It’s been a dark few days for F1 – we need change, and fast

The week has been marred by controversy that reminds us that progress off-track moves at a startlingly slower pace than the cars we love to watch

<p>In a week that was already damning for his sport, Bernie Ecclestone decided to drag F1’s reputation through the mud</p>

In a week that was already damning for his sport, Bernie Ecclestone decided to drag F1’s reputation through the mud

Ah, Silverstone. The British Grand Prix. This is my favourite week of the Formula One calendar. I was very much looking forward to the pre-race weekend coverage, discussing the incident at Copse between Verstappen and Hamilton last year, what effect porpoising may have on an already unforgiving track for drivers and perhaps an early look toward tyre strategy.

Instead, the week has been marred by controversy that reminds us that progress off-track moves at a startlingly slower pace than the cars we love to watch. We began with news of Juri Vips’s dismissal from Red Bull Racing following an investigation into allegations that he made racist remarks online. This was followed up by three-time world champion Nelson Piquet seeing his vile, racist comments about Lewis Hamilton from the same race last year resurface. And as if those incidents were not bad enough, former F1 executive Bernie Ecclestone made the puzzling decision to defend Piquet, and, in a bizarre twist… Vladimir Putin?

In a week that was already damning for the sport he supposedly loves, Ecclestone decided to drag an already tarnished F1 reputation through the mud. He began the staunch defence of his friends by saying he was surprised that Hamilton could not simply “brush aside” the abuse he had received from Piquet. He proclaimed: “Nelson would never go out of his way to say anything bad.” Ah, our mistake Bernie, now we know he didn’t really mean it, I suppose we can all move on? The Putin comments will dominate the newspaper headlines but for me, this ridiculous, unapologetic and hopelessly shallow comment is what will hurt the sport the most. Brush it off? Astonishing.

And then began the defence of his pal Putin. How does he justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Well because Putin, like his friend Piquet, is a “first-class” human being, and “he’s doing what he thinks is right”. Perhaps the strangest part of the interview saw him announce that he would “take a bullet” for the Russian president.

So, what does this grim week mean for the sport? Hamilton himself rightly called for those with “archaic mindsets” and “older voices” to be denied the platforms that allow them to dominate headlines (perhaps, Piers Morgan, you could take note). My worry is that it runs deeper than old-timers being handed microphones and told to let rip. Vips’s dismissal proves that the problems have dripped down from the old guard and are seeping into the mindset of younger drivers.

It shouldn’t come as any real surprise, given that the sport itself is one giant contradiction. The obvious example: why do we still race in Saudi, etc, if we take a stance on Russia? I’m not suggesting we put Russia back on the calendar, I’m just crying out in frustration that “moral” decisions are being made for superficial reasons. If Sochi was removed to fit with the FIA promise that “violence, abuse of human rights and repression are taken very seriously”, then a good chunk of the calendar should have gone with it.

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Every part of the sport is guilty of allowing this culture to breed, from sponsors, to teams, to governing bodies. It is no wonder that Red Bull decided to stay silent on Piquet, given that their interest lay with their driver (Max Verstappen dates Piquet’s daughter) rather than the good of the sport. Why should they? Seemingly everybody else would put themselves first. Staggeringly, Vips is still part of a team, despite Formula Two saying it is not a decision that it would have taken. What cares? If he’s good enough and could make you some money down the line, why not wait for it to blow over (I’m sure anyone who was bothered about those comments can just “brush it off” anyway)? The obsession with winning at all costs (at all levels of the sport) is what has got us here.

“Standing in solidarity”, as the FIA’s rather pathetic statement on the Piquet comments read, is not the kind of response we as fans should be satisfied with. What sort of message does it send that the worst that could happen to him is a paddock ban?

Saying that there’s “no room for racism” is not an accurate reflection of the state of play. This week has shown there is room for racism and a great many other glaring issues in F1. Sport is not above taking political stances, so why aren’t we really taking one? We could have these cars racing in my back garden and people would still tune in. As Hamilton said, “it’s time for action”, not empty words.

Many in F1 have the platform but few possess the drive to get their hands dirty and physically stamp out the issues facing the sport. We need change, and fast. Then, and only then, can I sit back and truly enjoy Jenson Button discuss porpoising.

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