F1 welcomes Brad Pitt but is wary of protesters at British Grand Prix

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Actor Brad Pitt cheers fans leaving the paddock after after the second free practice at the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone racetrack, Silverstone, England, Friday, July 7, 2023. Brad Pitt is joining the Formula One paddock for his new movie. He might stand as much chance as anyone else of beating Max Verstappen. The British Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday.(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

SILVERSTONE – Brad Pitt is joining the Formula One paddock for his new movie. He might stand as much chance as anyone else of beating Max Verstappen.

Verstappen will be aiming for his eighth win in 10 races this year on Sunday as he surges toward winning the title for a third straight year. His Red Bull team has won 19 of the last 20 races going back to July 2022.

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As F1 welcomes Pitt for a weekend of filming around the British Grand Prix, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff revealed the help the project has had from F1 teams. Mercedes driver and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was involved with producing the movie.

“We’ve been involved pretty early and I think when we had the first discussions, we sent Brad to a driving school in France, going through the Formula cars from Formula 4 all the way up – and we tried to be helpful with the narrative,” Wolff said. “Lewis is an executive producer, so he wanted to make sure when the movie comes out, it’s as realistic as possible.”

Pitt's production has set up a garage for a fictional 11th team at Silverstone. Most existing F1 teams remain opposed to adding a real new team to F1, though, despite a bid from Andretti Global and General Motors.

“We haven’t got the logistics, where to put an 11th team. Here in Silverstone, we can accommodate the Hollywood people but on other circuits, we can’t,” Wolff said.

PROTEST WARNINGS

Activists representing the Just Stop Oil group ran onto the track at last year's British Grand Prix, passing close to cars shortly after the race was red-flagged for a first-lap crash. Since then, Just Stop Oil protesters have made their mark on British events including Wimbledon and the Ashes cricket. The group wants the British government to block all new oil, gas and coal extraction projects.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton signaled he would back a “peaceful” protest but expressed concern for the safety of drivers and protesters if anyone makes it onto the Silverstone track again.

“From my perspective, and I think my team’s, we are very, very focused on sustainability, we believe in what people are fighting for and we are making those changes as a sport," Hamilton said Thursday. “But safety is key. We don’t want to be put in harm’s way and we don’t want to put anyone else in harm’s way.”

McLaren driver Lando Norris said there should be “pretty severe” consequences if lives are put at risk.

“If it happens in the paddock and things like that, I guess that probably causes different scenarios, but it just can’t happen on a race track because you put actual people’s lives in danger,” he said.

Six activists who stormed the track last year were spared prison sentences in March. Local police said they will deploy facial recognition technology.

VERSTAPPEN LEADS PRACTICE

Verstappen was top again in both Friday practice sessions, leading the first by .448 seconds over teammate Sergio Perez and the second by .022 from Ferrari's Carlos Sainz. Verstappen complained of a lack of grip early in the first session but it hardly seemed to limit his pace.

Alex Albon was third fastest in each session in a strong showing for Williams, which also saw American driver Logan Sargeant fifth in the second session, behind Perez. An electrical issue meant Charles Leclerc couldn't take part in the second practice after the Ferrari driver was fifth in the first session.

The kind of dominance shown so far this season by Verstappen and Red Bull is already making F1 history. Red Bull is the first team to win all of the first nine races of a season since McLaren won 11 in 1988.

That 1988 season was enlivened by a fierce battle between world champion teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, though. Verstappen's own teammate, Perez, started the season strongly but has faded, partly because he's struggled repeatedly in qualifying, and was 81 points off Verstappen in second place.

FIA president Mohamed Bin Sulayem told The Associated Press this week that he doesn't see a need to rein in Red Bull for the benefit of F1 as a whole. “Nobody’s stopping the other teams from being better," he said.

If Verstappen wins on Sunday, he will become only the fifth driver in F1 history with victories in six consecutive races, and the first since Nico Rosberg for Mercedes in 2015 and 2016.

HAMILTON'S HOPES

Hamilton and Mercedes need a lift after a tough weekend at the last race in Austria, with Hamilton placing 10th in the sprint and eighth in the race. He's expecting a boost from the home crowd.

“So happy to be back. This grand prix is the best,” Hamilton said Thursday. “The crowd just lifts you and the whole team up. And there’s this kind of feeling of floating when you come here on that positive energy that everyone brings, and just seeing so many flags, so many caps and people supporting us. It really just helps spur you along.”

Friday practice wasn't ideal for Mercedes, despite a redesigned front wing, as Hamilton was 12th fastest in the first session after complaining his car was bouncing. Teammate George Russell said his steering was vibrating as he placed 14th. In the second, Russell placed 12th and Hamilton 15th.

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AP Sports Writer Daniella Matar in Milan contributed to this report.

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