Paddock Diary: 2022 Austrian Grand Prix

2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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Formula 1 teams responded to reports some fans had suffered harassment and abuse at the Austrian Grand Prix by inviting them into the paddock.


After spending the night in Vienna, I made the 200 kilometre journey to the Red Bull Ring early on Thursday morning to collect my Austrian Grand Prix pass.

The scenery around the circuit is nothing short of stunning with the Styrian Hills fitting snuggly around the venue. The long, winding roads surrounding the track, bordered by trees, provide an appealing and distinctive backdrop.

As I arrived Max Verstappen supporters were already descending on the track in their thousands, fans setting up camp and waiting for a glimpse of their hero.

I was immediately struck, and perplexed, by some of the branding in the media centre. A refrigerator bearing the logos of a water company also bore a large drawing of an entirely naked woman. Unclear why anyone felt this was necessary to market water, and wondering what message this sends to others about attitudes towards women, I proceeded to my seat.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, Red Bull Ring, 2022Yet the rest of the decor was amazing, with a giant art installation of the bull planted in the middle of the room. Look up and there’s a model plane hanging from the ceiling, and look to your left and there’s an AlphaTauri F1 car proudly on display.

Since the British Grand Prix, media day now takes places 24 hours earlier, on Thursdays, than it had through the start of the season. Our sit-down with Zhou Guanyu was particularly memorable, as he recounted for the first time to the media since his experience of that huge crash at Silverstone. It was sobering stuff, and I was thankful to see him clearly safe and well just five days on from his acrobatic shunt.

Later we spoke to Pierre Gasly, who was seemingly still pretty irate at team mate Yuki Tsunoda after he’d clattered into him at the last race. Sitting to his right, I asked if he still had trust in his team mate.

A wry smile flashing across his face, he said: “I mean, I should trust him – we’re F1 drivers, so we know what we are doing inside the car.

“As I said, I think it’s fine to race hard. When it’s on your team mate, I think you should just take that 1% extra caution not to have such a big consequence.”

The day finished with some welcome drinks from the F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali at their motorhome before the hour’s drive back to my idyllic hotel.

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2022Waking up early, I immediately opened my curtains to take in a classic Austrian view I had somehow lucked into. I left behind a crowing cockerel and horses contently whinnying to start my journey into the circuit.

The recent changes mean Friday offers fewer media commitments for print media journalists. However the track action was exciting with qualifying taking place in the evening in the second sprint event weekend of the season.

It was disappointing to hear cheers from some in the crowd when Lewis Hamilton, the first of the two Mercedes drivers to lose control of their car in qualifying, hit the tyre barrier. I can understand the passion of fans, but I cannot understand or condone cheering as a driver smacks into the wall. I felt the same last year when Verstappen slammed into a Silverstone barrier with a force of 51G after colliding with Hamilton.

The media centre at the Red Bull Ring offers one of the best views in Formula 1. Looking down, you can see the entire start-finish straight and the pits up to turn two, plus turns six and seven where the drivers pass the statue of the bull before the back straight.

That is, assuming the entire place isn’t bathed in orange smoke, as it periodically is. The Orange Army were out in full force, and the flares were lit again as Max Verstappen took pole position for the sprint race.

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I immediately drew back the curtains once again to catch a glimpse of the rolling hills before my journey into the track. The calm before the storm serves as the perfect medicine for the madness of Formula 1, with the second sprint race of the season due to get underway that afternoon.

( L to R): Charles Leclerc, Ferrari; Max Verstappen, Red Bull; Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari; Red Bull Ring, 2022The roads were relatively clear – a luxury that never goes unappreciated at this circuit – as we drove in for the team principals’ press conference. The event may have a smaller capacity than somewhere like Silverstone, but you can’t knock their traffic management.

As I walked in, a group of Verstappen fans shouted over to me, calling me ‘sunshine’. Not thinking much of it as it seemed there was little offence to it I replied, ‘a little early for the beers?’ The demure changed slightly, and they shouted back to me in Dutch, not something I speak. As many women do, I carried on walking. It was inoffensive, but the man walking next to me had received no interaction, which I did note.

The debate over whether Formula 1 needs the sprint race format hasn’t gone away, and Saturday’s race was somewhat of a damp squib. We seemed to meet a succession of frustrated drivers in the media pen, equally dissatisfied irrespective of the grid position they had bagged.

It was a late finish and, after a long journey back to the car, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2022

Rain overnight meant a chilly start to the day. The showers falling over the hills meant a soggy drive in, but once again traffic proved no issue.

While being driven in, I was alerted to some tweets on social media, from several women who had reported abuse whilst attending the Austrian Grand Prix across the weekend. Following the sexist comments were a string of stories containing homophobic abuse and racism too. I was disgusted but, unfortunately, not surprised at what I saw. The fact is, women are abused daily. These seemed isolated at the track, but abuse is not.

I received a statement from Formula 1’s press officer, details of which were soon reported here, along with F1’s plans to increase security and stewards to help protection. I was pleased the sport had recognised these claims and had moved swiftly to take action. But more stories were flooding my timeline and my concern grew for the safety of those in the crowds.

Two women revealed they had been subject to homophobic abuse after they were holding hands, through fear of losing each other, and concern they could be attacked. I asked them what happened and they explained how at first those around them started to shout things aggressively in Dutch. It quickly turned to English, and it was clear they were made to feel unwelcome in the grandstands, enough to decide not to return Sunday. Aston Martin saw the post and offered them tickets into the paddock.

Later that evening, after the race concluded, I was keen to find out how those inside the F1 bubble felt about this. Many drivers were horrified and concluded there was more to do. Sebastian Vettel however looked into my eyes and said: “Horrible, isn’t it? I think it’s good this stuff comes out, that’s a start. But it’s horrible.” I genuinely appreciated such a compassionate response from a driver who’d endured a grim race.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2022Daniel Ricciardo, ever-smiling, was thrilled to meet the two guests of Aston Martin after I told him she was wearing his t-shirt. “Is she?” enthused the Australian, “that’s pretty cool,” he said before heading off to meet them.

I raised the subject with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who condemned the abusers behind the slurs, and referred to the incidents being an isolated issue. Pressing my point, I explained my experience of being cat-called earlier that weekend – for women, this happens often. His response was strong, and ended with him calling for those involved to “fuck off”, making it clear they aren’t welcome in the sport.

He is right. As one of the few women among written media journalists, comments towards us are still prevalent and happen more often than I would like to admit. F1 needs to make a stand, and attitudes need to change. I hope plenty can be learned from this weekend and that words can be turned into actions.

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2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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12 comments on “Paddock Diary: 2022 Austrian Grand Prix”

  1. Thanks Claire for the great reporting and putting your perspective and experience out there for all to read.

    Have you considered writing more about how a woman is treated by fans and the F1 circus? Maybe a series interviewing other women in F1 (media, teams, marshalls etc) and getting their stories out there.

  2. w.m. bravenboer
    11th July 2022, 18:25

    Being Dutch I feel ashamed of the behavior of some of my compatriots, this is unacceptable!
    I am so very sorry that you received such abuse, it is sad that as a woman it is still possible to be mistreated at an event that should be a happy occasion for everyone.
    Reading the comments on our Dutch fan-sites my feelings are shared by many, and I hope that we can learn from this, and be better. The new ‘fans’ that have been going to the races, are partly there because of the festivities and the alcohol, there is a lot of camaraderie and also a lot of fun. A part of these people are more like football-fans, looking for an opponent to mock and abuse. Jan Lammers already responded by saying they will be reviewing this event, and hopefully can learn to prevent this from happening again. This is a stain on the real fans, and it also involves Max, who has nothing to do with this. He is a passionate racer, enjoying what he does, and we love him for being himself. Hopefully the ‘Orange Army’ will learn and be better than we have seen this weekend.

    1. I feel we should be very very careful in making this a “Dutch” problem, or a “Max fan” problem. Or even a “Formula 1” problem. Adding a no-true-scotsman fallacy of “these aren’t real fans” and “real fans wouldn’t do this” is ignoring the wider issue as well.

      Because that would be ignoring that this is and has been a worldwide issue of toxic men being toxic. There are plenty of decent Dutch men, just like there are plenty of decent men around the world. And there are a massive bunch of bad Dutch men, and a massive bunch of bad men around the world. Especially when being together in packs.

      What we, and by we I mean every man that does know how to be not toxic, need to do is start calling out bad behaviour when it is seen, wherever we see it. Not be complacent. Not think “not my problem” or “not my concern” or “why don’t the women speak up” or “someone else will take care of this” or, and this is the worst one, think to yourself “boys will be boys” and leave it be. Lead by example. Especially those of us with sons. Educate your sons to be respectful human beings. Don’t normalize acceptance of this behaviour from your friends, acquaintances, family. We need to be better and it’s not enough to just go “well I’m one of the good ones so that’s that”.

  3. The only peril one should reasonably face when visiting a Grand Prix is your personal favourites underperforming or their engines blowing up spectacularly, not finding yourself at the receiving end of other people’s insults or frustrations.

    Thankfully Formula 1 is currently in the position to unequivocally tell these people to change their behaviour or stay away. And I really hope they used their power, too.

  4. I think maybe although Max is not responsible should still address his fans to calm down and show some class! It’s part of racing’s fan human nature to be pumped for your driver but not to this extent. Any wreck is horrible but unfortunately some fans watch just to see crashes. After Romain’s wreck a couple years ago fans should know how dangerous this and any motorsport is dangerous and someone’s son or daughter could be in danger, you hope and pray they walk out as I did when Romain did, I teared up in relief when I knew he was safe!

    1. I think it might help if Max or perhaps Red Bull themselves made a public and explicit statement at the next race, about fan behaviour. To be clear though I’m pretty sure it’s not only their fans who are causing all these problems.

      Whatever they do it’s difficult to stop these incidents when a group of rowdy, drunken, ignorant fans get together, egging each other on. F1 needs to have marshals in the stands and start expelling these people instantly if warnings aren’t heeded. Hit them in the pocket where it hurts.

  5. Great article Claire.

    Given how the weekend turned out in terms of abuse I sincerely hope you questioned why the image on the fridge was there – seems the media room is also far too “blokey” if they all that thought that was OK.

    Hard for them to criticise fans if its going on in the media room. I know its not quite the same but its still inappropriate these days.

  6. Great article.

    I’m very sorry so much of it had to focus (justifiably) on the action off track. Things like that should never be condoned, particularly by those involved in the sport we all love. I’m glad strong statements condemning this disgusting behaviour were made by all who were approached to comment on the issue. I have always loved the fact that F1 is a nuanced sport with a diverse number of layers for fans be interested in, whether they be the sporting, commercial, political or human aspects of the sport. In the same way, the sport should (and clearly does) attract a diverse fanbase – everyone in the stands should be united by our joint passion for the sport, not made to feel like they are in danger. A strong message needs to be sent out that this sport is not for the bigoted.

  7. For once, a comment section here that’s not full of the kind of bickering I normally see out of American college football fans.

    Observations aside, Claire, thank you for the insight, and props to the teams’ response to the boneheaded, bigoted fans. I know that at least two teams brought abused fans into the paddock– Mercedes also reportedly brought a fan into the garage, safe from the army of morons. That said, though, it should be on FOM, the FIA, the circuit owners and event promoters to ensure this garbage behavior be quashed on and off the circuit. Same with the media room’s behavior.

    I have to commend just how strong Toto Wolff’s response was; I very much hope it makes the upcoming season of Drive to Survive. If for nothing else, it would go to blunt his memetic reputation as F1’s current resident Bond villain (well, inasmuch as anyone can compare to Briatore, Balestre, Moseley or Uncle Bernie).

  8. Thanks @clairecottingham I like your diaries in general but this one was personal and it left a sour taste

    Which is a “good” thing, as in that it shows the world women live in. Maybe not all women, but way way way too much

  9. I wonder when there is such a wave of decriminalizing and legalising other intoxactions, more herbal and healthy than alcohol, why is there such a rush to provide alcohol at sporting events.
    I know this is no excuse to the behaviour and ideology of those involved in harrasment and also it may change a little by removing alcohol, but at least those who are otherwise sane or subdued in their manners without consuming alcohol would not partake in the mass mentality of sexist and racist abuse.
    A little change can begin a massive wave IMHO.

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