Verstappen rebukes ‘disgusting’ Mercedes cap-burning video

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen gestures while speaking during a press conference. Miami May 2022

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen gestures while speaking during a press conference. Miami May 2022

Max Verstappen has criticised the “disgusting” behaviour of some spectators in Hungary after a video on social media showed them burning a Mercedes cap.

Reports emerged on Friday that spectators at the Hungaroring had been seen burning Lewis Hamilton merchandise.

Apparently decked out in Verstappen supporter kit, the fan set the cap on fire with the moment caught on camera by a passing car.

Verstappen has condemned it.

“That’s of course not acceptable,” he said.

“I mean, these individuals… No, I definitely don’t agree with that because that’s just disgusting.

“But overall, I think the majority of the fans which also were cheering a lot, I think throughout the race and also on the podium for every driver, I think that’s how it should be.

“And yeah, those videos, or video, of burning merch I think that’s disgusting.”

It’s not the first disturbing incident to take place in recent weeks with the Austrian Grand Prix mired by reports of homophobia and racism.

Formula 1 responded to that by launching the ‘Drive It Out’ campaign to tackle abuse, both online and in the real world.

The sport released a video in which all 20 drivers appeared along with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and also FIA president Mohammed bin Sulayem.

F1 said in a statement that the video message ‘recognises that while passion and competition is a very important part of our sport, it can go too far, resulting in fans, journalists, presenters, and drivers receiving abuse both verbally and online.

‘We are all sending a clear message that this isn’t acceptable and must end – and those that continue to spread abuse and offensive comments are not welcome in our sport.’

Formula 1 drivers and team bosses have called for life-time bans for fans who abuse other spectators and also drivers.

“They don’t represent us as a sport, they don’t share our values and they’re not welcome here. As simple as that,” said Sergio Perez.

Toto Wolff told ESPN that they can “f**k off.

“We just need to target these guys and pick them out and say ‘you.’ This is what Formula 1 has said and we have said and that you need to report to the security if you can.

“And whoever reads my sentence: stay away, we don’t want you if you are part of that group.”

Sebastian Vettel added: “Whoever these people are, they should be ashamed of themselves and they should be banned from racing events for their lives.

“I think there should be zero tolerance. If people have a good time and drink too much that’s OK, but it doesn’t justify or excuse wrong behaviour. We race as one, so, the fans are a part of that.”

2021 title fight only added to F1’s toxic fan culture

Formula 1 has always been divisive, Ferrari fans versus McLaren supporters, those who loved Alain Prost versus those who worshipped Aryton Senna, and then of course – the world against Michael Schumacher.

Don’t for a moment think today’s toxic environment amongst the sport’s fans is anything new, it’s not. It’s just reached new levels after last year’s title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen fanned the flames.

And the teams are partly to blame.

While fans chose sides, either dreaming of a record-breaking eighth for Hamilton or crossing their fingers that Verstappen would finally end Mercedes’ run, the drivers raced elbows out on the track in what started off as a respectful battle and ended in all-out war.

Two massive crashes, Silverstone and Monza, both in which one was to blame and the other was hurt threw fuel on the fire. Their respective teams’ reactions doing nothing to smother the flames.

Christian Horner hit out at Hamilton for “desperate” driving when he collided with Verstappen through Copse, the Red Bull driver into the barrier with an impact of 51G.

Four races later Toto Wolff accused Verstappen of deliberately hitting Hamilton in Monza, a “tactical foul”, that ended with the Red Bull on top of the Mercedes.

As the two threw out insults at one another they gave their supporters the go-ahead to do the same, and so it went through to the end of the season when Verstappen and Hamilton went head-to-head for the World title on the final lap of the season.

That it was decided in controversial circumstances didn’t help the situation one iota. What was one pencilled in battle lines became Sharpie-d.

Even though Hamilton and Verstappen, Mercedes and Red Bull, are not fighting one another this season – at least not yet – the scars from 2021 are clear to see amongst the crowds at today’s races. Hamilton went as far as to say that’s why fans at Silverstone were booing Verstappen.

Formula 1 now faces a tough task, some would unfortunately say a thankless one, curtailing the animosity within the supporter groups. How, is the big question.

The sport has launched ‘Drive it Out’ to tackle abuse, but unless they start taking true action like banning fans – like the half-wit who burnt the Mercedes cap in Hungary – there is a big risk of another campaign being purely lip service.