Eyewitness account from a female Lewis Hamilton fan at the Austrian GP

Source: Alexia’s private library

By Alexia Tibil

Being a long time Formula One fan, attending a full Grand Prix weekend has been a personal dream for quite some time now. So when an opportunity arose for me to go to the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg at the beginning of July, I took it in a heartbeat.

I could barely hold my excitement and joy the weeks prior to the event and more so, as the weekend was approaching quicker and quicker, I started to realize that I would eventually be able to support Sir Lewis Hamilton right from the track, which was an amazing feeling. But that obviously did not utterly go as planned, as the whole experience there turned out to be more of a nightmare for a great deal of fans, including myself.

The Austrian Grand Prix, being held at the Red Bull Ring obviously made it to be Oracle Red Bull Racing’s home race, so a lot of Red Bull and Dutch fans were expected to attend across the weekend. Especially because of the “Max Verstappen Grandstand” or the “Red Bull Grandstand”, places that were mostly dedicated to a specific fanbase. So, of course, attending the event as a Hamilton fan was never going to be an easy task, however I couldn’t imagine that towards the end of the race weekend I would wish for the whole thing to be over soon, so that I could go home, because I didn’t feel safe at all there.

Thursday turned out to be one of the best days at the track, but mostly because, as I look back now, there weren’t a lot of fans at the track either and that might have helped in making the experience better. Apart from a couple of looks from some “Orange Army” fans, nothing too serious happened, as I recall. As I attended the Grand Prix alone, most of the time I chose to sit alone in a corner and not to make any small talk with people around me, because as I said, there were a lot of people giving me looks throughout those days. At first it did not really bother me, because I thought to myself that we are all fans of the sport, and we should all act as civil as we can when attending such a high-profile event. And, to be fair, I actually had the chance to meet two amazing Red Bull fans on Friday, who were kind enough to spend time with me throughout the weekend. While casually walking around Fan Zones with them, I started to notice the racial abuse that was taking place at the track. And that abuse was actually towards one of those people that I met, one of them being a person of color. The whole thing really surprised me, because everything that has happened prior to that moment has never been addressed to Red Bull fans, just to other fanbases.

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With this Grand Prix also having a Sprint Race on Saturday, the place started to fill up real quick even on Friday with Qualifying. So then on Saturday, I wanted to get to the track earlier, because of the “Drivers Meet and Greet” event that took place in the Fan Zone. However, due to extreme traffic near the circuit, I ran late. So when I got there, there were actually a bunch of people already around the stage, which kind of upset me because I had planned to put my LH flag around the barriers so he could see it when he would arrive. I started thinking that since there are other fans that have their flags lifted in the air, I could do the same. So then I did it, I lifted up my flag for like a few seconds, until a couple of male Red Bull Racing fans started to really push it around and try to make me fold it. Thankfully, there was a woman next to me that stayed with me, and actually let me get in front of her when George and Lewis came on stage, but what those fans did really took me by surprise.

As I look back on the race weekend, I can say that I was unlucky to get my seat right in the middle of the Red Bull Grandstand. I had a friend design me a stunning LH flag to show my support for Lewis throughout the weekend, but believe it or not, I barely held it up for a couple of seconds on a few occasions in those four days. I was mostly sad, because after the reaction that Lewis got when he crashed during Qualifying from the crowd, he really would have deserved to see or to know that there are a couple of people supporting him as well. As for what happened after Lewis had crashed in Q3, I can say with all my heart that I had tears in my eyes during those moments. One of the guys in front of me, also a Red Bull fan, saw how people were literally cheering and clapping at the crash and saw me with almost tears in my eyes and so he stood up and said:

“As a racing driver myself, it is a horrible thing to cheer on your rival’s crashes. I don’t like Hamilton either, but you will never see me cheer when he crashes and all those that cheered are f*****g a**holes.”

I honestly started to feel better, but those moments will forever remain in my head.

The next few days have been a nightmare to most female fans out there. Even on Saturday morning, I started to hear people talking about the abuse that started taking place at the track, but I hoped that the FIA or the police will step in immediately, which they obviously didn’t, not until Sunday afternoon at least when the FIA issued a statement.

For me personally, Sunday was the worst. I couldn’t even go to get food or go to use the restroom without people whistling at me in an inappropriate way. And when they didn’t do that, they mockingly called me “Sir Lulu” everywhere I went. If I went to the restroom and happened to go right after a woman wearing a Red Bull shirt, there were times when those women would literally tell me that ‘this is not a place for a Hamilton fan’. The verbal abuse from other people at the track has been hurting and horrible, but I cannot imagine what the ones that experienced harsh physical abuse must have felt.

I have been a sports fan since as long as I can remember and have been to a bunch of different sporting events throughout my life. But I have never been to an event in which I would be scared to my core to show my support for the driver/sportsperson I like, because I might get called names, be mocked by other fanbases or, God forbid, even worse. Whether it was verbal or physical abuse, you could see from afar that the crowd was mainly white male dominated, and wanted to “mark their territory” in one way or another, which is something that the organizers should not have allowed to happen in the first place. Although, as I said, I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of wonderful people there and share some amazing memories with them, the whole Grand Prix as an overall experience left me with a bittersweet taste and, if I ever get the chance to attend another one, it for sure will not be at the Red Bull Ring.

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