By The Fat Hippo.
Back in June 2003 my father and I visited the DTM race at the Eurospeedway. The good thing about DTM is that you aren’t kept at arm’s length, like it is customary in Formula One. For very reasonable amounts of currency you can buy a three-day pass that includes full paddock access, which means you can roam about the paddock, munching on your Bratwurst, washing it down with proper beer, and you can get up close to the cars and teams.
And it’s not only the V8 monsters either. You can walk up to the teams competing in the support races, and most of them, happy that someone actually takes an interest in what they’re doing, will often invite you into the garages, which usually are just big tents. Thus it came to be that I ended up talking to and trading barbs with a young fifteen-year-old rookie in Formula BMW. Despite his braces, his grin was so wide, it looked like he had sixty-four teeth and his hairdo could only have been the result of using Semtex to style it.
He was a supremely funny guy who seemed to think this was all a a jolly funny game and he even had won two races earlier in the season, but he didn’t seem to take this all very seriously. I remember leaving that tent thinking: “You’re not going very far with that laissez-faire attitude, sunshine.”
Like always, I was inevitably proven wrong, because he went on to win three more races and ended his rookie season in 2nd position. The next year he went on to lay waste to the entire championship by winning eighteen out of twenty races.
These days, I would be utterly stunned if Seb would even remember having ever spoken to us, and why should he? He has his own life, I have mine, which is why I’m still glad when he does well, but if he doesn’t, I’m not rushing to the kitchen in frantic search of sharp objects with which to slash my wrists and I don’t go on an internet, binge-ranting about how he was wronged by god and the world.
Why should I dwell on the blown tyre for ages? I bet Maranello doesn't either. Someone at Pirelli will by now have spotted the horse's head on his bed, while another one got a Ferrari branded package with shiny new boots, fashioned from finest fair-trade cement, and thus the matter shall no longer be mentioned.
There is, however, a species of viewers who will mention it forever. They are the types who have no life, or if they have one, it is so sad they have to prop up their self-esteem through the achievements of others. Such is their sense of entitlement that whenever their driver doesn’t win, there’s always a reason other than someone else having been faster or having had a bit more luck on that day. And that’s nothing in comparison to when you try to discuss with them, because not sharing their fandom automatically makes you a hater, and if their favourite driver happens to be black, you’re really out of luck, because then you are a racist as well, inevitably.
Normally that could be shelved away as a minor nuisance, and you can avoid the stress by simply staying aware from the likes of Reddit or any Fomula 1 themed discussion forum. However, that isn't quite so easy anymore, because this Stevenage Wanderers vs Monaco United hooliganism among followers of the two Mercedes drivers is starting to become dangerous.
If you listen to last night’s podcast, which you can find at the end of this rant, you will hear what a properly sensible fan sounds like. Our own Spanners, who’s never made a secret of the fact that he’s a card-carrying Hamfosi, clearly takes Lewis’s side in the biggest discussion point of Sunday’s race, but that doesn’t mean he isn't able and willing to call Lewis out for his unsafe return to the track. That’s what fandom is supposed to be. Support your driver, but don’t wear rose tinted glasses to the point that you are no longer able to see if your driver is in the wrong. And another thing that separates proper fans from fanboys is that they do respect the opponents of their drivers and the fans of said opponents. Just because he’s Lewis’s biggest rival, proper fans don’t feel the urge to hate Nico Rosberg, or a need to accuse the mothers of his fans of questionable sexual preferences.
Why am I writing that? Simple. This sort of hooliganism, this extremely polarised partisanship that rightly gets branded with the word fanboyism, is actually starting to become a point of concern.
Back in the day when Vettel got booed, nobody thought much of it, because it only unnerved the Vettel fans, and we are so few we have our annual Seb#5 convention in a telephone booth. Besides, German bashing has always been fashionable.
But this time the fanboys turned against Lewis, and that’s where it becomes scary and entirely unacceptable. Red Bull markets the Austrian GP as a family event, which means there were a lot of young kids out there who don’t know the bigger picture. They don’t know about the fierce rivalry between Nico and Lewis, some of them might not even have seen the crash because they were standing at turn eight. All they know, and that’s the memory they took home with them, is that all the adults around them booed and jeered the black guy.
And what the grown-ups do is always right, in’nit?