Reflections on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Having had time to reflect on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, I feel a sense of disappointment despite it being one of the most spectacular finishes to a season I’ve witnessed. The inability of race control to decide what they should (or could/could not) do was an embarrassment to the sport. Experienced they may be (some at least), the stewards are not professionals, and something has to change.

Had I been completely impartial – and of late I have been – I must admit to being strongly in favour of Hamilton taking the title. I don’t believe either Max or Lewis deserved it more – they both drove some superb races and while Max can step over the line, it’s hard racing, and that’s what we want to see. But while I did take a ‘may the best many win’ approach, the best man didn’t.

I’ve always liked Hamilton – in the early days he could come across as a bit of dick perhaps, but he was different, fresh air after years of corporate monotony. The man he has become in the past few years is one to be respected both on and off the track. I admire him for putting his head above the parapet and being a driving force behind the anti-racism stance the sport – and other sports – are so willing to promote (in the case of Formula 1, because of him). His charitable work, his work with his young friends in the fashion world, his belief in himself being able to become a force for good is admirable. Unless, of course, you’re a racist.

Which brings us to Max and his army of ‘fans.’ The past few years have seen a truly horrible type of person enter the F1 fan fray. Racist, homophobic, and usually Dutch or, curiously, ‘patriotic’ Britons, the type with the Cross of St George as their profile and a picture of soldier kneeling with ‘this is why we kneel’ (despite the fact kneeling never has been a sign of respect in the UK forces). I’ve wondered to myself whether, in the pre-social media days when I was a fan, there would have been this sort of feeling among fans. The legendary ‘Fuck Senna’ banner at Silverstone springs to mind, but again, they were not fans, they were the same ‘patriots’ I talk about above. So yes, they were there, but they’re here now in great numbers, being horrible on Facebook and elsewhere, and it’s ugly. Max and Red Bull, by making no mention of this, doing nothing to stem the tide, are fueling it.

As an aside, I related the tale of Jacques Laffite forcing Desiré Wilson off the track and saying ‘no woman should be in Grands Prix’ to someone who was arguing this lack of diversity is a myth. That was in 1980. What’s changed since then, and who has been behind those changes? More than anyone, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz.

What was great about yesterday is that, after spending time catching his emotions in the car, the first thing Lewis said when interviewed was ‘Congratulations to Max’ and later he reportedly asked Toto to withdraw the protests. That, in my eyes, is sportsmanship. As for those protests, Mercedes had to put them out, and they now must take this to arbitration, if only to highlight the problems with Race Control right now. They won’t win – I’ve read elsewhere there is a further clause that gives the race director absolute discretion over the safety car – but they must make the point. Dramatic an ending it might have been, but we can see the farce behind it.

Final words – congratulations Max, you’re brilliant racing driver, exciting to watch and a deserving champion. Now, distance yourself from your dad, change management and improve your profile, and at least acknowledge that racism and homophobia have no place in sport, or in life. You now have the platform to do so, so use it.

Steve Turnbull
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