Lewis Hamilton has expressed grave concern at the announcement that the British Grand Prix will host more than 140,000 spectators this year. The Formula One world champion believes the decision to allow a full-capacity crowd at Silverstone may be premature given the recent rise in Covid cases across the UK, fears British racing fans may be being used as test cases and has questioned the confusing messages coming from the government.
Silverstone confirmed on Thursday that it had got the green light for approximately 141,000 fans to watch the British GP, paving the way for the biggest UK crowd since the start of the pandemic. The grand prix takes place just one day before the mooted end of coronavirus restrictions in England on 19 July, and Silverstone officials will be allowed to sell out for the entire 16-18 July weekend.
The news will come as a major boost to Silverstone’s managing director Stuart Pringle, who is understood to have stressed to government officials that the circuit – which staged the first ever Formula One world championship event in 1950 – would go bust if fans were not permitted. But Hamilton, the most successful driver at the British GP with seven wins and who has long enjoyed a special relationship with Silverstone fans, was less than enthusiastic about the development when speaking about it before fans this weekend’s Styrian GP.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to see people and to see the British crowd because it’s the best crowd of the whole year,” said the 36-year-old. “But I watch the news and I hear about cases going up massively in the UK, so I am worried for people naturally.
“I read the vaccination is good in that fewer people are being hospitalised but it feels a bit premature to me.”
In order for the race to go ahead all attendees will have to conform to strict protocols, which Silverstone have confirmed will include a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of arrival or full vaccination. When informed of this rules, Hamilton was unequivocal that it did not change his opinion on the matter. “No, it’s been great that we’ve had people even at the last race and I have not heard any negative things from the last race,” he said. “But I like to err on the side of caution and slowly build up rather than go full pelt and using our British fans as a test pen.”
“I’m not in politics, I’m not in government,” Hamilton added. “There has been lots of confusing things coming from government over time and I don’t understand it all.”
A full crowd at the British GP will represent the toughest test yet of whether the UK is able to safely return to holding full scale sporting events. In 2019, the last F1 season to be held in normal pre-pandemic circumstances, Silverstone had the highest race day attendance of the season at 141,000 and with 351,000 across the three days of the meeting, the highest overall attendance as well.
Last season Silverstone hosted two races, the British Grand Prix and the F1 Seventieth Anniversary GP but neither were attended by fans. This year’s meeting is to be part of the government’s Event Research Programme (ERP), assessing the impact of holding mass attendance events on Covid rates. Other sporting fixtures included in the ERP are Euro 2020 games and Wimbledon. It was announced earlier this week that more than 60,000 fans will be allowed to attend the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020 at Wembley.
“This is something we have all been working towards for months and I cannot wait to welcome a full capacity crowd back to Silverstone this July,” said Pringle. “Many of our fans rolled their tickets over from 2020 but they are now well-placed to enjoy what is sure to be one of the highlights of the summer.”
This weekend’s Styrian GP at the Red Bull Ring is set to welcome 15,000 fans but next week’s Austrian GP at the same venue is planned to be the first to host a full capacity crowd – approximately 60,000 – since the pandemic began.