Sunday July 30th, 2000
By Patrick Vignal
A Frenchman protesting against his dismissal by carmaker Mercedes-Benz breached security and crossed the track midway through Sunday's German Grand Prix.
The safety car had to be deployed on the 25th lap after the man, who had cut his way through a fence, ran across the track in the middle of a straight where cars reach speeds in excess of 350 kilometres per hour.
The man then wandered along the grass next to the track. Police said he was a 47-year-old Frenchman who had worked for Mercedes-Benz, McLaren's Formula One partners, for 22 years before being dismissed for health reasons.
The Hockenheim promoters confirmed a report by German television saying the man had tried to get on the track 15 seconds before the formation lap and had not been arrested then.
"It's a scandal," said Mercedes-Benz sporting director Norbert Haug. "I can't understand why he wasn't rounded up by police in the first place. It was a big mistake."
The man, whose identity was not disclosed, was wearing a white plastic cape with his protest written on it.
"Mercedes-Benz, who were aware of my health problems, offered me a job which I could not take and dismissed me for physical ineptitude after 20 years," it read.
The intruder was escorted away by police and remanded in custody. The company running the track, Hockenheim GmbH, said it had brought a charge against him for trespassing.
The public prosecutors in the nearby city of Mannheim were to decide on Monday whether to take legal action.
"It was obviously very, very dangerous," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn. "The trouble is the public do have access, particularly at a place like this because it is in the forest.
"That should never be allowed to happen again." The safety car went off after the end of lap 27, leaving the race to resume.
World champion Mika Hakkinen was then in the lead in a McLaren-Mercedes but he eventually came second in a race won by Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in a Ferrari.
"I saw him," said Barrichello of the protestor. "I wasn't worried for me, but for him. I was afraid he might get killed." The Hockenheim promoters, contracted to hold the race until 2001 and fighting to keep it after that, could now face sanctions for the way they handled the incident.
"You have to guarantee safety for a Grand Prix and that wasn't done," said three-times world champion Niki Lauda, at the race as a consultant for German television channel RTL. "I've never seen anything like it."