Racism in racing


In recent days, the big talking point in Formula 1 has been the racist gestures and insults aimed, by a few Spanish cretins, at Lewis Hamilton during a Barcelona test session. Lewis himself dealt with the situation calmly, saying only that the incident made him ‘sad’.

A colleague, who frequently covers football, tells me this sort of behaviour – once so prevalent in the UK – is by no means unusual in Spain, but the FIA rightly responded trenchantly to the Barcelona incident, threatening draconian penalties if there should be any repetition of it. Already, Max Mosley said, Spanish fans at last year’s Chinese Grand Prix had behaved similarly towards Hamilton, and he would tolerate no more of it: this year, for the first time, Spain has two Grands Prix, but if this sort of thing were to continue it might well not have any. Quite right, too.

Lewis HamiltonThe morons – and admittedly there was only a handful of them – are motivated, in their loathing of Hamilton, by what happened at McLaren last year. Had it not been for Lewis, they say, their beloved Fernando Alonso would have been World Champion for the third year running. Well yes, but Hamilton, too, is paid to drive fast. I must say, from certain newspapers I saw in 2007, that the Spanish press did a very fair job in whipping up hatred, not only of Lewis but of McLaren in general.

Hatred – of any kind – is something one really doesn’t care to see in sport. Because Lewis is the first black driver in F1, racism – in today’s sense of the word – is new to our world, and we trust it will swiftly disappear. But before we in this country become too holier-than-thou, it’s worth remembering the events at the British Grand Prix in 1992.

All right, it’s a long time ago, but anyone – anyone with half a brain, anyway – who was at Silverstone that day will remember it with profound distaste. At that time, it may be remembered, Nigel Mansell and the dominant Williams-Renault FW14B were on a stroll to the World Championship, and the popularity of ‘the people’s champion’ was immense.

I was not alone in detecting a shift of mentality in some of those at the trackside that day. Yes, they were desperate for Nigel to win, but their behaviour owed little to patriotism, everything to nationalism – to xenophobia – and extremely unattractive it was. Probably they knew little of Mansell, of racing: it was enough that he was a Brit who beat foreigners. Unarguably, there weren’t – and aren’t – too many of those, but support for them doesn’t need to be ugly. There was jeering at some of Mansell’s ‘foreign’ rivals before the start, and in the main grandstand a huge banner: ‘F*** Senna’, it read. A witty pen at work there.

There were at Silverstone that day elements in the crowd of a kind I had not seen at a race before – and, mercifully, have not seen since. When Mansell retired from F1, so apparently did they, but it’s not something about which we should ever be complacent.

One rather hoped at the time that Nigel would have publicly said something to quell the behaviour of his more rabid ‘fans’, but regrettably he did not. In the same way, Alonso – at the time of writing – has thus far been silent on the subject of those who spat their bile at Hamilton. Time to put that right, Fernando.

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