Female fan abuse in F1 - was 'Drive It Out' just hollow words?
On 30 July 2022, the FIA and Formula 1 released a video statement calling out the abuse fans face both online and at events. Titled, Drive It Out, the video featured the FIA President Muhammed Ben Saluyem, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and all 20 drivers from the 2022 grid. However, in the five months since the release of the initial statement the public has not received any further information regarding the issue. Were these just hollow words from the FIA and Formula 1, or will they do more to protect fans at future events?
It is no secret that discrimination in F1 has always been present, but with the rise of the sport in recent years the visibility of abusive behaviour has also been thrown into the spotlight. The abuse of fans is a very serious issue in motorsport and although there are a plethora of campaigns, platforms and initiatives tackling discrimination, the governing bodies must do more to protect fans at events.
Published after reports of fan abuse during the Austrian GP in early July 2022, the Drive It Out video appeared to suggest that the FIA and F1 would take action to do just that. However, although it was reported in the media that processes would be put in place to protect fans and punish abusers, the lack of transparent communication suggests that the video was nothing more than a performative statement.
“Formula 1 is all about competition and rivalry, but also respect. Respect as competitors. Respect for our fans. Respect for the whole F1 family. Abuse of any kind is unacceptable. If you cannot be respectful, then don’t be part of our sport. We cannot let those who think they can abuse others get away with it. We have a duty to call this out and say, “no more”. We are acting as a community to block those who abuse others online. We won’t allow abuse at our races. But we also need social media platforms to tackle abuse online head-on. Those who hide behind social media with abusive and disrespectful views are not our fans. We are united and ask you to join us in driving this out of all sport and society. Drive It Out Together” - Drive It Out video transcript
Over the race weekend at the Red Bull Ring, allegations of racist, homophobic and sexist abuse were reported, with a wave of fans tweeting about their experiences. Although Formula 1 released a statement at the time to say they were aware of the reports and had “raised them with the promoter and event security”, no immediate action was taken to protect those already exposed to such abuse. Thankfully, online community Grid Clique decided to take action to protect fans despite neither being at the race themselves, nor holding the same level of power as that of the governing bodies.
Founded by Samantha Rose Manto and Sarah Levenson, Grid Clique began out of a recognition that many women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ individuals are often afraid to engage in conversations about motorsport. What began as an online community of like minded F1 fans discussing and learning more about the sport they love has since become something much bigger.
In the wake of reports of abuse at the Austrian GP, Grid Clique’s dedication to providing a safe space for all manner of fans to come together and celebrate motorsport was reflected in the action they took.
“Obviously Samantha and I can’t be at every race, so we basically had this group of people that needed to be connected but no way to connect them,” Sarah tells Females in Motorsport. “It was almost second nature to be like, let’s just jump, leverage our network, bridge these connections, and ensure that everyone who is feeling alone in the sport knows that there is this incredible kind community waiting to take them in. It was really just a matter of connecting them with each other.”
Grid Clique created a group chat almost immediately after reading the reports, posting across their social media inviting those at the event to join and connect with each other. Receiving positive feedback from fans at the event who felt safer, and requests from those with tickets to future races, Grid Clique then went on to create group chats for the remaining 11 Grands Prix.
“The Austrian GP one was very specific because it was focused on members sharing tips about safe spaces to meet and areas to avoid, and if you’re alone you can meet up with these people and find new friends,” says Sarah. “Then what the group chats morphed into from there, when we started doing them for every race, was just people sharing photos of where they are, tips about the weekend, who’s doing the pit walk, and information about the track.”
Despite the lack of an immediate actionable response from the FIA and F1 at the time, the publication of the Drive It Out video suggested they were going to address the issue of fan safety. The absence of an update, however, suggests otherwise.
Whilst the governing bodies and race promoters cannot police the behaviour of every GP attendee, measures such as safe zones, a hotline and a strict zero tolerance policy can go a long way to combating the issue. These measures and others may already be being put in place for the coming 2023 season but without any clear communication from the FIA and F1 we cannot know for sure.
“At the very least if they are doing something there needs to be that transparency there, so more women, more people of colour, more non-binary individuals feel comfortable attending races because they know that something is being done,” says Sarah.
“This is something the governing body hasn’t had an interest in because I don’t think that there has been such a focus on fan experience,” says Samantha. “Without a subculture of that, because they haven’t been interested in fan experience, they haven’t really had a concern for how women feel at these races.
“When you think about the governing bodies, they just don’t have access to or maybe they are not interested or maybe they don’t have the tools on how to approach women or fans for this. Whereas what Sarah and I have really built from the ground up is trust with the community. Just by watching these group chats, seeing what they talk about, there are certain themes that come out. We have been able to pluck out the themes that arise at races.”
Hopefully the FIA and F1 will do more in the future to challenge abusive behaviour both at races and online, alongside communicating with fans with more transparency about the measures to protect them ahead of the 2023 season.
However, until then, fans will no doubt continue to turn to online platforms such as Grid Clique to connect with one another and share their passion for the sport in a safe environment.