Ahead of the start of the 2022 F1 Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, reports of racism, sexism, homophobia and just plain hateful language were being shared by fans on social media. Twitter exploded with first-hand accounts of members of the public being verbally and, in some cases, even physically attacked by other members of the crowd. These attacks reportedly began on Friday, and by the time the actual race was ready to begin, the FIA had been made aware of the situation and issued a statement.
“We have been made aware of reports that some fans were subjected to completely unacceptable comments from others during the Austrian Grand Prix.”
Judging by numerous fan reports present, the majority of the abuse was towards women. Drunken fans would have been catcalling, sing despicable songs, and even threatening the women in the crowd. Some women have been physically harassed – one woman said her dress was lifted by drunken Verstappen fans because they said ‘she was a Lewis Hamilton fan and therefore didn’t deserve respect’. A look at social media and reddit provides a seemingly endless stream of horrific behavior among the public in Austria. But the worst part is that none of this seemed new.
Most fans reporting this abuse say it is a regular occurrence at the Red Bull Ring. These claims are hard to confirm at this time, but it doesn’t seem surprising. However, there seems to be consistency. Jalopnik Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Blackstock, who regularly covers F1, spoke about the abuse suffered by women at the Red Bull Ring. So much so that she said she was afraid of go to the toilet alone in 2015. It’s bad enough that even the drivers and crew chiefs have heard about it and spoken out.
“Disgusted and disappointed to learn that some fans are facing racist, homophobic and generally abusive behavior on the circuit this weekend,” Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said in an Instagram story. “Attending the Austrian Grand Prix or any GP should never be a source of anxiety and pain for fans and something must be done to ensure the races are safe spaces for all.”
However, the strongest response to this abuse came from Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. After Wolff heard about sexism and racism in the public, he and the team allegedly invited the woman whose dress was pulled up to their team’s garage to watch the race from there. “We just have to target these guys and select them,” Wolff said. “That’s what Formula 1 said and we said and you have to report to security if you can. And whoever reads my sentence: stay away, we don’t want you if you do part of this group. Fuck you.”
Most of the abuse is believed to have come from the crowds of Verstappen fans, in the literal cloud of orange smoke, who traveled from the Netherlands to support their hometown hero. Their behavior wasn’t just directed at members of the public, as apparently hundreds of Red Bull fans cheered on rival Lewis Hamilton’s crash in qualifying.
“These things shouldn’t happen,” Verstappen said after Sunday’s GP. “I’ve read a few shocking things that are clearly not OK. I shouldn’t even need to say it, there should be a general understanding that these things shouldn’t happen. However, Verstappen would continue to blame the majority of alcohol problems, but alcohol is not the root cause of the problem.
These reports of racism, sexism and abuse come not even two weeks after former F1 driver Nelson Piquet was heard making racist comments about Lewis Hamilton. It is therefore clear that Formula 1 has inherent problems with generally abusive behavior and something must be done. Apparently the FIA is discussing the matter with the race promoters, as well as security at the Red Bull Ring, to try to ensure the repeated behavior at the venue comes to an end.
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