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Another fan’s experience of harassment last weekend

Formula 1 drivers and teams united in condemnation of the sexual harassment suffered by some female fans who attended last weekend’s round at the Red Bull Ring, in addition to reports of homophobic insults and racist slurs.

One female fan reported on social media that a group of men lifted her skirt, telling her she didn’t deserve respect because she was a Lewis Hamilton fan. The stories of other women were widely reported during the weekend.

RaceFans spoke to another fan prior to Sunday’s race, who recounted her experience. “The first things started on Saturday evening when we were waving at the drivers going home in their cars,” she told us.

“There were drunk Max [Verstappen] fans screaming and asking weird questions like, “What are you doing?” and just generally being rude and insulting the security, who called the police because they were acting really weird.

“After that, I took the shuttle to Knittelfeld and there was a really drunk guy with us, he only talked gibberish.

“He kept calling me Yuki Tsunoda because I am small and wore AlphaTauri merchandise, which already made me a bit uncomfortable.

“He sat right in front of us and he straight up grabbed me behind my face, at my ear because he wanted me to listen to him. I told him to stop and he only said, ‘What are you scared already?’ and I started crying.

“He also was asking really inappropriate things like what things I’m going to do with my boyfriend tonight. I just told him, ‘Nothing I’m tired’ and he replied, ‘No you’ve got to give him what you want’.

“I was losing it completely and just burst into tears.”

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Reports from other women describing the harassment and abuse they had experienced, and their concerns for their safety, went viral on social media. Many senior members of F1 were evidently appalled by what had happened. The likes of Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel spoke out especially forcefully, but were by no means the only ones to do so.

But what is most concerning is that this is not a new phenomenon. These kinds of stories, of women being attacked or cat-called in crowds, have emerged at sporting events for years. A ‘pack mentality’ exists among certain groups of predominantly male fans. Hearing these stories, it’s no surprise some women would have felt too afraid to return to the track.

Sexist comments are “just not on anymore” – Wolff

To their credit, Formula 1 was quick to act. The problem was raised with the promoter after details began to emerge on Saturday, and more stewards and security were deployed into the crowds. On Sunday screens around the track displayed messages reminding spectators to be respectful to one another.

Formula 1 has enjoyed a sharp increase in the number of women attending races in recent years. An official survey conducted by the series last year showed female participation has doubled over the past four seasons. Interestingly, the highest female response rates to the survey, of around one in four, were in the Middle East and Africa.

But if female faces are becoming more common in the crowds, why do some continue to treat them with such disrespect?

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was one of the first to face questions about it from RaceFans and other media after the checkered flag fell in Austria. His message from him was clear, that such behavior cannot be dismissed as “banter” anymore.

“I think how it has evolved over time, it was somehow understood that you have to accept a little bit of suffering if somebody was making a sexist comment or something that was [once] just described as banter. But today, that is just not on anymore.

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“People feel truly hurt or discriminated and that is why we all need to be more aware.

“We have grown up with that banter. How many pictures do I still get sent – ​​’hehe, haha’ – but I have the perfect professor at home, ”he said, referring to Susie Wolff, his wife of him and CEO of Formula E outfit Venturi.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2022
“It’s crazy we’re experiencing these things still in 2022” – Hamilton

“Susie sees that and says that it was seen as funny 10 years ago because nobody cared, but I can tell you it’s borderline, or for me that is too much.

“For us guys who have had that, it was always seen as a banter. We just need to have a little bit of a mind shift because the girls and the ladies don’t want that.”

His driver Hamilton, who actively campaigns for diversity and to stamp out racism, said the news showed the shortcomings of the “We Race as One” initiative, which F1 promoted heavily over the two previous seasons.

“Just to know that someone sitting in a crowd supporting someone else is receiving abuse, it’s crazy to think that we’re experiencing these things still in 2022,” Hamilton said.

“It goes back to some of the messaging that we talked about in terms of the stuff that we also need to do here within the sport, which commits more to diversity and inclusion within our industry.

“Because that then reflects the direction we’re going and it also often does reflect what our fan base looks like. It’s time for action. ‘We Race as One’” was all good and well, but it was just words. It didn’t actually do anything, there was no funding towards anything, there was no program to actually create change and spark that conversation.

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“So we definitely need to utilize our platforms, as I just mentioned, but we really have to step up and actually really start acting on some of the things we’re saying. Just saying it is not enough. It’s unacceptable. It’s not enough.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2022
“A normal human being shouldn’t behave like that” – Verstappen

World champion Max Verstappen, who has a large fan base at the Red Bull Ring, described the reports as “shocking”.

“That’s clearly not okay. I shouldn’t even need to say this, I think this should be a general understanding that these things shouldn’t happen. A normal human being I think should think like that and should behave like that.”

Whilst words are appreciated, actions speak louder and this situation has sparked a response in those who can make a difference if they choose to. Hamilton is an inspiring example of someone who has done just that.

The seven-time world champion, the first black person to race in F1, put his hand in his own pocket and set up a commission to identify the root causes of the lack of diversity in UK motorsport, with a focus on F1 specifically. The results showed that only 1% of motorsport engineering jobs are held by people from black backgrounds and case studies of “outright racism” have been classed as “banter”.

Hamilton’s efforts have helped more people understand the racism, homophobia and sexism that exist. He has made it his mission from him to do something about it.

Last weekend’s events disproved the assumptions of those who suggest sexual harassment is not a problem, just because they haven’t witnessed it. F1 must send a message that those who refuse to accept that our sport is for all to enjoy – irrespective of gender, sexuality or race – are the only ones who don’t belong in it.

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