I don’t know much about oil drilling in the Arctic, but I do not think that Greenpeace’s attempts to use the Belgian Grand Prix to draw attention to the activities of race sponsor Shell is the right way to go about drawing attention to it.
A total of 35 protesters were involved with a number of actions at Spa, although very little of this appeared on the international TV feed, as the directors at Formula One television used their cameras skilfully to minimise the exposure.
The subsequent coverage in newspapers and on the web was limited to a paragraph or two in most of the sporting stories. In other words, it was not a success for Greenpeace.
Before the race began, two motorised paragliders appeared over Spa without permission to use the airspace. The sky at a grand prix is a busy place with helicopters flitting around so this was not a risk-free move, particularly as they were doing it all above the large Spa crowds.
At the same time, six men climbed on to the roof of the main grandstand opposite the pits and four of them set about securing themselves and a large banner that read 'Arctic Oil? Shell no' at the front of the grandstand. Two others stood guard on the roof.
The police did not try to remove them as it was felt that trying to move or arrest them might have created more problems. At Raidillon Corner two others climbed up onto a large Shell sign. As the German national anthem was being played to celebrate Vettel's victory at the end of the race, an ingenious banner, which was activated by remote control, appeared at the front of the podium.
This was discreetly taken down by Allsport Management's Alexandre Molina, but another then popped up and he had to do the same again. Greenpeace said that these devices were installed several weeks before the race and were not spotted.
Finally, two other protesters tried to abseil down to the podium from above with similar signs. There was considerable booing from the crowd assembled below. Although coverage of the protest was very limited, there were a number of fans who were less than happy as they had paid considerable sums for grandstand tickets and their view of the large TV screens was blocked.
The sad thing is that these antics will mean that Formula One will be forced to pay more attention to its security in the future. This will make it less fun to go to the Grand Prix and this is where I feel that Greenpeace's actions were inexcusable. Sport is something that people travel to see as a relaxation. It is the fun in their lives and spoiling that fun, not just at Spa but also at future grand prix events, is something that no one deserves.
Given that the coverage of the protests was very limited, Greenpeace clearly failed to make the impression it wanted to make on global television so its activities cannot be deemed to have been a success. That means that the only outcome will be that race fans will have to go through increased security in the future.
Perhaps there are questions that should be asked about drilling in the Arctic, but with such actions Greenpeace has simply alienated the racing world at a time when they would perhaps have achieved more if they had found ways to work with the FIA and the sport as it prepares for the new hybrid World Championship regulations next year.