Formula 1 drivers have united to dissuade protesters from disrupting the British Grand Prix through on-track protests, with McLaren driver Oscar Piastri arguing there is “no cause good enough to excuse that” given the high risk of doing so.
Just Stop Oil protesters invaded the track on the Wellington Straight at the start of last year’s British Grand Prix, which coincided with the red flag thrown as a result of Zhou Guanyu’s massive start accident. This led to six people being found guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.
Just Stop Oil has regularly disrupted sporting events in recent months, including the World Snooker Championship, the Rugby Premiership final, the England vs Australia Lord’s test match and, earlier this week, The Championships at Wimbledon.
The lead backer of Just Stop Oil, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince, recently said that events are selected based on their profile, telling The Guardian that “if you’re a high-profile sport, I would say that probably you might be on the target list”. The British GP fits that criterion, with an anticipated three-day attendance of 480,000 people.
Security has been upped for this year’s British Grand Prix, with Northamptonshire police issuing a statement in June that said “extra resources will be in place throughout this year’s race event and officers will use new policing powers introduced under the Public Order Act 2023, as part of the contingency plans should anyone attempt to unlawfully disrupt the event”.
The drivers are most concerned about a repeat of last year’s on-track protest, an incident that also evoked memories of the 2003 race when Neil Horan ran onto the Hangar Straight during the grand prix.
“Everyone’s advice is just don’t run onto a live racetrack,” said Piastri on Thursday of the possibility of a protest. “There’s no cause that’s good enough to excuse that.
“I saw they were at Wimbledon yesterday and they were at The Ashes a few weeks ago. It’s one thing to go onto a tennis court or a cricket pitch, but not a racetrack. So I hope everyone stays sensible.
“Of course, there’s a time and a place to protest for what you believe in, but during an F1 race on the track is not the time.
“I just hope everyone stays safe, I’m sure the security here will be on high alert given what happened last year and all the events going on currently. So, stay off the racetrack.”
McLaren driver Lando Norris said he understood the desire to protest but warned that this cannot happen on a live circuit.
He suggested those protesting might not be aware of the consequences of their actions given the speeds involved and called for the punitive consequences for those caught attempting to protest on track to be severe.
“I understand it in certain situations, but it’s just something that can’t happen at a racing event,” said Norris. “If it happens in the paddock and things like that, that probably causes different scenarios. But it just can’t happen on a racetrack because you put actual people’s lives in danger, not just the people who are doing it on the circuit.
“I don’t know if they realise the consequences of what can happen, but the consequences would be pretty extreme. It’s happening more and more, it seems. They have the right to do it and so forth, but there’s a time and a place and that just needs to be understood because it will also cause consequences for the people who are on track driving such as us.
“It just can’t happen on track. It’s quite simple, if it does then the consequences should be pretty severe.”
Mercedes driver George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, said he put his faith in the event organisers, F1 and the FIA and backed the extra resources thrown at safety during the race weekend – which includes significant specialist police presence and live facial recognition cameras that will trigger alerts if people on a police-generated watchlist are seen.
Russell also urged protesters to look into F1’s sustainability endeavours, although given the stated aim of the protesters is to get publicity for the cause rather than target the events specifically this is unlikely to have an effect.
“We put our trust and faith in F1, Silverstone and the FIA,” said Russell. “We’re all open and free to cast our views, but doing it on a live Formula 1 track is pretty irresponsible and extremely dangerous for the protesters. But not only them, the drivers, marshals who will potentially be running after people.
“I’d also encourage these protesters to look at the good that Formula 1 is doing from a sustainability perspective. We’re going to 100% sustainable fuels in the future. As a sport as teams as individuals, we’re doing a huge push on the sustainability front and I think it would only be fair for them to have a look, see what we’re doing, even open conversations with us before recklessly running onto a circuit when we’re driving past at 200mph.”
Seven times F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton said “I support peaceful protest” and backed the basic principles protesters are fighting for. But he also warned that on-track actions should not happen given the safety risk.
“From my perspective, and my team’s, we are very focused on sustainability and we believe in what people are fighting for,” said Hamilton. “And we are making those changes as a sport.
“But safety’s key. We don’t want to be put in harm’s way and we don’t want to put anyone else in harm’s way. If there was to be one [a protest], we hope that it’s not on track.”
The drivers are also well aware that there is a good chance there will be some kind of protest aiming to disrupt the race, even if that is not a repeat of last year’s on-track incident.
Williams driver Alex Albon expects further discussion with the FIA over the weekend to understand the plans that are in place.
“There is possibly quite a high chance of something happening this weekend,” said Albon. “But we just have to wait and see.
“More than anything, with the sport that we do, it is a bit of a concern purely because a pitch invasion is one thing, but obviously with cars and moving parts and all this kind of thing, it gets a bit more dangerous to some extent.
“We’re still yet to have a meeting with the FIA about what would happen in circumstances like but we just have to be prepared for it.”