they had intelligence that event disruption was being planned, but even with prior knowledge the authorities were unable to prevent it from going ahead.

Aside from checking bags upon circuit entry for tools that would be used in a protest or to trespass onto the track, it remains a big challenge for event organisers to take direct preventative action once a protestor is in the venue. Ahead of this weekend’s race the police are taking a number of additional steps in reaction to the increased potential for disruption.

Extra police will attend, including plain-clothed and armed officers as well as search teams with sniffer dogs. Live Facial Recognition cameras will be used to identify individuals on a watchlist (according to the police, these will only be used in clearly marked areas and any data on individuals who do not trigger an alert will be deleted).

Some in the sport have expressed a degree of sympathy for the protesters’ causes, while strongly condemning their methods. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel (the latter now retired) have been the two strongest advocates for various environmental and social causes over the last seven years, including the Black Lives Matter movement, and helped organise the involvement of their rivals in the advocating of such causes on grand prix weekends.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

They realised using their platform within F1 could do more to not only bring attention to issues but also educate audiences and inform their opinions and decisions on them. Vettel showed public sympathy to the cause of last year’s Silverstone protestors but criticised them for risking the lives of marshals who stopped them before anyone was hit by a car. Hamilton struck a similar note yesterday, saying he “supports peaceful protests” but not track invasions.

While F1 continues to promote its environmental credentials and make genuine steps towards improving its sustainability, some view its races as an opportunity to promote their goals. At Silverstone thousands will be hoping none are irresponsible enough to repeat last year’s protest which not only endangered the lives who took part in it, but the drivers, track officials and spectators as well.

Views in F1 on the protest threat

Stefano Domenicali, F1’s CEO: “We are not here to dispute any different opinion on the things, but to do things that is getting dangerous and basically destroying an event that 100,000 people coming to is I think totally wrong. And I think there are ways of showing what you want to do, but this is totally unacceptable. So I really hope that people understand that is not the place where you want to find the right space. That is pretty clear to me.

“And our industry is really frontline to make sure that this awareness of sustainability for the future is there. So we are really engaged on that.”

Pierre Gasly, Alpine driver: “It’s not only about the [safety of the] drivers, it’s about someone getting on the track, the marshals taking a risk for their life and they are there to protect everyone at the event. I think it’s extremely important everybody respect’s everyone’s safety and everyone’s job, and really don’t do anything silly during the weekend.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Lando Norris, McLaren driver: I think to do such a thing [as a track invasion], I’m not going to lie, it’s a stupid thing to do to put your life in danger with cars driving around. It’s a very selfish thing to do at the same time.

Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Silverstone, 2023
“Don’t do anything silly” – Gasly
“This particular act of what happened last year, because of the consequences it also has on the person that’s driving the car if something happened. But at the same time, it’s not my area of expertise and my best knowledge of these things, but everyone has the right to do such a thing. I guess there are some good ways of doing it and worse ways.

“[I saw] Lewis saying he supports it in a way, he supports protests and these kinds of things and people standing up for what they think is right, as long as it’s done in the right way. I think that’s the most important thing. Do we have to think about it? I don’t want to think of it as a concern. I feel like Silverstone will do the best job that they can to stop these kind of things. I just hope people are smart enough to not do such a thing again. There’s plenty of other ways and much safer ways to get just as much attention and to do what they want to do.”

Oscar Piastri, McLaren driver: “I think climbing the fence and jumping onto a race track with cars coming at 200mph is not the way to go about it, at all.”

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin: “I guess there is not much that we can do. I’m sure the circuit and the FIA and FOM are taking care of the matter and trying to have a safe grand prix for everyone. I respect everyone that has something to say and make a protest, but not on a sporting event and not in a motorsport event where the danger factor can increase significantly if you do the wrong thing. In a way if we talk too much we just give them the right publicity so I prefer not to talk.”

Become a RaceFans Supporter

RaceFans is run thanks in part to the generous support of its readers. By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the same in whichever currency you use) you can help cover the costs of creating, hosting and developing RaceFans today and in the future.

Become a RaceFans Supporter today and browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2023 F1 season

Browse all 2023 F1 season articles

Author information

Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

46 comments on “Drivers warn against “stupid” on-track protest as activists target British sports”

  1. When you’re personally, professionally, and as a sport gaining from burning hydrocarbons in the most hedonistic of ways, maybe you’re not the best judge of when and how such a practice should be protested.

    1. +1 @proesterchen

      They all think that humanity needs vehicles running in circles.

      Even worse, they think those vehicles need to burn finite Earth’s resources to run in circles.

      On top of that, vehicles need to run in circles in multiple different places on Earth.

      Some people think that there already are alternatives available to produce a sustainable show where vehicles run in circles. But these people are wrong!

      1. People should just stop breathing, knowing that it releases CO2

        It irks me to watch everyone breathing just for the heck of it while ruining the planet

      2. This just demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of how to progress beyond oil. F1 is moving towards carbon zero and is putting billions into the research for production and implementation of reusable biofuels. So if you’d like to stop F1 you lose all that work being done on renewable energy sources. Don’t try try to claim it would happen anyway, the world doesn’t work like that, nothing is free

        1. Hydrocarbons are not a renewable energy source. Biofuels are neither bio nor reusable. Synthetic fuels are a terribly inefficient way to store energy.

          If you see efforts to greenwash the burning of hydrocarbons, you can be almost certain that you’re seeing the effects of some entity with a lot of fossil hydrocarbon deposits in their portfolio desperately trying to keep the infrastructure in place to sell said deposits at their earliest convenience.

    2. Every citizen have the same right to judge whatever they like. If you impede other people freedom you are committing violence which is what protesters are doing.

      1. Is it therefore not “committing violence” to impede the protestors freedom to protest?

      2. Do we also have a freedom to live on a planet that is not destroyed just to make more money?

        Because this is exactly what F1 does nowadays. They don’t have to run 24 races to be entertaining. 2020 was OK.

        They don’t have to go to different continents every weekend.

        They don’t have to do many things and still keep the core of F1 in tact.

        But they do them and pretend they want to be sustainable by 2030. Don’t buy their BS. people.

        1. Don’t you ever dare to lose weight, don’t you know where the burned fat goes? More CO2 to the atmosphere, that’s where it goes.

          And of course never ever dare to fart, to the CO2 you are adding methane which is even worse.

      3. Protests at the protested parties’ convenience are not protests at all.

        1. @proesterchen Understand the point you are making. But are F1 really the ‘protested party’ given that their demands are aimed squarely at the UK government and their tactics are about disruption and trying to get their mesage out to a wider audience? Is the aim to get F1 to commit to their demands?

          All comes down to the ‘activist dilemma’ of trying to balance getting the message out to gain support and not going too far to end up gaining net opposition. My view is that they will be on the wrong side of that calculus if their goal is the former.

          1. Misters Norris and Piastri race for a company that is largely owned by the Bahraini sovereign wealth fund. Yes, they are the protested party.

            Mr Gasly races for a team supported by British Petrol. Yes, he is the protested party.

            Mr Alonso races for a team part-owned by the Saudi PIF and has Saudi Aramco sponsorship. Yes, he is the protested party.

            And Mr Domenicali runs an entertainment company that counts Saudi Aramco as one of its biggest sponsors and holds races in several oil-pumping countries. Yes, he and the whole of Formula 1, who all benefit from these revenues, are the protested party.

            I don’t know what the outcome of a potential protest would be, but by and large, Formula 1 is not a bunch of innocent bystanders on the issue of pumping and burning hydrocarbons.

          2. No, they aren’t. These groups don’t want to limit the use of natural resources in motorsport, or even transportation in general. They “demand” a full stop. No exceptions.

            Not only is this antidemocratic, as the government giving exploration and exploitation licenses has broad support in Parliament, it also lacks any sort of alternative to all the other products of the petrochemical industry, from fertilisers and medicine to clothing and cheap heating that mostly helps poorer families.

          3. Look at where we are. Look at where we’re going.

            If the two options are ‘keep going as we have’ and ‘stop doing what we’re doing,’ the end result will land closer to the latter, and the only remaining argument is over time frames.

    3. @proesterchen They are if they realise that the particular form it will take will be interpreted in a manner other than “promoting the cause”. They know what effects the “burning hydrocarbons in the most hedonistic of ways” are intended to cause. If they’re up to date on their customer feedback, they know which effects they actually have. Thus they would be able to see how certain forms of protesting interact with this to not produce the intended effect.

      After all, it’s a smaller step than some of these protesters think between being seen as a martyr with a valid cause and a fool whose views should be outright rejected – and voluntary death in public to make statements rarely cause reactions between those two states. Those who think the latter become inured to the extremist’s requests (in mild cases) and to any requests from people on “that side” (if it gets beyond a certain point). This results in “the activist’s dilemma”, and research done by Stanford University indicates that climate protests have reached the “certain point”. Note that this only applies to disruptive and/or dangerous protests – the University of Jerusalem found that petitions and peaceful protests, that are only disruptive to the most sensitive of viewers and to governments, still increase support for climate change causes and their requests.

      Even if one thinks that risking other people’s lives for one’s cause without their consent is a good idea, practising a technique that sets back one’s cause is a poor choice. Note that George Russell’s comments are a good example of an appeal to alienating allies, something that is considered a sign of reaching “a certain point” in “the activist’s dilemma”.

      1. TL;DR when deciding how to promote a cause, no matter how radical your group is, take into consideration how people respond to different ways of presenting the same point. Sometimes it’s about working more thoughtfully and cannily, not working more extremely or harder.

        1. To me, people already convinced that inconveniencing a bunch of Formula 1 drivers is the tipping point for a potential protest to become too controversial are not currently part of the target audience for any such protest, with other groups considerably more persuadable.

          And if any of the former find themselves rattled by a protest, all the better.

  2. Electroball76
    7th July 2023, 12:58

    Ban the cars and instead run a “Formula Tree” event. Teams work together (everyone is a winner here) to create a lovely arboretum in place of a race track. Teams can create flowerbeds and shrubberies in the shape of their favourite sponsor logos. International events could highlight the regional flora and fauna.
    It might be a bit slow as a spectacle, but no more so than the golf.

    1. Top(iary) idea!
      At the end of the day all teams can link arms and swaying together can sing, in harmony,

      All we are saying is Give Trees A Chance.

      1. @davedai – top comment that – love it

      2. @davedai @ahxshades

        So funny! Everything is binary! It’s either “dancing in harmony” or “burning everything to the ground”. There’s nothing in between!

        1. Must be wonderful in your world where no-one can have a sense of humour

    2. The Hockenheimring was ahead of its time!

  3. Activists= Extremists that journalists like.
    Extremists = Extremists that journalists don’t like.

    1. “Extremists” = people you don’t like.

      How convenient.

      1. @proesterchen – you know, actually you just complemented his point beautifully with this remark. 👏️

  4. Let’s face it – a race meeting is hardly the place for protesters to garner support. Getting their message out there at any cost doesn’t achieve much (if it even does get out and isn’t ignored by broadcasters) – actually almost universally tending to turn people against not only the protesters but also the (often quite respectable) cause they are seeking attention for.

    Nobody likes attentions seekers when they are so massively out of place and context.

  5. I’m prooobably just tiny a bit right wing 👀

    I hate protestors impacting my day, and often want to punch them in their throats.

    I also don’t subscribe to this climate bull s Keith likes to push.

    But, they have the right to protest, and I’m glad they can protest, on the roads or on the track. The state and the elites might disagree. Next stop, Saudi.

    1. It doesn’t make you “right-wing”, and it makes you “common sense”

      1. “Common sense” would be believing in science and climate change. Not believing in it would make you part of the new, anti-intellectual right. I hate the Stop Oil movement because I think it actually turns people off and polarizes the public. I also think there’s nothing wrong with F1. It’s a hobby and a sport. It’s miguides to protest it. There are much more fundamental forces to protest that are slowing building a more efficient infrastructure and world. They should be protesting anti-nuclear energy nitwits.

        1. Fission energy is a fool’s errand on virtually any measurable scale.

          Unless you’re actually doing it for the highly-radioactive ‘byproducts.”

    2. They don’t. Silverstone is private property of the BRDC and trespassing is a tortious or criminal act, depending on specific circumstances.

  6. Snipers – that’s all we need – snipers

    1. Just thinking – that could solve track limits too :)

    2. Snipers – that’s all we need – snipers

      As if the coloured powder clean-up wasn’t enough, you want to add 60+ kilos of meat on a hot day?

      1. Should be picked off before reaching the track – wildlife can take care of the cleanup.

  7. It will happen again, and noone will actually care

    … Again

  8. Sergey Martyn
    7th July 2023, 18:07

    Who would ever doubt that the dumbest protesters without a cause are British?
    I’m surprised they aren’t lgbt+qwertydr etc, etc or whatever – or are they?

    1. Who would ever doubt that the dumbest protesters without a cause are British?

      We can do pretty much anything better than others – especially dumb.
      Although, I must admit, we did let the best candidates escape across the pond.

      1. Sergey Martyn
        8th July 2023, 9:50

        Agree! Still can’t understand how the nation which I adore for Shakespeare, Burns, Kipling, Pre-Raphaelites, Jerome K. Jerome, Beardsley, Woodehouse, Agatha Christie, Monty Python, Mr. Bean, my favorite magazine ever (VIZ), etc. etc. now produces such dimwit protesting clowns whose brains are deteriorated by the wet dreams about Greta Tundberg and all that green agenda hogwash.

  9. In time these protestors will be looked back on as heroes.

    1. Sound to me a lot like Luddites, maybe heroes not particularly admired today.

  10. Stupid to risk your life for a lie.

  11. 100% agree with the cause. The planet is crying and more and more species of plants and animals are being pushed to the brink of extinction and we are 100% responsible. You can make a difference by helping out biodiversity by joining any number of environmental groups across the world which actively revegetate lost habitats. As for protesting on a racetrack, I’d suggest finding other means. Perhaps people considering such a protest should watch the footage of Tom Pryce’s fatal accident and they may reconsider…

  12. some racing fan
    8th July 2023, 5:31

    As much as I agree with their views about climate change, events like these are not the places to do it.

  13. Can someone square the circle on Lewis Hamilton’s support for Just Stop Oil, when his primary sponsor is oil company Petronas?

Comments are closed.