Formula 1

Formula 1: Sergio Perez calls for life bans for abusive spectators

Austrian Grand Prix

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez has called for spectators involved in offences of discriminatory abuse to be banned for life from Formula 1 events.

His comments, and similar ones from colleagues, follow fans being subjected to racist, sexist and homophobic abuse at the last race in Austria.

Perez said: “They are not welcome here. We should ban them for life because they don’t share our values.

“A few fans shouldn’t be able to embarrass our sport like that.”

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who has become a campaigner on environmental, social and cultural issues, said he believed that the problem of abuse had come into focus because a younger generation of fans was now more willing to call it out.

Vettel said: “I think there has been a shift in the fan base. We can all see the excitement for F1, a younger audience on average coming to the track.

“The abuse has probably always been there but I don’t think at any time it was correct. But maybe you are seeing a generation coming to the track who complains about it and makes a noise and uses different platforms to complain about it.

“It is great to see people having the courage to stand up because by learning about it, we can do something about it.

“It has been going on for some time at all major sporting events. It is more than about time that it is changing because there is no space for those things.”

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who has been outspoken on issues of diversity for the last three years, reiterated his call for media outlets not to publicise quotes from people with potentially discriminatory views.

He made this call first after three-time world champion Nelson Piquet referred to Hamilton using a derogatory racist term, and former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in the context of the invasion of Ukraine.

Hamilton said: “We shouldn’t be saying this is F1’s problem. This is all of us, going back to Silverstone, voices that are not aligned with us who have undertones of discrimination, we should not be amplifying those voices.

“F1 100% should continue to do more. We had the ‘We Race As One’ initiative. That was just a lip service. I know F1 is focused on doing more. But we can always do more. Everyone can do more. It is about accountability. Everyone should be pushing for diversity and inclusion.”

Hamilton has been trying to persuade all 10 teams to sign up to a diversity and inclusion charter which commits them to taking steps to make progress in the area.

But he said one team has so far refused to sign. BBC Sport has learned that team are Williams, who said in response: “We last had conversations with the Royal Academy of Engineering back in March and we are awaiting further information from them on such an important topic, of which we at Williams Racing already have serious active programmes.

“We have no knowledge of the progress and of who has and has not signed up to date, as it has been several months since we had any communication from them. Once we are in possession of further information and a copy of the final charter, we can look into it.”

What abuse has there been?

Fans at the Austrian Grand Prix over the weekend of 8-10 July reported numerous offences of abuse at the Red Bull Ring.

BBC Sport has been contacted by one of them relating his ordeal, which he said he did “with a heavy heart”.

Nevin Hall said his time at the track had been “overshadowed by the sheer amount of racist abuse I received and the sexual harassment my partner was subjected to”.

He added: “Countless times I had other F1 fans make monkey noises and gestures towards me as I walked past. I was the target of numerous racial slurs. It was uncomfortable and made me feel nervous walking past large groups.

“Being mixed race, resilience is engrained in me from a young age. However, to have to make use of such resilience throughout the entire weekend completely shocked, drained and saddened me. Ultimately, it took away from the experience I had been looking forward to for months.

“My partner – Dominika, known as Domi – also had a negative experience, with continuous catcalling and disgustingly long stares, and some fans even pointing my partner out to their friends for them to stare, too.

Formula 1 fans Nevin Hall and Domi at the 2022 Austrian Grand Prix

“F1 is constantly claiming to be working on pushing towards better inclusion and diversity yet it seems each week a new story exposing the underlying toxic community that lives within F1 takes centre stage.

“It is the responsibility of every team in the paddock, every host of an event and every person that makes up the F1 community to stamp this out.”

What is F1 doing about it?

F1 said at the Austrian Grand Prix that it would investigate the claims of abuse at the Red Bull Ring.

The sport is understood to be taking the matter extremely seriously, and has put in place a series of measures for this weekend’s race in France, and future events, to try to ensure any abuse is dealt with.

BBC Sport has learned that at Paul Ricard this weekend and at the Hungarian Grand Prix near Budapest next weekend there will be:

  • Security in spectator areas that is both more visible as a deterrent, and also capable of dealing with and ejecting abusive fans
  • Visible SOS assistance phone lines manned by professional security operatives for fans to report abuse
  • Repeated messages on screens around the track for fans to “respect each other” while enjoying the weekend

The sport will monitor the success of this approach in its initial roll-out while assessing what other measures can be taken in future.

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