SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Greenpeace activists targeted the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday with protests before and after the race against title sponsor Shell's oil exploration activities in the Arctic.
A group scaled the main grandstand before the start, with some hanging off the roof on ropes to unfurl a 20 metre banner declaring "Arctic Oil? Shell no!" as teams readied their cars on the grid.
Images of the protest, opposite the main VIP Paddock Club, were not shown on the live television feed which is provided by Formula One Management and watched by an audience of many millions around the world.
Photographs were widely shared on social media, however, with two paragliders also seen flying over the circuit trailing banners.
Greenpeace said in a statement to Formula One media that 35 activists had accessed different parts of the track with two arrested by police after climbing a large Shell billboard at the Raidillon corner.
One of them had climbed the London Shard, Europe's tallest building, in a similar protest last month.
The race, dominated by Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel, started on time but there was more disruption afterwards when the top three drivers appeared on the podium to collect their trophies.
Two remote-controlled banners, which Greenpeace said had been secretly installed several weeks ago in the floor of the podium, were unfurled before Vettel was handed his trophy.
The environmental campaigners said two climbers also attempted to abseil down from a small roof above the podium, with one stopped by security while the other unveiled a banner to boos from the crowd.
"We are a bit confused here because the crowd are booing and cheering and I'm not sure why," Vettel said in a podium interview.
Shell cancelled its 2013 Arctic offshore drill season after numerous troubles there last year but plans to send ships to study sites around oil prospects in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, according to permit applications.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic may hold 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its gas.
"This Grand Prix is Shell's biggest day of the year. They've spent millions of euros plastering their logo everywhere and entertaining scores of VIP guests, but the one thing they don't want to talk about is their plan for Arctic oil drilling," said activist Tony Martin in the Greenpeace statement.
The Anglo-Dutch oil giant is also a long-standing partner of the Ferrari team.
(Editing by John Mehaffey0)