UNITED KINGDOM: Formula 1 holds a massive fanbase. When the Australian GP was canceled in the aftermath of Covid-19, and the global lockdown ensued, the fans of “the pinnacle of motorsport” took to various online platforms to quench their thirst for Formula 1.
Countless esports gamers and even real-life racing drivers took to online streaming platforms to create Formula 1 content as the world began to embrace life indoors. Online shows and videos of the popular Formula 1 games quickly captured the minds of thousands of netizens and attracted them to the world of racing.
When Formula 1 finally resumed in mid-2020, the sport witnessed unprecedented numbers of new viewers. This massive rise in the popularity of F1 was seen by many pundits as a positive trend for the sport. The community took to social media platforms to share as well as spread their views and opinions.
Along with the new fans, a horde of ill-mannered people found the guts to freely voice their racist and homophobic thoughts under the pretence of being a fan of a driver or team. Ironically, all this happened as Formula 1 management embraced a new era of social diversity, inclusivity, and abolishment of racist abuse within the sport under the ”We Race as ‘One initiative”.
Lewis Hamilton, the only person of colour in a white-dominated sport, was often the centre of racist abuse. In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, Lewis had spearheaded the awareness for fighting racism inside the sport. He, along with a handful of drivers, including Sebastian Vettel, “took a knee” before the start of races to spread the initiative.
In the high-octane 2021 Formula 1 season, the racist abuses aimed at Lewis Hamilton and his fans reached an all-time high on Twitter after Max Verstappen crashed out of the Silverstone Grand Prix after making contact with Lewis Hamilton at the Copse corner. The abusers stooped to another low after reports of a few fans burning Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes merchandise came to the fore during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.
The toxicity of some Formula 1 fans on social media continue to grow without bounds
Certain others project their insecurity by name-calling other well-mannered fans. Twitter user @LastLapLucy made an innocuous comment regarding Max Verstappen’s latest hairstyle, asking her fans if they too felt that Max’s hairstyle reminded them of an actor from the famous pop culture movie, Back to The Future. A certain Twitter user felt that her tweet was inciting hate toward his driver, and in the exchange of comments that followed, the said Twitter user called Lucy an inappropriate word.
Homophobic tweets became common during June when Pride Month was observed. Multiple hate tweets were posted underneath the tweets by various F1 teams in which they supported the raising of awareness for the LGBTQ+ community. When the official Twitter handle of the Mercedes F1 Team announced their logo coloured with the pride rainbow, some of the comments made under the tweet were outright disgusting, to say the least.
The Austrian Grand Prix weekend witnessed a lot of complaints from the visitors, especially women and the members of the LGBTQ+ community who were the target of sexual and homophobic abuse.
A video surfaced in June showing an interview with ex-Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet, in which he used racial and homophobic slurs against Lewis Hamilton. He received wide backlash from the F1 paddock, which resulted in a ban from attending all Formula 1 events in the future. The Majority of the Formula One teams condemned the comments made by the 3-time World Champion.
Interestingly, Red Bull refrained from making any comment on the situation. When the team officials regarded the teams’ silence, they responded by saying they had already put out a statement condemning racist abuse in any form, referring to the incident where Red Bull junior driver Jury Vips used a racial slur during a live stream.
Nelson Piquet is the father of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s partner, Kelly Piquet. Nelson later apologized for his remarks and said that his words were misconstrued and that the word he used is common in the Brazilian vocabulary.
Formula 1, along with the FIA, launched the #DriveItOut campaign to address the rising toxicity in the online F1 community, which has seemed fruitless so far.