Formula One fans who today descended on Silverstone for the British Grand Prix appear to have largely ignored Lewis Hamilton’s call for the ‘small sacrifice’ of wearing masks.
The seven-time and current world champion took to Instagram yesterday to ask fans attending the race weekend to cover their faces to ‘keep others around us healthy’.
He added that he had heard of people ‘getting Covid and being ill’ even after receiving two vaccinations.
However, race organisers insisted that masks do not have to be worn because the race meeting is part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP).
And most of the thousands of fans who turned out today to watch the Friday Practice session clearly took the chance to ditch masks, as they were seen sitting in stands without their faces covered.
The seven-time and current world champion was concerned the rate of infection could surge at the Northamptonshire circuit, as the UK’s biggest crowd since the pandemic began gathers for the race meeting from today.
Silverstone will open its doors to 140,000 people on Sunday, with a total of 350,000 in attendance during the three days.
Formula One fans who today descended on Silverstone for the British Grand Prix appear to have largely ignored Lewis Hamilton’s call for the ‘small sacrifice’ of wearing masks
The seven-time and current world champion took to Instagram yesterday to ask fans attending the race weekend to cover their faces to ‘keep others around us healthy’
The circuit is allowed to accommodate a capacity crowd ahead of Freedom Day, when social distancing rules will be lifted on Monday, because it is part of the third phase of the ERP, set up to test Covid Passports.
As a result, usual Covid restrictions do not apply, and in this case scientists want to test whether certification is able to limit the spread of the virus.
Fans must show they have had two vaccinations against Covid, a negative lateral flow test in the previous 48 hours or they have natural immunity from a previous infection. They can do this using the NHS covid app.
However, the race comes as the the country’s third wave of coronavirus infection continues to gather pace, driven by the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
He added that he had heard of people ‘getting Covid and being ill’ even after receiving two vaccinations
However, race organisers insisted that masks do not have to be worn because the race meeting is part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP). And most of the thousands of fans who turned out today to watch the Friday Practice session clearly took the chance to ditch masks, as they were seen sitting in stands without their faces covered
Motor racing fans soak up the atmosphere during Friday Practice at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone
It was difficult to spot any fans wearing masks at Silverstone as revellers took the chance to go without the face coverings
As well as the absence of the normal rules mandating the wearing of face masks, fans welcomed the good weather at the Silverstone circuit
Britain is now on the brink of breaching the 50,000 daily cases mark, as infections close in on levels seen at the start of the year. Hospitalisations are also rising.
Hamilton said in his message: ‘It was so nice to see everyone today,’ wrote Hamilton. ‘So refreshing to see people and the energy already is so uplifting.
But he added: ‘Can I please ask you to wear your masks, be safe. I know of people getting Covid and being ill even with double jabs. So please please stay safe this weekend.
‘Wearing a mask is a small sacrifice to stay healthy and keep others around us healthy. With love.’
Early arrivals at Silverstone sought out vantage points to watch the drivers practice today
Fans are arriving at Silverstone today for the three-day race meeting culminating the British Grand Prix on Sunday, when 140,000 people are expected to be in attendance
Does the Delta variant spread outdoors easier than the original strain?
It is ‘very difficult to tell’ whether the Indian ‘Delta’ variant spreads better outdoors than other strains, an expert said today.
Officials have warned Britons against socialising indoors with people outside their household, saying this is the main way the virus spreads.
But they have said it is much safer to meet outdoors, because the circulating air blows virus particles away if one person is infected.
Dr Julian Tang, a virologist at Leicester University, told MailOnline it was hard to estimate whether the mutant strain spreads better outdoors.
But he said if someone was in a crowd outside and surrounded by other people who are infected they may be more at risk.
The virologist said: ‘If you are in a crowd like Wembley or Wimbledon and you are exposed to eight people around you that are carrying the virus and dont know it, on a still and cloudy day you may be more exposed.’
He said the weather outdoors was a key factor in how well the virus transmits outdoors.
‘Cloudy days when there is no wind are more of a risk,’ he said. ‘Sun rays have a direct effect on the virus.’
Studies show sunshine ‘kills’ virus particles, hampering its transmission. But this doesn’t happen when there is cloud cover.
Nevertheless, organisers insist the event will be safe. In addition to the requirement of a Covid Passport, they point out the site is large and in the open air, unlike other sporting or arts venues.
Silverstone is a 550-acre site with grandstands that seat as many fans as a large Premier League stadium, but are spread out over three and a half miles.
In addition, the vast majority of fans attend the Northamptonshire circuit – which is wedged between the M1 and M40 motorways – by car, reducing the risk of spread on public transport.
With 19 entry gates over a five-and-a-half mile perimeter, people can remain spread out while entering and leaving the site, which is not always the case in urban settings.
‘I have complete confidence in our ability to run this safely,’ Stuart Pringle, Silverstone’s managing director told The Guardian.
‘For all the challenges we have had with our finances over the last 18 months we are not the type of business that sticks its neck in the noose and rolls the dice, we would not do this unless we believed we could do it.
‘If we thought for some reason Public Health England and all the other bodies that have signed off on this in some way had got it wrong or we were not capable of delivering it in a way that complies with their requirements we would not do this.’
Silverstone has ramped up its operation to stage the event at full capacity.
‘There are 128 staff here normally, which expands to 7,000 for the race,’ said Pringle. ‘We have the manpower but we have had to adapt.’
‘Twenty-thousand fans in the two nearest campsites will have their Covid documents checked in advance.’
But masks will not have to be worn inside the track.
‘The masks were not a Silverstone decision, that is the view of the directorate of public health Northamptonshire and Public Health England,’ said Pringle. ‘As part of ERP, Covid regulations are disapplied; this is a scientific, data-gatheirng exercise and they want to understand what happens. They are taking a view on the risk and the view is that in a large-scale, open-air, outdoor venue it is not necessary to wear masks.’
Hamilton’s caution resonates with some experts, including England’s Chief Medical Officer, who yesterday admitted the country may have to face new restrictions within weeks.
Fans were rewarded with a glorious, sunny day at the Northamptonshire circuit on Friday
Hamilton has called on race fans, like this one at Silverstone today, to wear masks at the track
Professor Chris Whitty said Britain is ‘not out of the woods yet’ and could face another lockdown.
Speaking at a Science Museum event, he said: ‘I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast. We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this,.
‘[But] we are in much better shape due to the vaccine programme, and drugs and a variety of other things.’
He called on Britons to ‘take things incredibly slowly’ after July 19, amid warnings from transport operators across the country that they will still ask people to wear face masks next week.
In terms of the competition, the British Grand Prix provides Hamilton with the best opportunity to make up ground in the title fight.
He is currently trailing Max Verstappen by 32 points in the championship and has not won a race since Spain in May.
As a result, Red Bull have won all five grands prix since Barcelona – taking a 44-point lead over Mercedes in the championship.
Hamilton will look to narrow that gap this weekend by getting off to a flying start in Saturday’s first ever F1 Sprint session – a short 17-lap race which is replacing traditional qualifying.
Should he finish well, he will be in pole position on the grid for Sunday’s showpiece race.