OPINION: Why Red Bull Racing and the FIA’s Response to the Vips Incident Matters

After Red Bull Racing’s Juri Vips’ recent incident, all eyes are focused on the manner in which RBR and the FIA will respond. ATRL’s Naina Gupta looks at how this is a much-needed wake up call for the industry to change.

Written by Naina Gupta

June 22, 2022

In a now-deleted Twitch stream with fellow Red Bull Racing Junior Driver Liam Lawson, F2 Hitech driver Juri Vips made multiple offensive comments. After using the N-word while playing Call of Duty and referring to the color pink as “gay”, Red Bull Racing suspended Vips, effective immediately and indefinitely, pending a full investigation. This surprised many fans of the sport, especially since in years past, officials and Red Bull Racing have ignored similar incidents such as Max Verstappen’s use of the word “Mongol” in an offensive manner over the radio (ESPN).

 

While it is necessary for action to be taken, the manner in which Vips’ words are punished is important. Red Bull’s zero-tolerance policy leads to the assumption that we’ll be seeing a termination but in Vips’ case, we’d likely see more of a benefit with mandatory sensitivity training being given to him and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program being implemented. 

 

Although he is an adult and should be more aware of the words he uses on the platform he has, Formula 1 and their Feeder series are an echo chamber of like-minded thought. Prominent Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has been rather vocal about the racism and abuse he was subjected to throughout his career as early as karting as a kid, during which officials often took no action (YouTube). Racing Pride ambassador and founder Richard Morris talked about how these conversations just aren’t had in the industry, sometimes simply due to the lack of education and language used. “It’s not that people in motorsport weren’t open to including more people, it’s that they didn’t know how to have those conversations…” He states in a ESPN article, “…that can feel quite isolating if you are from a minority group. And then when you hear people using unhelpful words, even if they’re not aimed at you, it just reinforces that idea that you won’t be included” (ESPN). Sensitivity training on these topics should be mandatory for all drivers, especially in the junior categories, as they spend much of their formative years in a wealthy, white-dominated sport.

 

This sort of training is not new to motorsports. In 2021, NASCAR created a Diversity and Inclusion group headed by Brandon Thompson. Thompson created a more structured program for NASCAR’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program and implemented mandatory sensitivity training. The series partnered with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE), the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, and DECK Leadership. Within a year, they completed over 3,000 sensitivity and unconscious bias trainings, including even the drivers at the top of the series (NASCAR).

 

NASCAR’s approach is a key component in changing the future of the sport for the better. While Vips’ words were wrong and extremely harmful, it is important to educate. Without education on why what they did was wrong, many individuals would not understand the reasoning. When incidents like this occur, NASCAR drivers undergo sensitivity training, helping them understand why what they said or posted was wrong. These sorts of actions implemented by the series change the sport, and the individual, for the better and can transform the current attitude in Formula 1.

 

Vips’ career may be unsalvageable, but the FIA and Red Bull Racing have an opportunity here to begin changing this sport for the better by bringing in an outside organization to create and establish a mandatory DEI program. It’s time to show a sport that touts itself as “We Race As One” can actually make meaningful change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Naina graduated from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with degrees in Global Studies and Geograpic Information Science as well as a minor in Spanish. She keeps our website running (despite having no formal training in website design!) and runs our Social Media accounts. While she also works full time, she enjoys watching FC Barcelona, F1, and NHL and runs a home bakery business in her free time.

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