The four-times Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel said he sympathises with the environmental protesters who invaded the track at the British Grand Prix on Sunday. Vettel, who has been an outspoken climate campaigner for some time, conceded that the activists’ protest could have put lives at risk.
Activists from the Just Stop Oil group had breached the fencing and sat down on the track on the opening lap at Silverstone shortly after Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu had suffered a huge, high-speed crash at turn one. The race was stopped immediately but five protesters took to the track on the Wellington straight while the cars were still circulating back to the pits. They were removed by the authorities shortly afterwards.
Their methods for the protest were widely condemned as dangerous but Lewis Hamilton expressed his support for their cause and Vettel too felt they were acting because of genuine fear of the scale of the climate emergency.
“Everybody is free to have their own view on it,” Vettel said. “These people don’t act out of frustration but they are desperate and 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.
“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 weekend race, drivers, marshals. So there’s two sides. I think the message was very clear and like I said, I completely sympathize with their fears and anxieties. ”
James Skeet, a spokesperson for the group, said he believed the action had been a success in drawing attention to their cause. “We are out of time unfortunately,” he said. “We are in a dire situation.”
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz won the race, with Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez in second and Hamilton in third for Mercedes. When asked about the protests after the race Hamilton lent his support. “I love that people are fighting for the planet. So we need more people like them, ”he said. He later posted on Instagram clarifying that he did not condone their methods.
“While I’ll always support those standing up for what they believe in, it must be done safely,” he wrote. “Please don’t jump on to our race circuits to protest, we don’t want to put you in harm’s way.”
Hamilton’s third place equalled his best finish this year and he also led a race for the first time this season. He was cautiously optimistic about the performance of his Mercedes at Silverstone, as F1 heads to the Austrian GP this weekend.
“It’s hugely encouraging that we were in the fight,” he said. “For a good period of time, I was matching the Ferraris’ pace, and even better at some stages and we got the quickest lap at the end, which I don’t think we’ve been able to do this year. I don’t think we’re in a winning position yet but we’re not far away. “