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Racism, Sexual Harassment at F1 Austrian GP Forces Drivers, FIA to Respond

Unfortunately, it appears this isn't new behavior at the Red Bull Ring.
Fans on the track after the Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria on July 10, 2022. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto) akub Porzycki/NurPhoto

Prior to the start of Sunday’s 2022 F1 Austrian Grand Prix, reports of racism, sexism, homophobia, and just flat-out hateful language were being shared by fans on social media. Twitter exploded with first-hand accounts of audience members being verbally and, in some cases, even physically attacked by other members of the crowd. These attacks reportedly started on Friday, and by the time the actual race was ready to begin, the FIA had been made aware of the situation and released a statement.

“We’ve been made aware of reports that some fans have been subject to completely unacceptable comments by others at the Austrian Grand Prix.”

Judging by many of the reports from fans in attendance, the majority of the abuse was towards women. Drunk fans were reportedly catcalling, singing despicable songs, and even threatening women in the crowd. Some women were physically harassed—one woman said her dress was pulled up by drunk Verstappen fans because, according to them, “she was a Lewis Hamilton fan and therefore didn’t deserve respect.” Taking a look at social media and reddit provides a seemingly endless stream of horrific behavior in the audience in Austria. But the worst part is that none of this seemed new.

Most of the fans reporting this abuse claim it to be a regular occurrence at the Red Bull Ring. Said claims are hard to confirm at this moment, but it doesn’t sound surprising. There does seem to be consistency, however. Jalopnik senior editor Elizabeth Blackstock, who regularly covers F1, spoke about the abuse women receive at the Red Bull Ring. So much so, that she said she was afraid to go to the bathroom alone back in 2015. It’s bad enough that even drivers and team managers caught word of it and spoke out.

“Disgusted and disappointed to hear that some fans are facing racist, homophobic, and generally abusive behavior at 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 that races are safe spaces for all.”

However, the strongest response to this abuse came from Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. After Wolff heard of the sexism and racism in the audience, he and the team reportedly invited the woman whose dress was pulled up into their team garage to watch the race from there. “We just need to target these guys and pick them out,” Wolff said. “This is what Formula 1 has said and we have said and that you need to report to the security if you can. And whoever reads my sentence: stay away, we don’t want you if you are part of that group. Fuck off.”

Most of the abuse was reportedly coming from the crowd of Verstappen fans, in the literal cloud of orange smoke, who traveled from The Netherlands to support their hometown hero. Their behavior wasn’t only directed towards audience members, though, as seemingly hundreds of Red Bull fans cheered rival Lewis Hamilton’s crash during qualifying.

“These things shouldn’t happen,” Verstappen said after Sunday’s GP. “I read a few shocking things that are clearly not OK. I should not even need to say this, it should be a general understanding that these things shouldn’t happen.” Although, Verstappen would go on to blame the majority of the issues on alcohol, but alcohol isn’t 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. So it’s clear Formula 1 has inherent issues with generally abusive behavior and something needs to be done. Apparently, the FIA is discussing the issue with the race promoters, as well as the security of the Red Bull Ring, to try and ensure the repeated behavior at the venue ends.

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