Formula 1 grands prix are routinely among the biggest live sporting events in the world by the sheer volume of fans who attend.
With so many people watching races, the passionate and vibrant fan culture witnessed at some of the more popular grands prix has always been one of the best qualities of the sport. And flares have become a major means for fans to express their love for their heroes.
Charles Leclerc will never forget the scene in front of him on the podium at the 2019 Italian Grand Prix after delivering victory for the Tifosi with red flares being set off by fans watching from the track below. The sight of Max Verstappen rounding the Hans Ernst Bocht for the final time in 2021 to take a home victory at the Dutch Grand Prix while bathed in a thick orange haze will always be one of the most iconic images of his championship winning season.
However, this smokey symbol of celebration is not without its problems. For as common as flares have become in the grandstands of grand prix events, they technically are not even allowed to be brought into venues to start with.
Flares are explicitly banned by name from the Australian Grand Prix as well as from Imola, host of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. But many other circuits – such as Silverstone and Circuit of the Americas – prohibit ticket holders from bringing “smoke canisters” and “incendiary devices” to their events. Even at many tracks where flares are most common, they often are not explicitly allowed by terms and conditions of entry. Imola, as mentioned, forbids flares, yet many Tifosi were pictured setting off scarlet red smoke in spectator areas, while Spa-Francorchamps only lists “firearms, bladed weapons and any other type of dangerous item” as a category of forbidden items that flares may arguably fall under.
The use of flares by fans reached a flashpoint in last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix with plumes of orange smoke drifting over the track during the start of Sunday’s race, with some drivers later commenting that it had very slightly affected their visibility into turn seven on the opening lap. So thick was the smoke, one fan captured video of how the view of the track was completely obstructed at the start of the race from the centre grandstands between turns six and seven.
But despite being technically prohibited from grand prix venues, should fans with flares be clamped down on, or should Formula 1 embrace this colourful form of expression and encourage circuits to allow them at their venues?
As already mentioned, flare smoke has become a key element of the fan culture at some European races – especially those that attract strong support for Ferrari or for world champion Max Verstappen. With Formula 1 having raced at so many circuits over the years with visibly empty grandstands, it should be a joy to see fans rich in both number and spirit expressing their love of the sport, their favourite driver or team during races.
The orange flares often seen at Zandvoort, the Red Bull Ring and even Spa-Francorchamps are becoming just as much an icon of modern F1 fan culture as the red flares used by the Tifosi at Imola and Monza are. Formula 1 certainly does not seem to mind sharing lingering wide shots of orange smoke covering grandstands on its world feed coverage.
There’s also the argument that even if bringing flares to circuits is discouraged or outright forbidden, the rules could be opened up to allow fans who want to show their support in this colourful way can do so, but with very strict rules about what is permitted – maybe even only allowing approved devices to be purchased at the circuit itself.
The main reason flares are prohibited from racing circuits is easy to figure out: safety. Not only is anything that combusts a potential fire risk, there’s also the health impact that smoke can have on other spectators around them who likely have not consented to their being filled by coloured smoke.
Inhaling potentially toxic fumes and chemicals from flare smoke is enough of a reason to argue flares have no place in grandstands and spectator areas. There’s also the environmental concern, as releasing those into the atmosphere is not ideal for the local ecosystem and potentially human residents who happen to live close to the confines of the circuit.
Finally, as demonstrated so visually in the Austrian Grand Prix, there’s the matter of flares impeding visibility during races. Not just for the drivers who have every expectation for their visibility not to be impeded by artificial factors, but for the other spectators who also should expect to be able to at least see the race that they have paid considerable money to watch.
As Formula 1 enjoys a boom period, attracting legions of new fans across the world, the last thing the sport wants to do is to risk alienating some of those who pay good money to watch their heroes racing live and in person. The scenes of proud Dutch fans honouring their first grand prix winner and world champion by lighting the grandstands in orange is a spectacle in itself, while the Tifosi have long been rightly celebrated for being the most vivid, impassioned and devoted fanbase of any team or driver in motorsport.
Such visual support isn’t only impressive to witness, it also adds a true sense of home support to Formula 1 that is commonplace in most other sports like soccer, American football, hockey or basketball. The Dutch Grand Prix truly feels like Verstappen’s home race, while the Italian Grand Prix is unambiguously Ferrari territory due to the sea of red seen in the stands. The colour that flares can add to the atmosphere can very much help to make each round feel like its own event, rather than races held at soulless circuits with empty seats and little energy.
However, flares are prohibited from F1 races for good reasons. But while the frequency in which we see flares at races might cause some concerns about security at grand prix events, it would seem a shame if they were to disappear completely from the grandstands.
What fans should exercise – and what the sport should expect from its fans – is common sense. When the level of smoke at the start of the Austrian Grand Prix becomes a talking point for drivers after the race and some fans miss the on track action as a result, it’s clear that is going too far. But if fans can show some reasonable constraint, flares can hopefully continue to add to the fan atmosphere during Formula 1 races into the future.
Do you agree that circuits should change their rules and allow flares at Formula 1 races?
- Strongly agree (5%)
- Slightly agree (4%)
- Neither agree nor disagree (2%)
- Slightly disagree (11%)
- Strongly disagree (78%)
- No opinion (0%)
Total Voters: 212
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