FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Sports

What Kind of Person Invades a Formula One Track?

Last weekend, a man wandered on to the track during the Singapore Grand Prix. He joins a strange little club of people who have indulged in the strange and dangerous act of track invasion. But why?
September 25, 2015, 12:08pm
Photo by PA Images

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Lap 37 of last weekend's Singapore Grand Prix saw a spectator worm his way through the security barrier and wander across the track, just before eventual winner Sebastian Vettel approached the same piece of tarmac. The intrusion warranted the release of the safety car and reduced the field to a slow crawl behind a luxury Mercedes-Benz. And not one driven by Lewis Hamilton.

Advertisement

Let's just take a moment to review that situation: a man made the conscious decision to put himself in the possible path of a missile of carbon fibre and steel, piloted by another human being. The most immediate question is 'why?'

Can we put track invaders in the same category as streakers? Probably not. People who disrobe and let it all hang out for a few minutes of loutish cheering from several thousand football or rugby fans are only really worried about being t-boned by a slightly fitter-than-average steward, marshal and/or PCSO. The only injury they can expect is slight bruising and a skinned knee from the eventual, inevitable tackle from the authorities.

Those who venture onto the tarmac have chosen to do so for extreme reasons, be they behavioural traits or events in their lives. This is what pushed them out there, with each one a case study on human behaviour in their own right.

Protestation

Deep within the forest circuit of Hockenheim, on lap 25 of the 2000 German Grand Prix, 47-year-old Frenchman Robert Sehli cleared the barriers and ran across one of the fastest parts of the track. Wrapped in a crudely made banner, Sehli had recently been dismissed from his job at Mercedes-Benz due to health reasons, ending a 22-year-career with the company. In less than a lap, he was surrounded and escorted off the circuit.

Through questioning it was revealed he had planned to stage his protest before the start of the race but had been stopped by alert marshals. He had also tried the same stunt earlier in the season in France but was stopped by photographers, of all people.

But the funny thing is, Sehli's protest actually worked. Despite being fined £600 by the track organisers and gaining a criminal record, he managed to win a court case later that year for the amount of 91,000 Francs, and gained support from the head of Mercedes motorsport, Norbert Haug, who labelled the treatment of Sehli's dismissal "scandalous".

Religious Premonition

When Irish priest Neil Horan slipped his way through Silverstone security in 2003, it was for entirely different reasons. Wearing a saffron kilt and and waving banners reading "Read the bible" and "The Bible is always right", Horan ran headlong down the back straight towards the oncoming cars, which had to swerve to avoid him.

Naturally he was punished with a prison sentence of two months for aggravated trespass, despite his plea that he saw the open gate onto the track as a "sign from God" and reacted without premeditation. This was rubbished by the fact that he had carried the signs to the track with him.

This wasn't the last we saw of Neil Horan, however. A year later, he was only prevented from invading the 2004 Epsom Derby by eagle-eyed security. Horan then flew to Athens and disrupted the 2004 Olympic Marathon by shoving Brazilian athlete, and leader at the time, Vanderlei de Lima into the crowd. Lima lost 20 seconds of his 48 second lead and eventually finished a distant third, and despite clamours from the Brazilian Track Federation to award Lima a gold medal, the request was denied by the IOC. Horan was fined €3000 and given a 12 month suspended prison sentence on account of his mental state.

Advertisement

Two years later Horan was up to his old tricks again, this time planning a protest outside the Olympic stadium in Berlin before the 2006 World Cup Final. Despite declaring his display of God's word as peaceful, he also added in a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would display a placard stating "Adolf Hitler was a good leader who was following the word of Christ", which resulted in him being detained for two months awaiting a trail that was ultimately dismissed.

The next we saw of Neil Horan was on a different stage entirely. Rocking up at Simon Cowell cash-cow Britain's Got Talent in 2009, the defrocked Priest not only toned down his act by dancing a jig to the panel of Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan, but was deemed good enough to go through to the next stage. However, he was quietly removed from the show by producers when his past was revealed.

His last known public appearance was outside the hospital where the Duchess of Kent gave birth to her first child. By then, he was handing out business cards that read: ''Neil Horan, the Britain's Got Talent Irish Dancer. I perform at Weddings. My Mission in Life is to help prepare the world for the Second Coming.''

Notoriety

Horan and Sehli were using the global audience of Formula One to gain exposure for their causes – religious or otherwise – and it's not hard to see that Jaume Marquet i Cot was attempting to do the same before the 2004 Spanish Grand Prix. Safe in the knowledge that the cars were on the other side of the track, the Spaniard was out of danger. He was safe to indulge in what he loves doing the most: promoting himself, simply because he can.

That was a decade ago, but Marquet i Cot has become an uninvited guest to several sporting events around the world under the nickname "Jimmy Jump". In early appearances, it seemed to be focused around his love for Catalan football giants Barcelona. Taking to the field in Euro 2004, he threw a club flag over Luis Figo to voice his displeasure at the Portuguese player leaving for Real Madrid nearly four years previously.

By 2010 he reached his self professed peak. At the World Cup Final he broke through security and reached the trophy just minutes before kickoff and dressed it with one of his trademark barretinas, a red cap associated with the Catalonia region. He was removed and fined €175.

All this fame has taken it's toll however. Jimmy Jump can now boast a backlog of criminal trespassing fines so high it makes your eyes water, and claims half of his monthly income is funnelled into paying it all off. "I have no money," he told the website gazzetta.gr, "My total debt is around $350,000 (£220,000)."

Poor Marketing

The Singapore incident obviously isn't the first time someone has gained access to a Formula One circuit. In fact, it's not even the first this season.

In practice for the Chinese Grand Prix earlier this year, a fan scaled the 10-feet high security fence and dashed across the start-finish line, clearing the pit wall and making his way into the paddock.

Luckily, like all the others mentioned, he was unharmed. He was found trying to make his way into the Ferrari team's garage, furiously waving his grandstand ticket at team officials and pointing at the cars. After a brief discussion, it seemed that the man had convinced himself that the price of the ticket also included a go in one of the Formula One machines, and he had chosen the Ferrari.

@CraigNormanF1