Red Bull boss Horner calls for ‘zero tolerance’ on fan abuse
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner believes fans should be able to have their say at Formula 1 races as rivalries are common in the sport. But Horner called for a “zero tolerance” policy for the kind of abuse and intimidation seen at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Fans took to social media to raise F1 awareness of rampant harassment, sexism, racism and homophobia in the stands at Spielberg two weeks ago. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez has called on the abusers to face lifetime bans from F1 racing.
“I think there has to be zero tolerance for any form of abuse. I think that’s something that the whole sport, the teams, are absolutely aligned on,” Horner told The Associated Press in an interview on Friday.
“We are seeing unprecedented levels of interest and growth in our sport. Crowds are at an all time high. But obviously what we don’t want is for a small minority to dampen that experience in any way. Any form of abuse or intimidation, there should be an absolutely zero tolerance policy towards.
There has been rude behavior from fans at several recent F1 races.
Hamilton was mocked when he crashed his Mercedes during practice in Austria, and Horner and Max Verstappen were booed in the previous race at Silverstone.
Last year Hamilton was mocked in Hungary and the Netherlands as tensions boiled over following a first-lap accident between Hamilton and Verstappen at Silverstone. Verstappen was taken to a local hospital for evaluation after the crash.
“People were cheering when Max went in the ambulance at Silverstone last year. Sport is polarizing in many ways. You see it in other forms of sport,” Horner told the AP ahead of the Grand French prices. “It wasn’t prevalent in motor racing before, but there’s a new fan base coming in and they’re quite vocal about which drivers and teams they support, and (those) they don’t support. .
“People are free to express themselves, but what cannot be accepted in any way is any form of abuse.”
F1 is setting attendance records almost every week, but Austria has sparked talk of safety issues and what safety measures could be taken to discourage abusive behavior.
“We have to put on a big show, big races, but it has to be an absolutely safe and inclusive environment for the crowd,” Horner said.
Last year’s title race between Hamilton and Verstappen ended in controversy following then-race director Michael Masi’s decision to change the restart procedure at the end-of-season race in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton led until an accident knocked out the safety car five laps from the end. Verstappen stopped for fresh tires and Masi reversed his decision and let the five drivers separating Verstappen from Hamilton pass the yellow safety car.
Masi was fired following the fiasco after the FIA ruled he had made human error. He has since left the FIA and Horner feels the level of criticism Masi received was grossly unfair.
“To me, that was tantamount to bullying. He’s been suspended by a few teams, and I think that’s absolutely not fair,” Horner said. “It’s unacceptable, the guy is getting threats to his family and so on.
Latifi, meanwhile, was so affected by the online abuse and death threats that he even hired a bodyguard.
Horner agreed that tighter controls on social media were needed to combat abuse.
“Listen, where there is a will there is always a way and there is also a responsibility,” he said. “All for free speech, but what you don’t want is trolling and abuse.”
Sunday’s event is the penultimate race before the mid-season break. Verstappen overcame two DNFs in the first three races – and a significant deficit for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – to lead by 38 points.
Horner praised Verstappen’s mental toughness and rare resilience.
“You can always tell with great sportsmen, they deliver when they’re most under pressure. I think Max has never been shy about delivering under pressure,” Horner said. “Some of the pressure he was under last year and the performance he was able to deliver… Unbelievable.”
It also unleashed his ambition.
“I think winning that first title takes a lot of the pressure off, but at the same time it fuels the hunger,” Horner said. “He is hungrier than ever and drives better than ever.”
Verstappen, 24, already has 26 wins. Hamilton is the F1 record holder with 103, a target within reach for Verstappen given he could have a decade or more ahead of him.
“What Lewis has achieved is incredible and it’s hard to imagine those records being broken. It all depends on what equipment you have,” Horner said. “Who knows what the future holds? What Max has achieved so far in his career is hugely impressive and I’m sure he’ll build on that.
Verstappen has also built a tremendous partnership with teammate Perez, with immense mutual respect between them.
“I was keen to bring Sergio in because I felt we needed an experienced driver alongside Max. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and he played a key role last year,” said Horner. “This year he is more comfortable in the team, the car is a bit more to his liking. He is a key factor in the team and the dynamic between them is great.
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