The 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was overshadowed by an ugly incident at its climax. On the final lap of the race, the track organisers allowed photographers onto the pitroad to start setting up the Parc Ferme area, seemingly not realising that Esteban Ocon was still to complete his mandatory pitstop. The Alpine driver had to lift off to avoid hitting them, and this led to a bizarre situation where the FIA had to call… themselves into the stewards office to remind the organisers of safety procedures. This got us thinking… just how safe and secure is a Formula 1 race?
Baku 2023 was likely just a really unfortunate case of miscommunication. It is standard procedure to start organising the parc ferme area on the final lap of a race to save time. But with more teams tactically going for fastest lap attempts at the end of a race for a bonus point, it’s a procedure that probably needs to be addressed before the sport heads to Miami.
After all, Baku wasn’t an exceptional case of race security being compromised. At 2022’s Australian Grand Prix, influencers from the paddock were allowed into the pitlane too soon, with Alex Albon just metres away from hitting fans entering a live pitlane, with seemingly no-one knowing Albon still had to make his mandatory pitstop at the last minute.
And it’s not the first time Albert Park’s had security problems. A year later at the 2023 Australian Grand Prix, fans who were released from the grandstands too early were seen touching the Haas car of Nico Hulkenberg, who had broken down just seconds after the race was over.
With the car still potentially “live” due to the electrics of F1’s hybrid power units, it could have been an incredibly dangerous situation. Post-race track invasions are a great part of the fan experience when done properly, but timing is critical to avoid harming themselves on a track that could still be active. This is something that the FIA needs to organise with the track’s promoters to ensure it all runs smoothly.
In other cases, local measures from the government can affect a Grand Prix’s running. In Bahrain for example, cars that enter the facility have to be checked for explosive devices, and all bags are scanned, similar to airport security. This was likely due to the protests in the country in 2011 that led to the Grand Prix being cancelled.
Speaking of protests, Silverstone’s often struggled to contain protesters due to the massive amount of land the legendary circuit covers. In 2022, the UK protest group Just Stop Oil had six of its members climb over the catch fence and onto a live track as the race started. In an incredible (and slightly ironic) moment, Zhou Guanyu’s famous flip into the barriers brought out an immediate red flag, allowing the cars to slow down before they got to the protest on the Wellington straight.
We’ve had a few track invaders over the years exploit gaps in security to directly affect races. In 2015’s Singapore Grand Prix, a British fan breached the perimeter fence and spent nearly a minute on track, walking down the back straight, bringing out a Safety Car. In 2000, a former Mercedes employee, mad at being unfairly sacked from his job, ran across the old Hockenheim track with cars going past at close to 200mph. And most famously in 2003, former priest Neil Horan lept over a fence and onto the Hangar Straight, having to be tackled by an incredibly brave marshal.
Organising events that often contain tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of spectators will always have difficulties and you’ll never be able to cover absolutely every scenario, but reminders from the past, as well as recent changes to the very nature of the end of Grands Prix, show that how races are organised needs to be constantly checked. Because the last thing anyone wants to see is innocent lives being put in danger.
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