Why F1 drivers are calling for respect as fans fill Mexican GP paddock

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In keeping with a recent trend the F1 Experiences organisation has sold hundreds of packages that give paddock access to well-heeled fans.

However, drivers have found the atmosphere oppressive with fans physically pushing and pulling them whenever they try to make it from their hospitality buildings to their garages, seemingly with no respect for personal space.

While paddocks have become busier as Liberty Media has opened up access and tried to monetise it Mexico has reached an unprecedented level of hysteria, with scary scenes as drivers are mobbed when they venture out into the open.

On Saturday after completing their post-qualifying TV pen interviews they had to be ushered through the FIA hospitality building to a quieter back route to the rest of the paddock, while some teams have employed extra security guards outside their hospitality buildings.

The topic of fan access was discussed in Friday evening’s drivers’ briefing. Most admit to mixed feelings about what’s been happening in Mexico.

“There are loads of people in the paddock,” said Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. “It’s good, because it shows how much more interest there is in F1. It’s always been crazy here, but especially this year. But on the other hand, maybe we need to find something [to allow] us to walk a bit easier in the paddock.”

“I love having the fans around me,” said Carlos Sainz. “I love having everyone around us cheering us, especially I guess because I’m Latin, we have a kind of a special relationship. I only ask everyone to stay calm, that we are in a paddock, that they don’t push or don’t shout too much.”

Fans waiting for autographs

Fans waiting for autographs

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Pierre Gasly admitted that he was finding life difficult in Mexico.

“I think letting people in is fine,” said the Frenchman. “But it’s true that now we feel like some guests sometimes are not really respecting the space that we need. People are coming in garages before qualifying and asking for pictures when they are not even from our team.

“We’re working here, and obviously we give time for the fans when we can. But this weekend I didn’t dare come out of the hospitality, because otherwise you get mobbed. And sometimes it gets quite hectic.

“I arrived at the hospitality yesterday morning with my bag with my passport open, and I didn’t even feel it.

“We talked about it in the driver’s briefing. I think it’s great, and also to see kids and people really enjoying it, but just maybe find a way where they can understand where to reach us, and when to give us a bit more space.”

On Saturday evening McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo talked at length about the issue.  These are two of F1’s “nice guys” who have developed strong relationships with their fans, and yet both were clearly rattled by what’s unfolded this weekend.

Consider too that they have it easy relative to the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Mexican local hero Sergio Perez.

“I love having the fans in here, especially when it’s kids and stuff,” said Norris. “And in a way, you can’t control what they do, like kids are kids, that’s cool.

“They’re looking up to us as being in our place one day, and dreaming of what we’re doing and, and we’re the idols and heroes and so on. I think that’s just that’s cool, that’s fun, that’s life.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, throws a hat to fans

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, throws a hat to fans

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“But I guess more for the older people and so on there’s not as much respect for just personal space and things like that as what there should be. They should feel lucky enough to be in the paddock, and get to be as close as they are to us.

“Because it’s easy for us to always go around the back ways, and have people literally shove them out of the way and so on, so we don’t sign anything. But we want to do that, and we are happy to do those things.

“And we want to walk down the paddock. But there just needs to be a little bit more just respect from people for our personal space and boundaries and things.”

Norris pointed out that there are few sports where people can rub shoulders with the stars just before they head to perform.

“I would say there’s not as many other sports where fans can get maybe quite as close now to the athletes or whatever,” he said. “So again, like I said, they should feel lucky enough to be here, and to be as close as they are to where we are doing our work.

“But in a lot of the other sports, they just seem more respectful. More the adults and the people who should realise what we’re doing, and the time we have to spend, and the work and whatever, and have the level of respect that they should have for us. They need to show that more often. And simple as that.”

Ricciardo echoed his team-mate’s opinion, noting that things have been building up over the course of the season as F1 has allowed more people in.

“This year has got more hectic,” said the Australian. “I think there’s two sides to it. I think the paddock used to lack atmosphere. I remember eight years ago, 10 years ago, the paddock was actually a pretty dull place.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“So I do like having atmosphere in the paddock. I think it should be a fun place to be. But there should also be boundaries. I think to be in the paddock and have a VIP pass, it’s a privilege. I think you also should act with some maturity and have respect. That hasn’t always been shown this year. People lose their mind.”

Ricciardo made the simple point that those buying paddock access should be given a set of rules to follow.

“I feel like they should at least have some guidelines, like these are the kind of the rules inside the paddock. As I said, I do want the atmosphere. And I don’t want security to be honest, I don’t want to be walking in a huddle and just walking through people. I want to be able to have photos and sign.

“I think if everyone’s just says ‘please, thank you,’ and shows a little bit of respect, then we’ll keep obviously giving them that in return.

“I honestly I do catch myself calling people out way too often for not saying please or thank you. They just run up, don’t say a word, do what they have to, and then go.

“For that you feel like a little bit, honestly, like used. I think if they set some guidelines, maybe that helps, because there aren’t any at the moment. So if it’s just a bit of awareness, then maybe they’ll be a little more cool. I don’t want to see it change. I just think adults need to act like adults.”

Ricciardo made the point that attention from over-eager fans can be particularly distracting just before drivers head out on track.

“I think that’s certainly like the sensitive moments, when you’re about to go into the car,” he said. “And I think as well, people forget, this isn’t an ordinary sport. 

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“We’re jumping in cars, we’re going the speeds we go, we require a certain amount of commitment, concentration, and all that sort of stuff. And that’s just the truth. 

“So especially the fact that it’s that as well, it’s not an ordinary sport, there needs to be some distance before the time we go into the car and compete. 

“So it could even be that there’s like a little bit of an off-limits interval of 15 minutes before the session starts, or 20 minutes, that there’s some form of guidelines – this is a moment where the drivers are kept to themselves or whatever. 

“Again, I don’t want to come up with solutions on the spot. But we do need to get in a certain headspace to get behind the wheel of these cars. So I think having some distance around maybe those crucial moments could be helpful.”

Norris agreed with Ricciardo that guidelines or rules would help.

“I don’t know what can be done about it, it’s hard to know exactly what needs to be done,” he said. “But a simple thing, where they sign to get the tickets, you must show respect and have the appropriate behaviour when you’re in the paddock to the drivers, especially in the lead up to any session we’re going to do. 

“And if that’s not followed, and people are aggressive and grab you like they do a lot of the time, then biff them out.”

McLaren boss Andreas Seidl came to F1 from championships with relaxed paddock access, and he sees the positive side.

“I think it’s very important to not overreact now,” he said. “When I left F1 after my first stint in 2010 and I could experience other paddocks like DTM, like the Nordschleife, WEC and Le Mans especially. 

Fans of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Fans of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

“To be honest, I was enjoying it. It was a lot more open for fans, fans were a lot closer to the action, fans had access to the drivers and to the teams, which I enjoyed a lot.

“And whenever during this period of my sportscar time I went back to the to the F1 paddock as a guest, it felt a bit odd, because it was so sterile and quiet, no guests in there even on a Saturday/Sunday where you were not sure if that’s the right way, in terms of creating exclusivity or whatever.

“I think the direction F1 took is definitely the right one and a good one, and we appreciate a lot the atmosphere that is around now in the paddocks throughout the season.”

However, Seidl admitted that things have gone too far in Mexico, and that a compromise needs to be reached for future races.

“Here it’s clearly too extreme,” said the German. “And I think we just need to follow up and have a good discuss in now with F1, how we can make sure that, especially in countries like here in Mexico, where the fans are also so passionate for what we are doing, and so enthusiastic, that we just always keep the right level of respect.

“We will find solutions there. And then can keep enjoying this new atmosphere that we have in the paddocks throughout the world.”

It’s worth noting that in just two weeks we’ll be in Brazil, another Latin country full of passionate fans – and with a much more cramped paddock than that in Mexico. Can action be taken by then?

“There are a lot of reasonable people involved on the team side and on F1 side,” said Seidl. “I’m sure that the right measures will put in place, short term and medium-long term.”

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