“People forget this isn’t an ordinary sport”: Why drivers want more peace in the paddock

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Formula 1’s rocketing popularity in recent years – and the re-opening of races to the public after the pandemic – has seen fans pouring into tracks. Total attendance in Mexico climbed from 371,779 last year to 395,902 last weekend, according to F1.

For the most part fans enthusiastically line up to catch a glimpse of the stars of the paddock and wait patiently for their driver to arrive at the track.

But in recent races people within the paddock have encountered problems sharing a space with some of those fortunate enough to gain access to F1’s inner sanctum. Last weekend in Mexico drivers felt apprehensive about leaving the comfort of the team’s hospitality, one reported being grabbed by a VIP guest on the way to his car before qualifying and extra security was brought in for some.

The sport’s rising popularity is undoubtedly welcome. But is the growing number of people being allowed into the paddock becoming a hindrance to those trying to do their jobs?

Fans pay top dollar for paddock access
Back in the Bernie Ecclestone era, paddock passes were like gold dust. The sport’s previous owner fiercely guarded the sanctity of the paddock, meaning the elusive passes that provided access was very rare. To put it simply, if you didn’t add something to the sport in his eyes, you wouldn’t get in. In Ecclestone’s words F1 was a “five-star Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint.”

Liberty Media, who took over from Ecclestone five years ago, have a different approach. Tracks are increasingly packed with Paddock Club and F1 Experiences guests – individuals or companies paying top dollar for fine dining, sometimes hosted by teams, plus paddock tours and sit-down guest appearances in the suites.

This is a significant money-spinner for F1. In Mexico one hospitality package, Champions Club, brought in 600 guests, each paying over $3,000 each. The top-tier package hold far more guests at around 2,700, and is vastly more expensive at over $6,000 per person for the three days.

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For the most part paddock guests are welcomed and well-behaved and those in F1 appreciate the attention and the rising popularity of the sport. But in Mexico there were signs of growing tensions.

Ricciardo in a quieter paddock at the 2013 Korean Grand Prix
“This year has got more hectic,” said McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.

“I think there are two sides to it. The paddock used to lack atmosphere. I remember eight years ago, 10 years ago, the paddock was actually a pretty dull place.

“So I do like having an atmosphere, I think it should be a fun place to be. But there should also be boundaries. I think it’s a privilege and you also should act with some maturity and respect. That hasn’t always been shown this year. People lose their minds.

“I feel like they should at least have some guidelines like ‘these are the kind of the rules inside the paddock’. I don’t want security [staff], to be honest, I don’t want to be walking in a huddle and just walking through people. I want to be able to have photos and sign.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says he has observed similar changes to Ricciardo over his time in the sport.

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“I think for us in a daily routine, it’s more complex to get to the garage, or [we] use scooters, but they jump in front of the scooter. That is an experience that I didn’t get before.

“But we need to be so grateful and humbled that we have such a strong following. I remember times when there was no one interested in the paddock a few years ago, and here we have great enthusiasm and passion and emotion. The downsides are people trying to get a little bit closer than what you would think, [but] I’d take it every day of the week.”

Ricciardo feels a little more common decency needs to be shown at times.

“I think if everyone’s just says, ‘please, thank you,’ and shows a little bit of respect, then we’ll keep obviously giving them that in return.”

“I honestly do catch myself calling people out way too often for not saying please or thank you. They just run up, don’t say a word, do what they have to, and then go. For that, you feel like a little bit, honestly, like ‘used’.

“I think if they set some guidelines, maybe that helps, because there aren’t any at the moment. So if it’s just a bit of awareness, then maybe they’ll be a little cooler. I don’t want to see it change. I just think adults need to act like adults.”

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Ricciardo says those who get to come into the paddock should understand not to disturb the drivers immediately before a session begins.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Sainz ‘loves having fans around but they need to stay calm’
“Certainly the sensitive moments when you’re about to go into the car, I think as well people forget this isn’t an ordinary sport. We’re jumping in cars, we’re going the speeds we go, we require a certain amount of commitment, concentration, and all that sort of stuff. And that’s just the truth.

“So especially the fact that as well, it’s not an ordinary sport, there needs to be some distance before the time we go into the car and compete.“

Other drivers had concerns too. Pierre Gasly discovered his personal bag had been opened on more than one occasion while in the paddock and urged fans to show drivers more respect. While many were anxious not to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, they also recognised a need to impose better order in the paddock.

“I love having the fans around me,” said Carlos Sainz Jnr. “I love having everyone around us cheering us, especially I guess because I’m Latin, we have a kind of a special relationship.

“I only ask everyone to stay calm, that we are in a paddock, that they don’t push or don’t shout too much.”

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His Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc echoed his comments: “There are loads of people in the paddock, It’s good because it shows how much more interest there is in F1.

Mexico’s F1 paddock was exceptionally busy
“It’s always been crazy here, but especially this year. Maybe we need to find something [to allow] us to walk a bit easier in the paddock.”

To an extent this may be a symptom of F1’s growing pains and a consequence of the sport’s popularity. But it appears the number of paddock tickets F1 is selling has reached or even exceeded its limit. After all, footballers are able to arrive at the venue without being mobbed and walk down the tunnel to the pitch without fans grabbing them, cricketers much the same, and tennis players also. Should F1 be any different?

The buzzing paddock of the Liberty Media era is clearly preferred, on the whole, to what went before. But the drivers’ need for space, especially when they’re summoning the focus needed to strap into their 350kph projectiles, should be respected.

What was seen in Mexico came close to unacceptable. Ricciardo’s call for “guidelines” should be heeded, as this is not a matter of drivers being precious or seeking to shut fans out. They are there to do a job and deliver results, and they need a bit of calm before the storm.

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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28 comments on ““People forget this isn’t an ordinary sport”: Why drivers want more peace in the paddock”

  1. I agree this is not an ordinary sport.

  2. I’ve not been in the paddock since the late 1970s/early 80s when it was cheap and full of enthusiasts.

    But I noticed at Monza the grandstands are much more tribal. Lots of mini stand offs between fans in red/orange or silver.

    However – I did feel a complete lack of respect towards all fans by the organisers. I know its been mentioned on other posts, but when fans have drinks and chargers confiscated on entry to the track; have long queues (hours in some cases) for tokens, drinks, food toilets it’s not surprising that things get out of hand.

    Once F1 shows more respect to fans maybe they will show more – that’s certainly part of the picture.

    It has rather put me off the sport.

    1. In 1960 i sat as child in a green Lotus of Jim Clark (which i still have the model of) but my memories of that is some what blurry as there were many strange speaking people but a very nice one who showed me all the gagets (while my uncle translated) In those times it was normal to walk in the Paddock very rare to get invited into a pitbox….

      Those times will never return as it’s now money driven.

    2. Those bad experiences are more the venue’s fault than “F1”. I’ve never had these problems while attending races at Indianapolis or Austin.

  3. Those prices are insane. 3000 bucks can get you a three week vacation in a country like Japan, including travel, and what does that even really get you?

    I am shocked they can find 600 people to spend that kind of cash on something like that.

    1. I think a lot of these people get tickets through the company (and F1 sponsor) they work. I can’t imagine that everyone can afford that.

  4. I remember the first race in Adelaide.

    Back then drivers could wander around without a team of minders checking their every word. I got to say hello to people like Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Alan Jones in the middle of Rundle mall while they were just out taking in the window displays. They didn’t shy away, there wasn’t a pile of people with phones in hand trying to invade their space to take selfies, just a few having respectful conversations.

    Fans these days seem to think it’s their right to just grab a celebrity, or in this case a driver, and stick their phones in their faces without even so much as a please or thank you.

    I agree with Ricciardo – there needs to be some guidelines. There shouldn’t be a need but that’s an unfortunate fact of life these days.

    Sadly though, I wouldn’t expect a fair number of fans to obey them though, and we’ll soon see drivers and team members needing to be escorted by security as well as their media minders.

    1. Fans these days seem to think it’s their right to just grab a celebrity, or in this case a driver, and stick their phones in their faces without even so much as a please or thank you.

      …..as do some commentators.

      But in all seriousness the all pervasive “s noop and snitch” brigade are ruining many sports (and lives).

    2. @dbradock Crazy to me to think Ayrton Senna may have once admired the Malls Balls with his own two eyes.

      1. @willwood ahh memories… in those days, the drivers had bigger ones I think.

        Those Adelaide races at the end of the season were just one huge party.

    3. Replying to @dbradock

      Totally agree with your words “Fans these days seem to think it’s their right to just grab a celebrity, or in this case a driver, and stick their phones in their faces without even so much as a please or thank you”

      During the Sky broadcasts, they do the “slo-mo of drivers arriving in the paddock that day”. The person getting the autograph or selfie very rarely says thank you, or even speak to the driver…

  5. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    4th November 2022, 9:33

    As Gasly found out so called fans will steal anything. Why would someone open the bag he is carrying?

  6. The Paddock is becoming more and kore of a joke! I noticed it in Melbourne this year. People somehow getting paddock access who have no idea about Formula 1, are just there to see meet the drivers and they actually expect they will and should and will do anything to get what they want from them. Ive been an F1 fan for 30+ years and ive always dreamed of getting in there but here you have these newer fans getting in there and disrespecting the drivers, interupting them while they are busy with their team or even sometimes on live television doing interviews. The FIA have to do something about it cause it is totally getting out of hand. There are way too many people getting access and its got to stop, or like Daniel said, strict respectable rules have to be put in place

  7. One of the very few things that the”poisoned dwarf” has ever said that I agree with!
    “In Ecclestone’s words F1 was a “five-star Michelin restaurant, not a hamburger joint.”
    Current LibFix me me GREED & now a circus show, has got totally way out of control.
    How many of the so called celebrities now wandering about on the grid can the regular F1 fan name?
    Indeed a real F1 fan doesn’t need the puke inducing, fake fawning & kowtowing to the so called celebtards.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      4th November 2022, 13:04

      Although I’m not aware of any restaurant (yet) that has five Michelin stars!!

    2. Bringing back Michelin would be an improvement…

  8. Ricciardo couldn’t be more spot-on.
    Things indeed have got a bit out of hand occasionally within paddock boundaries, even if the fact that many people get in them these days speaks volumes about F1’s popularity.

  9. I wonder what Bernie is thinking about this..

    This seem to have a negative effect. It would be great to go there when I grew up in a Bernie era where it was like a Mafia club. If someone didn’t know you, you couldn’t enter.

    For me personally on that second paragraph “For the most part fans enthusiastically line up to catch a glimpse of the stars of the paddock and wait patiently for their driver to arrive at the track.” only star I see in the paddock is Alonso. Don’t get me wrong. Hamilton has done something amazing. So has Vettel and now Verstappen but they came to F1 after I had already chosen my favorites and the stars. I know I have already changed the view how I watch races and don’t know how it will change after Alonso retires. I have my new favorite drivers from this new generation but if someone could do me a favor and tell how it feels to watch F1 without any drivers racing anymore who raced when you started watching.

    On this note I don’t know could I have handled myself if I could have had the chance to see a glimpse of Schumcher in Ferrari, Alonso in Renault and Raikkonen in Mclaren

    1. I know I have already changed the view how I watch races and don’t know how it will change after Alonso retires.

      @qeki I’d be curious to know – did it change for you in 2019/20 during his initial retirement?

      1. @willwood

        Actually I was more sad about Raikkonen than Alonso. I don’t know how long it will take me to realize he is not racing anymore. My first memories go back when millenium started and the mclaren years seem to last a lifetime. It was quite a fitting end to him to stop his career after 2009 but then it was fitting to start support Alonso after I had been a Ferrari fan for a few years.

        Maybe it was actually easier for me to follow Raikkonen and Alonso as they had already retired and I felt ok with that. For Raikkonen after he moved back to Ferrari it started to feel like a swan song and same goes with Alonso. It’s great to see them racing but at the same time it feels a bit sad.

  10. In 2013 at the British GP, I found myself with a 3-day paddock pass courtesy of Huffington Post UK where I was their onsite reporter. For the record I work in HR and this was a one-off thank you for leading a project at the time – I am not a journalist. It was a unique opportunity and to date the only time I have been through the hallowed gates of the paddock.

    Reading this article really gives some perspective. Back then as a journalist you had free realm to enter any of the teams motorhomes, walk through the paddock when you wanted and speak to anyone. I recall seeing the VIP guests being given their single walk through the paddock for the day before they returned to their fine dining. It all felt incredibly exclusive and also you knew that if you stepped out of line or did anything disrespectful F1 would have no issue in throwing you out. I recall fondly Bernie Ecclestone staring at me as I walked down the paddock – him probably thinking who the hell I am, but that’s the thing, he knew everyone.

    It sounds as if that aspect has gone, which is sad to see. The exclusivity of F1 has always been the appeal but in order to embrace it you need an accepted level of decorum, and not just a thick wallet. I was never a Bernie fan, but maybe we need some of that back.

    1. All true … watching the Mex GP paddock … could see peeps that you KNEW were not F1-related, running to see …

      Sweet Little Sixteen
      She’s just got to have
      About half a million
      Framed autographs
      Her wallet’s filled with pictures
      She gets ’em one by one
      Become so excited
      Watch her, look at her run, boy

  11. Is there any other top-line sport in the world that offers such unfettered access to the participants moments before the action? It’s too much!

  12. I just think adults need to act like adults

    This is not unique to F1 at all. F1 is just reflecting the shift of society in general with the lack of adults acting like adults. We see it across all spectrums of daily life.

    However, Drive to Survive has exacerbated the issues in my opinion. It has been a poisoned chalice. It has brought tremendous interest and revenue to F1, but along with all that comes a downside. And part of the downside is that the participants aren’t viewed as actual people anymore but as characters on screen. Some of those characters they love. Some they hate. But regardless of whether they are loved or hated, they have lost part of their humanity in the process.

    1. Generally by the time you hit your teens you realize that adulthood doesn’t really change stupidity or behavior. Bad actors will remain bad actors independent of their natural age.

  13. There was a quote from a MotoGP rider this year during the Japanese GP (I think it was Marco Bezzecchi), that he likes that race the most because almost everywhere else the fans want/expect the riders to give them some memorabilia, but in Japan the fans bring gifts to the riders. I was glad to hear something like that from someone on the other side of the athlete/fan line, because I have been very miffed in the past 2 years when a lot of people started to bring signs in a lot of different sport, saying to athletes, just plainly “give me your gloves”, “give me your shirt”, etc. No “please”, no respectfulness. I don’t know if it was caused by the inability to attend events during 2020 or not, but before that I have not really seen things like that, and it really does seem spectators forget to show respect more and more. It’s sad that F1 drivers have to speak after some unfortunate events like Gasly having his stuff stolen, but I think it’s important.

  14. Is this just a Mexican GP issue? There must be some vast, tumbleweedy paddocks like Baku, and maybe Abu Dhabi in an uncompetitive season, that could use a planeload of Mexicans to liven things up.

    Gasly will be able to keep an eye on his stuff soon, when he gets his race ban.

  15. Better watch F1 on TV.
    Leave the drivers alone. Let them do their work, let them concentrate. They are professionals risking their lives. They do not care about a selfie. They are fighting for a job next season.

    I have been to a lot a races.
    Most of the atendees do not know much about F1. For them it is like going to Disneyland. And after a few laps they get bored.

    Real F1 fans watch on TV. Statistics. Interviews. Technical and Race Analysis. You see every corner, every angle. Every fight for position. You can take notes.
    Better seat and better food at home.
    No standing in line. No dirty bathrooms. No expensive parking.
    etc.
    Thousands of advantages of staying at home.

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