Formula One can and must do better with fans


"We all deserve to be able to attend fixtures in the knowledge that we will not be victimised or abused"

Article Image

Image by Artes Max

By Hannah Carley

Formula One fans have been treated to an interesting 2022 season full of surprising moments. We have witnessed a dominant and consistent display from the now almost certain two-time world champion Max Verstappen, watched rookie replacement Nyck deVries have arguably one of the best F1 debuts in recent years and seen drivers across the grid prove their worth with inaugural points, poles and victories.

Yet the highlights of this season on track have been overshadowed by instances of off-track controversy (and I’m not talking about the Oscar Piastri contracts).

Over the last few months concerning tales of poor fan experience, security and even instances of assault and harassment have emerged out of multiple race weekends. These concerning events have highlighted in many ways a disregard for fan welfare and safety by circuits, vendors and by Formula One itself.

Just recently we have seen the organisers of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza forced to apologise after reports of fans facing excessive queues for entry, food and water. Experiences detailed across social media highlight mismanagement and disorganisation at the event, with many general admission viewing areas not even having a clear view of the track as advertised. Fans were left dehydrated and disappointed at one of the sport’s most popular and historic tracks.

Similar grievances were also aired at Barcelona, where food and water supplies were insufficient across the weekend. This is despite the fact that fans are often barred from bringing their own food into circuits. Such a disregard for those paying a premium to attend these events is simply not good enough for a sport that prides itself on high levels of technical and logistical capability.

However all this pales in comparison to the stories of harassment and misogyny that have emerged in recent months. Races at tracks including the Red Bull Ring and Zandvoort were marred by instances of harassment, catcalling and homophobic and racist abuse in the grandstands. A motorsport fan club called Formula 1 Women reported receiving at least 15 reports of harassment by fans at the Dutch Grand Prix alone. At Monza again, video footage emerged of Ferrari fans shouting at Max Vertsappen fans to remove their merchandise. The individuals involved were not apprehended by security.

The list does not end here. We have seen a flare thrown onto a track during an active qualifying session, fans burning the merchandise and clothing of rival teams and drivers being booed on the podium and in post race interviews. There were even cheers from some fans when Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton crashed his car during qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix. All of this makes for a hostile atmosphere that ultimately puts teams, drivers, marshals and fans at risk.

To feel safe at a sporting event is a basic thing to ask for. We all deserve to be able to attend fixtures in the knowledge that we will not be victimised or abused whilst we are there. Yet continuously, we are seeing circuits demonstrate a clear lack of security and planning. Fans should not have to take to social media to bring attention to these dangers. Trackside security should prevent these issues before they arise.

Significant improvements must be made to ensure that all those attending races can have a safe and enjoyable experience, not just those in the paddock or with the most expensive tickets. F1 must raise its standards and ensure that every circuit on the calendar is in a position to manage the number of fans in attendance with adequately trained security in sufficient numbers. A post condemning abuse on social media will never be enough. Those abusing others must face strict bans and thorough bag searches are needed to ensure banned items can-not be brought into the grandstands. All of this is realistic and possible. It just appears that organisers lack the will to do so.

As the sport continues to grow in popularity and ticket prices continue to rise, Formula One needs to demonstrate a commitment to those who support the sport on all levels. It is fantastic that we are seeing more and more people attending races, and that the fanbase is diversifying to include more women, young people and families. But with this, it must be ensured that the sport fosters a safe and welcoming environment so that individuals from all walks of life can feel comfortable watching races in person if they so choose. Right now as a woman myself, I doubt that I would feel safe enough to attend a significant portion of the races on next year’s calendar.

Yet whilst all these issues remain unresolved, Formula One unveils a calendar for 2023 that is the longest in the sports history. The record-breaking 24 races scheduled for next year include most if not all of the tracks where there have been notable issues surrounding safety and fan experience during the 2022 season. Instead of focusing on resolving the numerous issues on the current calendar, the sport’s management continues to prioritise expansion and profit, with tickets for many of the newest tracks being financially unobtainable for the average fan. Whether intended or not, it sends the message that the standards at tracks on this year’s calendar are good enough, and they are not. Not by a long shot.

No one expects the running of large scale events of this nature to be faultless. But we are seeing these problems time and time again, and what we are not seeing are solutions. It should not be the responsibility of drivers and teams to condemn abuse or offer support to fans being abused at races. It should instead be the top priority of Formula One’s organisational team to stamp out these incidents for good and prove that the motto ‘We race as One’ is more than empty noise.

The message is simple: Formula One can and must do better.