Formula One: F1 welcomes Brad Pitt but is wary of protesters at British GP

AP , Friday 7 Jul 2023

Brad Pitt is joining the Formula One paddock for his new movie. He might stand as much chance as anyone else of beating Max Verstappen.

Max Verstappen
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during the first free practice at the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone racetrack, Silverstone, England, Friday, July 7, 2023. The British Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. Photo: AP


Verstappen will be aiming for his eighth win in 10 races this year on Sunday as he surges toward winning the title for a third straight year. His Red Bull team has won 19 of the last 20 races going back to July 2022.

As F1 welcomes Pitt for a weekend of filming around the British Grand Prix, race organizers and police are wary of possible environmental protests.

Protest warnings

Activists representing the Just Stop Oil group ran onto the track at last year’s race, passing close to cars shortly after the race was red-flagged for a first-lap crash. Since then, Just Stop Oil protesters have made their mark on British events including Wimbledon and Ashes cricket. The group wants the British government to block all new oil, gas and coal extraction projects.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton signaled he would back a “peaceful” protest but expressed concern for the safety of drivers and protesters if anyone makes it onto the Silverstone track again.

“I think at least from my perspective, and I think my team’s, we are very, very focused on sustainability, we believe in what people are fighting for and we are making those changes as a sport,” Hamilton said Thursday. “But safety is 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.”

McLaren driver Lando Norris said there should be “pretty severe” consequences if lives are put at risk.

“If it happens in the paddock and things like that, I guess that probably causes different scenarios, but it just can’t happen on a race track because you put actual people’s lives in danger,” he said.

Six activists who stormed the track at last year’s race were spared prison sentences in March. Local police have said they will deploy facial recognition technology.

Verstappen leads P1

Verstappen was top again in Friday’s first practice session, setting a time .448 seconds faster than second-place teammate Sergio Perez, though he complained of a lack of grip earlier in the session. Alex Albon was third-fastest for Williams, ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.

The kind of dominance shown so far this season by the Dutch driver and Red Bull is already making F1 history. Red Bull is the first team to win all of the first nine races of a season since McLaren won 11 in 1988.

That 1988 season was enlivened by a fierce battle between world-champion teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, though. Verstappen’s own teammate Perez started the season strongly but has faded, partly because he’s struggled repeatedly in qualifying, and is now 81 points off Verstappen in second place.

FIA president Mohamed Bin Sulayem told The Associated Press this week that he doesn’t see a need to rein in Red Bull for the benefit of F1 as a whole. “Nobody’s stopping the other teams from being better,” he said.

If Verstappen wins on Sunday, he will become only the fifth driver in F1 history with victories in six consecutive races, and the first since Nico Rosberg for Mercedes in 2015 and 2016.

Hamilton’s hopes

Hamilton and Mercedes need a lift after a tough weekend at the last race in Austria, with Hamilton placing 10th in the sprint and eighth in the race. He’s expecting a boost from the home crowd.

“So happy to be back. This Grand Prix is the best,” Hamilton said Thursday. “The crowd just lifts you and the whole team up. And there’s this kind of feeling of floating when you come here on that positive energy that everyone brings, and just seeing so many flags, so many caps and people supporting us. It really just helps spur you along.”

The first practice session wasn’t ideal for Mercedes, though, as Hamilton was 12th fastest after complaining his car was bouncing and teammate George Russell said his steering was vibrating as he placed 14th.

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