In it for the hate

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes MP4/23 launch, 2008 | DaimlerTrack officials at the Circuit de Catalunya closed one of the spectators enclosures during today’s F1 testing at the circuit after prolonged abuse aimed at the McLaren team from a group of spectators.

Anti-Hamilton and McLaren banners have been commonplace during testing this winter, most of which is conducted at Spanish venues such as Jerez, Valencia and the Barcelona circuit that hosts the Spanish Grand Prix. I posted some video of Hamilton being jeered at Valencia earlier.

Is this an early sign that there will be problems with crowd control at some races this year?

The track organisers put today’s trouble down to “a minority of fans that were behaving unsportingly” and I’m sure they’re telling the truth, because this is the way these things always are. But it doesn’t prevent the possibility the same minority may have already bought tickets for either of this year’s F1 races in Spain.

British football has considerable experience in dealing with these problems, and the authorities take care to obtain CCTV images of offenders to ensure they are kept out of future events. I hope the Spanish authorities are doing the same.

McLaren themselves have experience of this kind of backlash. The team’s battles with Ferrari in the 1970s and 1980s meant they often got a rough reception from the Italian Tifosi which, like today’s trouble in Spain, included people throwing items at their cars – not something that can be tolerated in Formula 1.

But just because it’s happened before doesn’t make it excusable. So why is this happening again?

I expect many of the ‘fans’ would say they are angry that Alonso was unfairly treated by McLaren last year in favour of Lewis Hamilton. I think it’s an idiotic conspiracy theory but it’s obviously popular in Spain – 133,000 people, mostly Spanish, signed a petition (English version) complaining about a list of spurious ‘irregularities’.

Writing on ITV-F1 recently James Allen suggested there was “a racist element” to some of the Hamilton hate. He wasn’t speaking directly of Spanish fans, and as I haven’t seen any evidence of a racial motivation I certainly would not describe it that way.

But what I do find odd is that there are some Alonso fans who got up this morning, and decided to make a banner because they were going to an F1 test. But instead of making a banner supporting Alonso, they made one attacking Hamilton.

There are a billion reasons to like F1. I don’t like the thought that some people who buy Grand Prix tickets are in it for the hate.

The test concludes tomorrow.

More on Alonso and Hamilton

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23 comments on In it for the hate

  1. Steven Roy said on 2nd February 2008, 23:56

    One of the things I really dislike about modern F1 is that there are groups of fans who support a driver the way you support a football team. I also don’t like that many people now cannot think beyond their own country and the one driver they support is of their own nationality.

    It is a huge negative in the sport introduced by the Schumacher generation. You had a group of people who seemed to be caught up in some kind of personality cult. These people have no knowledge of the technicalities of racing and no wish to understand them. Their whole mantra was Michael good everyone else bad.

    The best example I saw of this was scanning the discussion forums after Michael parked his car at Monaco. Those who thought he had parked the car were discussing steering inputs, when he got off and back on the brakes etc. The pro-Schumacher people simply said that Michael wouldn’t do that. It is beyond belief that anyone however biased could think that parking a car on the racing line was beyond a driver who habitually and with varying degrees of success tried to ram opponents off the road at speeds of up to 200mph.

    Unfortunately Alonso seems to have a similar group who believe he is the greatest thing since sliced bread even though they have no capability of assessing his ability. I read the petition you mention and it was completely farcical. Imagine what would have happened had Alonso had the problems that Lewis had in the last couple of races.

    Unfortunately when you have a crowd of people full of religious belief you lose all reason and you get mob rule. If I was Bernie I would be having a quiet word with the people at Barcelona and Valencia and tell them that if there is one incident of something being thrown on the track, at a car or at a person Spain will lose both its races.

    This situation has to be stamped on before it escalates into drivers being attacked or two opposing groups of fans setting up a pitched battle. It happened in football it cannot be allowed to happen in F1.

  2. This sort of news is really quite worrying. I remember the German fans behaving quite badly back in 1994 – thankfully that got sorted out pretty quickly – and hearing of more hooligan-esque behaviour is not what F1 needs. That kind of vitriol divides people instead of uniting them.

  3. Steven Roy,

    I really like the way write and what you write. I´d like to know if you have a blog or where you´re writing right now. Read Only your opinions here its not enough!


  4. I agree, well stated Steven. The racist card is an ugly one to play in any circumstance and characterizes the slippage of fans into zealots and hooligans. There should be no room in F1 for it as in any other endeavor.

  5. Steven Roy said on 3rd February 2008, 3:01

    Thanks for the kind comments.

    I don’t have a blog. I was only introduced to racing blogs by Alianora a few months ago. I comment on a few blogs but mostly I post on the GP Wizard forum(link below). There are several very good posters on that site and I am sure you will enjoy reading what they have to say and commenting on them.

  6. Cooperman said on 3rd February 2008, 8:58

    I seem to recall British F1 ‘fans’ throwing stones at Schumacher’s / Ferrari’s motor home at Silverstone in the mid-1990s in deference to Damon Hill. It’s not a solely Spanish or German issue, and for that reason I don’t think it’s racism. F1 if anything crosses the race boundaries – more so now than ever with British, Japanese, German and Indian teams on the grid this year.

    Watching the Six Nations rugby yesterday afternoon – I think it’s just that some sports manage to rise above such mindless attitudes, and I don’t think it’s a class thing either (rugby union traditionally being a ‘gentleman’s sport’ played at boarding schools).

    I think that, sadly, football / soccer leads the way in popularity around the world and the lack of action on the part of football’s governing body means that other sports such as F1 are being polluted with this sort of behaviour as well.

    Add to that the impact that the tabloid newspapers and websites (those that are inferior to F1Fanatic, obviously!) that leap onto the back of any ill-thought comment made by a driver about his opponents and blow it out of proportion, and you’re going to get people who take sides and take their views to extreme lengths.

    In a way, it’s yet another case of F1 being too popular for its own good – how often did the sport feature in the British tabloids in 2006, compared with Hamilton’s rise to stardom in 2007? I even read in The Sun at one point last year how Lewis had his own parking spot at his local supermarket! They really will print anything to get readers!
    I’m sure that Bernie doesn’t mind though.

    Personally I think that the FIA need to act on this sort of thing early before it gets out of hand – fans hurling abuse at teams and drivers simply isn’t on. It’s not what F1’s about, or ever been about, and it makes a mockery of the drivers of the past who risked their lives for this sport.

  7. Rohan said on 3rd February 2008, 9:55

    I must say that I disagree with the main point of this article – why is it wrong to dislike another driver/team? Surely part and parcel of supporting one team/driver is that you dislike (but may respect) their rivals?

    As for the Spanish fans – the only thing I can see that they have done that might be even slightly wrong is throw things at the McLaren cars. Everything else (the banners, booing etc) should be allowed and encouraged imo. The atmosphere at football matches is something one should be seeking to re-create at a GP, and not prevent people from showing their emotions.

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd February 2008, 10:02

    I see your point Rohan but when they’re throwing stuff at his car I don’t think they’re ‘disliking but respecting’ him. I just don’t understand the need for the hatred, I think it’s… sad.

    And I’m repelled by the kind of intimidation and hostility I see at football games – mocking the players, abusing the officials – if F1 races became like that I wouldn’t follow the sport.

  9. frecon said on 3rd February 2008, 10:24

    As a spanish i only can say that i feel extremely ashamed.

    Everytime, everywhere, the ones who can’t behave are the one who represent us.

  10. The problem in Spain seems to be that because the majority of Spanish F1 fans didn’t follow the sport before Alonso and just jumped on his bandwagon, they don’t realize that F1 isn’t the same as football, and that hooliganism and hatred aren’t as easily tolerated in F1 (not to say that racism and violence in football is acceptable).
    It’s always the minority in these cases, but it seems that the minority can shout louder than the majority.

  11. The poster with crane that Autosport shows is at least funny (even if it has been around for a while :-) )

    The racial abuse and the fingers are disgusting … Spanish organizers from Barcelona and Valencia (and Jerez) should get together with FIA, issue a strong warning that this will not be tolerated, and simply ban anyone caught from further entry …

    There are many ways how to display unhappiness with somebody in civilized way.

  12. Regardless of one’s rooting interest it’s always poor form to abuse and vilify the opposition. One can disagree with tactics, strategy, or foul play, and vocally express one’s opposition. But to toss objects onto tracks (ala Jeff Gordon’s treatment in NASTYCAR) or scream racial remarks is intolerable and cannot be allowed.

    Someone said “War is politics by other means” (Bismark?), well if F1 becomes nationalistic war by other means such as football has become, we are all lost and I for one will find my racing fix elsewhere.

  13. I also believe these are minor incidents and far from the norm, but it needs to be curtailed and quickly before it gets out of hand.

  14. Steven Roy said on 3rd February 2008, 17:15

    F1 fans only started supporting drivers in a completely partisan fashion with the Schumacher generation. Prior to that people obviously had favourite drivers but generally they would have several favourite drivers and the nationality of the driver was irrelevant. So in the early 70s you could have a Frenchman who was a fan of Stewart, Rindt, Amon and Ickx. Prior to to Schumacher people went to the race to watch the race not to partisanly support one driver to the exclusion of all others.

    The tifosi used to be mocked by the rest of the world because they saw things in such a blinkered way. Now it almost seems like the majority of people who have become interested in the sport in the past 15 years go to support one driver. The people who benefit most from this are the people who sell all the team and driver merchandise. If Bernie had sorted out F1 branded merchandise 20 years ago and grown it as a brand there could have been some dilution.

    I really dread the direction the fans are taking the sport in. I can see a situation where the Alonso fans will all be in one part of the circuit, the Hamilton fans in another and the Raikkonen fans in another part. People will no longer be able to go to their favourite part of a track because they support the wrong driver. It happened in football.

    It is interesting that we are seeing the Schumacher effect with Alonso’s supporters. I hadn’t made the connection before that both Germany and Spain had not had a top F1 driver in recent years. Germany obviously had VonTrips who came so close to being champion in 1961 and Jochen Rindt although he raced with an Austrian license was in fact born in Germany so if the rules of most other sports applied he would be classed as the first German champion.

    I guess the sudden massive increase in interest in a sport in a country means that there are not a vast number of people with a balanced view of the history of the sport to provide reasoned reflection and so the lowest common denominator of partisan nationalism thrives. The internet contributes to that of course and the petition mentioned above is the prime example of that. It was full of infantile interpretations of the facts twisted in a way tha would have made a political spin doctor proud.

    In the end of course the Schumacher effect became international but I can’t see this happening with Alonso because he is not going to be able to dominate the sport in the manner Michael did. Whether this will lead to his supporters calming down because they see he is not the greatest driver in history or whether they take the Alex Ferguson line that the world is out to get us and become worse I don’t know.

    Support the sport not a driver. Educate the partisan.

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