July 15, 2022
In the past month, the F1 community has experienced a reckoning with its culture. Nelson Piquet’s racist comments against Sir Lewis Hamilton resurfaced, Red Bull junior driver Juri Vips used a racial slur on a Twitch stream, and female fans at the Austrian GP were sexually harassed. Incidents like this are all too common within the F1 and motorsport communities.
The response of F1 teams, drivers, and the FIA and F1 have become formulaic. In response to the Piquet incident, the FIA tweeted, “The FIA strongly condemns any racist or discriminatory language and behaviour, which have no place in sport or wider society. We express our solidarity with @LewisHamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motor sport.”
This statement from the FIA and the one put out by F1 had no mention of Piquet, the incident in question, or actions they were taking to prevent this from happening in the future. Six out of the ten teams made some sort of statement or showed support, except Oracle Red Bull Racing, who only released a statement on the cancellation of Vips’ contract.
Vips kept his seat with Hitech Grand Prix after he used a racial slur on stream. However, F2 stated on Twitter, “Following the recent incident involving Juri Vips, F2 would like to reaffirm that the use of racist or discriminatory language cannot be tolerated in any environment. Hitech Grand Prix’s decision today is surprising and not one we would have taken. We will monitor the situation carefully with them to ensure that such behaviour is properly addressed.”
F2’s statement surprised many, as it clearly stated that they disagreed with keeping him on; however, they did not expressly state what they were doing to ensure an incident like this did not happen again. Simply posting support online is not enough anymore. The time for education and patience has passed, and they need to take real action to promote diversity & inclusion and root out racism and discrimination within the organization.
F1 has a page about Diversity and Inclusion on their site, listing the ways they are moving toward a more diverse and inclusive community. In many of the statements on the page, F1 says they are exploring or assessing solutions to these issues, yet there hasn’t been much transparency on this process from the organization.
If F1 wants to gain the fans’ trust, they need to be transparent about the real actions they are taking. They could be giving quarterly updates on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) process.
Recently, in an interview with Sky News, Aidan Louw, a former Aston Martin F1 employee, detailed his experience with racial and homophobic abuse at the factory. Aston Martin released a statement on Twitter that the individuals responsible for the abuse have been fired, but fans on Twitter feel that the firing is not enough.
Twitter user @tlliseh said, “if people feel so free to say racial slurs in the work area, in an online stream, in an interview, it’s because the environment f1 allows that on daily basis in the places cameras can’t go in and does nothing except putting out empty statements when things explodes online.”
This sentiment resonates in statements from fans online after many of these incidents of discrimination have been brought to light. Fans have suggested F1 works with the Hamilton Commission, an independent research commission funded by Sir Lewis Hamilton, to implement the ten recommendations in their research report.
F1 has a required DEI program for their own employees, but as an organization, they could require all F1 teams to go through the same program to continue competing in the series. While assessing their own issues with DEI, they could also commission independent investigations into DEI at each F1 team and create training programs to address the problems found in the review.
On the fan side of this issue, F1 is responsible for keeping fans safe at Grand Prix events. Each race has different organizers and works with different local police, but F1 could have a strict manual of expectations for every event organizer to have consistency across the season. With this, F1 could also create a centralized and easily accessible way of reporting incidents that would inform race organizers, local police, and F1 officials all at once.
F1 could have a clear & stated policy of conduct that fans would have to sign to purchase tickets that would cite racial slurs, sexual harassment, or other general abuse as a reason to be banned from future races.
Solutions to these issues exist, and instead of continuing to make statements when incidents come up on social media, F1 needs to overhaul its current environment. Representation, DEI training, and rooting out the systematic issues of discrimination within the organization are the only way forward.
While the responsibility to make these changes lies on F1 and the FIA, the motorsport journalism community needs to take on the responsibility of reporting on these issues.
Being a journalist of any kind is a vital job that comes with a robust ethical code. The goal of journalism is to seek the truth and report it, so why do F1 journalists care more about reporting on silly season rumors rather than the stories of increased burnout among staff or racist incidents?
At the core of it, motorsport journalism is about entertainment. Many pundits and writers are former drivers or engineers who don’t have a journalism background, and they’ve spent their whole lives within this community only viewing it through the lens they know.
This creates a gap in reporting. With the focus on what happens on track, the human interest aspect of the sport gets lost. It is a journalist’s job to dig deeper than the surface level and investigate issues, not just report on what’s right in front of them.
I don’t expect motorsport journalists to become investigative reporters overnight, however I want them to realize the power that they have in this community.
F1 fans, especially those who are a minority, don’t really have a voice in this community. Fans don’t have access to drivers and teams or to the CEO of F1 himself. Journalists have a responsibility to report for the people. I believe that in F1, this means questioning teams on what they will do to improve diversity, talking to Stefano Domenicali about the action he is taking to root out racism within his organization, and pressing on these issues and finding answers.
F1 is highly exclusive, especially when it comes to the press they let into their inner circle, and I could understand why journalists might be afraid to press like this or dive deep in fear that they could be cut out or lose their connections. There is a way to push without going too far, and finding that line is part of the learning process.
My call to F1 journalists is this: read up on the international journalism code of ethics and take a look inward. You are crucial to this community and can harness your power to push for change. Sir Lewis Hamilton and those being discriminated against cannot bear this weight alone. Change happens when we use collective power, and you can be the start.
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