Over the past couple of years F1 has rapidly increased its popularity, expanding its grasp to a wider global audience and naturally the growth of the fanbase has followed suit. When looking across any era of Formula 1 you’re bound to find a section of fans who have drawn attention to the sport for the wrong reasons and this modern era is no exception. The abhorrent behaviour of some fans has picked up in recent years and the 2022 Austrian GP (amongst others) springs to mind as a focal point that garnered universal condemnation of the behaviour that was seen over the weekend. Despite the widespread disapproval of this behaviour, it continued to cross boundaries whether that was amongst other fans, as mentioned above, or invading the personal space of the drivers during race weekends. There are no signs of this slowing down as Charles Leclerc recently posted a message requesting that fans stop showing up at his house. So, let’s take a look at how this is impacting the sport and the possible implications it could have in the future.
There’s no denying that F1 fans are passionate, to put in lightly, and for the most part this enthusiasm has been welcomed into the sport with open arms. When thinking of the Dutch GP the first image that pops into your head is the sea of orange that encompasses the entire track from the Friday right through the end of Sunday, similarly it can always be guaranteed that the Tifosi will show up in full force at Imola and Monza to sport Ferrari as that’s always been the tradition in Formula 1. But what happens when fans take it too far?
Whilst there have been no official changes introduced to manage the frenzy that drivers have experienced in some of the paddocks, there have been suggestions to bring in guidelines that could assist in maintaining the safety of those within the paddock. As an F1 fan I would of course be disappointed to see the actions of a few bear widespread consequences on the many but if nothing changes this could be the only plausible option left. In comparison to other sports, F1 is generally much more accessible to fans who want to meet their favourite drivers, team principles etc. through the various packages that they have on offer such as the paddock club, but if this access if taken advantage of could it be revoked? The FIA nor F1 have suggested anything of the sort but if you look at the increasing concerns that appear to be constantly cropping up it’s not too far fetched to imagine that restrictions on fan access could come into play in the future which would be a shame to see. Although these options are available to enforce on track what happens when this behaviour spills outside of the track?
Fan interactions off track naturally becomes harder to police as the line of what is considered an invasion of privacy becomes much more blurred. On one hand the fact that drivers are being approached outside of the work environment could be considered a step too far, but other could argue that asking for a picture or an autograph is relatively harmless as long as a some common sense is applied. I think people would universally agree that waiting outside of someone’s house definitely crosses the line as you couldn’t get a more textbox definition of invading someone’s privacy if you tried. I anticipate that moving forward, these incidents may unfortunately become more familiar as the fanbase continues to grow.
When looking at what Liberty Media have done for the sport since they took over, it’s undeniable that they have been a central driving force in its expansion, especially into the US market. The introduction of Drive to Survive and the push towards teams and drivers increasing their social media presence will only serve to open the sport up even more. On paper, that’s great for the sport as we have seen them extend the calendar and provide us with new thrilling races in Vegas and Miami etc., but with the good must come the bad and unfortunately for us it could limit the F1 experience for everyone involved. With record breaking crowds in attendance at each weekend, Formula 1 looks to be following in the footsteps of sports that boast bigger audiences, such as football, and as a consequence it’s differentiating factor may soon be a thing of the past. If the sport doesn’t step in now we could see is start to revert back to its exclusive and distant roots, shutting out those who have only just got a look-in.