The start of the Belgian Grand Prix was targeted by a group of Greenpeace protesters who paraglided in to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and climbed up to the roof of the main grandstand where they proceeded to unfurl a large banner protesting against the activities of oil company Shell in the North Pole.

"ARCTIC OIL? SHELL NO!" read the 20-metre-long banner, which was angled to face the VIP suit on the other side of the track.

The protest was carefully avoided by the TV cameras covering the sporting event, although the crowd reaction to the developing events was clearly audible through the pre-race build-up and later during the podium celebrations.

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The start of the race was unaffected and went ahead even as local police mounted an operation to reach the rooftop to arrest the protesters. The protesters did not have access to the track itself and therefore could not have become a danger to the drivers or to themselves by running in front of a car.

"There are members of Greenpeace who have jumped down from the top of the grandstand protesting about Arctic drilling," reported BBC Radio 5 Live commentator James Allen. "And now they are just hanging there [on their ropes] just watching the race. Which is a bit surreal."

Greenpeace international executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement released by the environmental group that the aim of the protest was to wake up F1 fans to what Shell was doing in the Arctic.

"I was a fan of Grand Prix racing when I was growing up, but I am not a fan of what Shell is doing in the Arctic," explained Naidoo. "Right now we are in the race of our lives against Shell, a company that sees the melting of the Arctic as a business opportunity, rather than a warning.

"Every driver and F1 fan knows that oil on the tracks spells disaster; an oil spill in the Arctic would be catastrophic," he added.

"This Grand Prix is Shell's biggest day of the year," explained protestor Tony Martin. "They've spent millions of Euros plastering their logo everywhere and entertaining scores of VIP guests, but the one thing they don?? 1/2 t want to talk about is their plan for Arctic oil drilling.

"That's why we're here, to let the public and F1 fans know what this company is really up to," he added.

"This sport is all about cutting edge developments in engineering and safety, but Shell's Arctic drilling programme relies on technology and equipment that was developed before today's drivers were even born," said another protestor, Vanessa Hall, who is a former councillor on Manchester City Council.

"The only reason Shell can drill there at all is because climate change is melting the Arctic ice cap, and they're going in to drill for more of the stuff that caused the melt in the first place - it's madness," she added.