There is a part of me wondering if Formula 1 has lost its collective mind this week. Apart from the racial slur in an 8-month-old podcast in Brazil interviewing Nelson Piquet—which prompted a flurry of denouncements from F1, the FIA, teams, drivers and most relevantly from Lewis Hamilton who the slur was directed toward—there was another flurry of opinions that have come to pass that is quite head-scratching.
First, you have the former owner of F1, Bernie Ecclestone, speaking positively about Vladimir Putin.
“…he’s a first class person, and what he’s doing is something that he believed was the right thing.
“Unfortunately he’s like a lot of business people, certainly like me, that we make mistakes from time to time and when you make the mistake, you have to do the best you can to get out of it.”
“The other person in Ukraine, his profession I understand used to be a comedian and I think it seems that he wants to continue that profession, because I think if he’d thought about things he would definitely have made a big enough effort to speak to Mr Putin, who is a sensible person, and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it.”
Formula 1, in an odd move, decided to also issue a statement about Ecclestone’s comments saying:
“The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to position of the modern values of the sport.”
After making a blind statement with no subject in regards to Piquet’s comments, they then explicitly call out Ecclestone. It’s odd because no one believes Bernie is associated with the sport any longer and his personal view, however right or wrong, is just that, his personal view. The fact that F1 felt compelled to make that clear is odd. F1 set him out to pasture a few years ago and I think everyone knows that.
The article I read suggested that Ecclestone still holds a “quite high public profile”. I find that very odd too when you juxtapose that with what Lewis Hamilton had to say today about the sport.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of racism, criticism, negativity and archaic narratives, for a long, long time, and undertones of discrimination,” Hamilton said.
“So there’s nothing really particularly new for me. I think it’s more about the bigger picture. I’m not really sure, I don’t know why we are continuing to give these older voices a platform.
“They’re speaking on our sport and we’re looking to go somewhere completely different, and I don’t think it’s representative of who we are as a sport and where we’re planning to go.
“If we’re looking to grow in the U.S. and other countries, South Africa, and grow our audience and look into the future and give younger people a platform that is more representative of today’s time and who we are trying to be and the direction we are going, it’s not just about one individual, it’s not just about one use of that term — it’s the bigger picture.”
“These old voices … whether they’re subconscious or consciously … do not agree people like me should be in a sport like this, do not agree women should be here.
“It’s not helpful, the comments we’ve seen from these people. I don’t think, in the last couple of weeks, I don’t think a day’s gone by where there’s not been someone who’s not been in our sport or relevant for decades, saying negative things or trying to bring me down, but I’m still here, I’m still standing strong.”
Many fans have commented that this sounds very ageist and is akin to shutting out anyone who has an opinion Hamilton doesn’t agree with. Others have supported his comments for action against the irrelevant in F1. He alluded to old F1 figures commenting on him. Most recently Sir Jackie Stewart was suggesting that retiring while on top is much better than riding the downward spiral and he recommended Lewis should stop while on top. That’s not praising Putin nor is it using a slur against Lewis, it is just Jackie’s opinion.
It would seem, from the outside looking in, the wave of cancel culture has taking root in F1 when the series, pundits and drivers start suggesting that former generations of F1 be purged of their platforms and high profiles. That they are irrelevant and shouldn’t be heard because F1 is heading in a new direction.
Ayrton Senna was Hamilton’s idol growing up. Many drivers idolized Schumacher, or Prost or Lauda, Villeneuve, Rindt, Fangio, Stewart, Nuvolari. The point is, F1 is a sport that was built by the blood, sweat, tears and deaths of those who have gone before. With 29 deaths in the 1960’s and another 18 in the 70’s, deep down I have to think Lewis or new fans of F1 respect the history, sacrifice and legends (old voices) of the sport. Well, at least those who aren’t offering racial slurs anyway.
I am not sure how appealing a sport that publicly shames people they don’t agree with, calls for altruistic virtue so pure that it would purge anyone not currently in F1, or feels compelled to deny its own history will be for fans.
I’ll tell you something that started to occur to me over the last 2-3 years. Back in 2005, I create The Parc Ferme as a safe harbor for new fans because I was disgusted with forums and blogs where veteran fans berated new fans and personally attacked them.
I never thought I would see this day but now I think the site is becoming more of a safe harbor for veteran fans from the throng of new fans intent on silencing them and berating them with trenchant condemnation of veteran voices.
F1 may crow about its “modern values” but to be honest, the more they separate, heard into groups and attack people for immutable characteristics or their age, the less “modern” it sounds and the more archaic it becomes. Surely we’ve moved beyond that? Surely we know that hearing an opinion about Putin is easy to dismiss?