Following a recent trend, F1 Experiences has sold hundreds of packages that give access to the paddock to wealthy fans.
However, drivers found the atmosphere oppressive with fans physically pushing and pulling them whenever they tried to make their way from their hotel buildings to their garages, seemingly with no respect for personal space.
While the corrals became busier as Liberty Media opened access and tried to monetize it, Mexico reached unprecedented levels of hysteria, with horrifying scenes of drivers being mobbed as they venture out into the street.
On Saturday, after completing their televised post-qualifying interviews, they were to be ushered through the FIA hotel building on a quieter return route to the rest of the paddock, while some teams hired extra security guards outside their hotel buildings.
The topic of fan access was discussed at Friday night’s drivers’ briefing. Most admit to being ambivalent about what is happening in Mexico.
“There are many people in the paddock,” he said Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc. “It’s good because it shows how much more interest there is in Formula 1. It’s always been crazy here, but this year is especially crazy. But on the other hand, maybe something needs to be found [to allow] it’s a little easier for us to walk in the paddock.”
“I like that the fans are near me,” he said Carlos Sainz. “I like it when everyone around us cheers us on, especially because I’m Latina, we have a special relationship. I just ask everyone to keep calm, that we are in the corral, so as not to push or shout.”
Fans are waiting for autographs
Photo: Mark Sutton / Images of motor sports
Pierre Gasly admitted that it is difficult for him to live in Mexico.
“I think it’s okay to let people in,” the Frenchman said. “But it’s true that right now we feel that some guests sometimes don’t really respect the space we need. People come to the garage before qualifying and ask for pictures when they’re not even from our team.
“We work here and obviously we give time to the fans when we can. But this weekend I didn’t dare go out of hospitality because otherwise you get beaten up. And it gets pretty hectic at times.
“I arrived at the hotel yesterday morning with an open bag with my passport and I didn’t even feel it.
“We talked about this at the driver’s briefing. I think it’s great, and to see the kids and people really enjoying it, but maybe we can find a way for them to know where to contact us and when to give us a little more space.”
On Saturday night McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricardo talked about the problem for a long time. They are two of F1’s ‘good guys’ who have developed a strong relationship with their fans, yet both were clearly shaken by what happened this weekend.
Consider also that it is easy for them relative to their kind Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and a Mexican local hero Sergio Perez.
“I like it when the fans are here, especially when it’s kids and stuff,” Norris said. “And in a way, you can’t control what they do, like kids being kids, that’s cool.
“They look at us like we’re going to be where we are one day and they dream of what we’re doing and we’re idols and heroes and so on. I think it’s just cool, it’s fun, it’s life.
Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, tips his hat to the fans
Photo: Zak Mauger / Images of motor sports
“But I guess more for the elderly and so on there’s not as much respect for personal space and things like that as there should be. They were lucky to be in the paddock and to be as close to us as they were.
“Because it’s easy for us to walk cams all the time and people literally push them out of the way and stuff, so we don’t sign anything. But we want to do it and we are happy to do it.
“And we want to walk around the paddock. But we just need to respect our personal space, boundaries and other things.”
Norris pointed out that there are several sports where people can talk to the stars right before a performance.
“I would say there aren’t many other sports where the fans can get that close to the athletes or whatever,” he said. “So, again, like I said, they should feel lucky enough to be here, and to be as close as possible to where we do our work.
“But in a lot of other sports, they just seem more respectful. More adults and people who should be aware of what we do and the time we have to put in and the work and whatever and have the level of respect they should have for us. They need to show it more often. And it’s that simple.”
Ricciardo echoed his team-mate’s sentiment, noting that things had improved over the course of the season as Formula 1 allowed more people.
“This year has become even more intense,” said the Australian. – I think that there are two sides to this. I think the paddock used to lack atmosphere. I remember eight years ago, 10 years ago, the paddock was actually a pretty sad place.
Daniel Ricardo, McLaren
Photo: Mark Sutton / Images of motor sports
“That’s why I like the atmosphere in the paddock. I think it should be fun. But there must be limits. I think it’s a privilege to be in the paddock and have a VIP pass. I think you should also act with some maturity and respect. This has not always been shown this year. People are losing their minds.”
Ricciardo simply said that those buying paddock access should be given a set of rules to follow.
“I feel like they should at least have some guidelines, like these rules in the paddock. Like I said, I need the atmosphere. And I don’t want security to be honest, I don’t want to walk in bunches and just walk through people. I want to be able to have pictures and sign.
“I think if everyone just says ‘please, thank you’ and shows a little bit of respect, then obviously we’ll give them back.
“Honestly, I find myself calling people out too often for not saying please or thank you. They just run up, don’t say a word, do what they need to do, and then leave.
“It makes you feel a bit, frankly, used. I think if they set some kind of guidelines maybe that would help because there aren’t any at the moment. So if it’s just a little bit of awareness, maybe they’ll be a little bit cooler. I don’t want that to change. I just think adults should act like adults.”
Ricciardo noted that the attention of die-hard fans can be particularly distracting before drivers hit the track.
“I think it’s certainly like the sensitive moments when you’re about to get in the car,” he said. “I also think people forget that this is not a normal sport.
Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36
Photo: Mark Sutton / Images of motor sports
“We’re jumping in cars, we’re going at the speed we’re going, it takes a certain amount of commitment, concentration and all that. And that’s just the truth.
“So, especially the fact that it’s also, it’s not a regular sport, there has to be some distance before we get in the car and compete.
“So there might even be a small 15-minute or 20-minute blackout interval before the session starts, that there’s some kind of guidance – that’s when the drivers keep to themselves or whatever.
“Again, I don’t want to make up solutions on the spot. But we need to get some space to get behind the wheel of these cars. So I think that keeping some distance around maybe these crucial moments can be helpful.”
Norris agreed with Ricciardo that guidelines or rules would help.
“I don’t know what can be done about it, it’s hard to know exactly what to do,” he said. “But the simple thing is, where they sign up to get the tickets, you have to be respectful and behave when you’re in the corral with the drivers, especially in the run-up to any session we’re going to have.
“And if it’s not enforced and people are aggressive and grab you, as they do a lot of the time, then hit them.”
McLaren boss Andreas Seidl came to F1 from a championship with reduced access to the paddock, and he sees a positive side.
“I think it’s very important now not to overreact,” he said. “When I left Formula 1 after my first stint in 2010, I could experience other circuits such as DTM, such as Nordschleife, WEC and especially Le Mans.
Fans of Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
Photo: Steve Etherington / Images of motor sports
“Honestly, I enjoyed it. It was a lot more open to the fans, the fans were a lot closer to the event, the fans had access to the drivers and the teams, which I really liked.
“And every time during this period of my time in the sports car I went back to the Formula 1 paddock as a guest, it felt a bit strange because it was so sterile and quiet, there were no guests even on a Saturday/Sunday, where you weren’t sure if it was the right way, in terms of creating exclusivity or whatever.
“I think the direction of Formula 1 is definitely right and good and we really appreciate the atmosphere we have now in the paddocks throughout the season.”
However, Seidl admitted that things had gone too far in Mexico and that a compromise had to be reached for future races.
“It’s clearly too extreme here,” said the German. “And I think we just need to go ahead and have a good discussion with F1 about how we can make sure that, especially in countries like here in Mexico where the fans are also passionate about what we’re doing and so enthusiastic that we always maintain the appropriate level of respect.
“We will find solutions there. And then you can continue to enjoy this new atmosphere that exists in pens around the world.”
It’s worth noting that in just two weeks we’ll be in Brazil, another Latin American country full of passionate fans – and with a much tighter paddock than Mexico. Can action be taken before then?
“There are a lot of smart people involved on the team side and on the F1 side,” Seidl said. “I am confident that the right measures will be taken, both in the short and medium term.”