Formula 1 is undergoing a renaissance of late, or as the kids might say, it's finally come out of its flop era. Viewership is on the rise, and new fans are flocking to the sport. The renewed passion around F1 has brought problems, with overexuberant fans causing havoc on and off the track.
The Austrian Grand Prix was a particular low point, with attendees describing many incidents of abuse, much of it homophobic, sexist, or racist in nature. Reports of physical and verbal attacks flooded in, with Formula 1 officially releasing a statement condemning the behavior of some in the stands.
More recently, the past weekend saw actual on-track sessions directly disrupted by rowdy fans, as covered by Motorsport.com. Multiple orange flares were thrown from the stands towards the track on Saturday. One caused a red flag during Q2, while another caused a brief yellow flag during Q3. Meanwhile, abuse raged once more, with Alpha Tauri condemning the hateful comments directed to Red Bull strategy head Hannah Schmitz.
It's clear that certain fans have little respect for fellow racegoers in the stands, the drivers themselves, or indeed, F1 itself. There are already rules against disrespectful behavior towards other fans, let alone physically assaulting them as was reported in Austria. Similarly, most tracks have maintained long-standing bans against incendiary devices, flares, and other such items.
Despite this, we're seeing these incidents continuing to crop up in 2022. More often than not, blame is being laid at the feet of fans supporting Red Bull driver, Max Verstappen. The most noise has been made about incidents at the Red Bull Ring in Austria and the recent Dutch Grand Prix, and nobody's trying to argue that those orange flares are being lit in support of McLaren. They're not the only perpetrators, of course, but the actions of some in orange have drawn negative attention to the group as a whole.
Verstappen is currently having great success in the championship, and there's much for fans to celebrate. However, even Verstappen himself has called out the flare incidents as "stupid" and asked for some restraint. It's obviously misguided to blame a driver for the actions of spectators, and it's clear the Dutch driver doesn't support such behavior.
Regardless, when excessive smoke and haze puts drivers at risk, that's an issue. When fans dish out verbal and physical abuse to others in the stands, that's an issue. Both do real harm, and there are already rules in place for such matters. However, in the absence of fans policing themselves and behaving appropriately, it seems the only measure is for F1 itself to step up enforcement.
Nobody wants to wait in long lines for bag checks and pat down searches, nor does anyone want to see heavy-handed security in the grandstands. As it stands though, fans should be safe during a race weekend to enjoy the festivities, and drivers should be safe on track. If individual spectators can't be trusted to behave, then F1 will have no choice to step up enforcement. Given what's already occurred at races this year, time is past that something must be done, as we've already called for in the past.
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