In keeping with a recent trend, organization F1 Experiences has sold hundreds of packages allowing well-heeled fans access to the paddock.
However, drivers have found the atmosphere oppressive as fans physically push and pull them as they attempt to make it from their hospitality buildings to their garages, with seemingly disrespect for personal space.
While the paddocks have gotten busier as Liberty Media opened up access and tried to monetize it, Mexico has reached an unprecedented level of hysteria, with spooky scenes of drivers being bullied for venturing outdoors.
On Saturday, after completing their post-qualifying TV interviews, they had to be guided through the FIA hospitality building to a quieter return route to the rest of the paddock, while some teams have deployed additional security outside their hospitality buildings.
In the drivers’ briefing on Friday evening, the subject of fan access was discussed. Most admit they have mixed feelings about what happened in Mexico.
“Overall, it’s true that there are a lot of people in the paddock,” said Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. “And that’s good because it shows how much more interest there is in Formula 1. It’s always been crazy here, but this year especially.
“But on the other hand, we may have to find something [to allow] us to walk a little easier in the paddock.”
“I love having the fans around me,” said Carlos Sainz. “I love it when everyone around us is cheering us on, especially because I’m Latina we have a kind of special relationship.
“I’m just asking everyone to keep calm, that we’re in a paddock, that they’re not jostling or shouting too much.”
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
Pierre Gasly admitted that life in Mexico was difficult for him.
“I think it’s okay to let people in,” said the Frenchman. “But it’s true that we now feel that sometimes some guests don’t really respect the space we need. People come into the garages before qualifying and ask for pictures when they’re not even from our team.
“We work here and of course we make time for the fans when we can. But this weekend I didn’t dare to leave the hospitality department because otherwise you would be bullied. And sometimes it gets pretty hectic.
“I arrived at Hospitality yesterday morning with my bag open and my passport open and I didn’t even feel it.
“We discussed it in the drivers’ briefing. I think it’s great, and also to see that kids and people are really enjoying it, but maybe finding a way for them to understand where to reach us and when to give us a little more space.”
On Saturday evening, McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo spoke at length about the topic.
Reading their words, it’s worth remembering that Norris and Ricciardo are two of the sport’s “nice guys” who have forged strong relationships with their fans. And yet both were visibly shaken by what transpired that weekend.
Also consider that they have it easy compared to Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and local Mexican hero Sergio Perez.
“I love having the fans here, especially when they’re kids,” Norris said. “And in a way you can’t control what they do like kids are kids, that’s cool.
“They look up to us like they will be in our place one day and dream of what we do and we are the idols and heroes. I think that’s cool, that’s fun, that’s life.
“But I think more for the older people, there’s not that much respect for personal space and things like that. They should be lucky enough to be in the paddock and be as close to us as they are.
“Because it’s easy for us to always turn corners and have people literally push them out of the way so we don’t sign anything. But we want to do that, and we love doing those things.
“And we want to go down the paddock. But there just needs to be a little more respect from people for our personal space and boundaries and things.
Norris pointed out that there are few sports where people can rub shoulders with the stars just before they hit the road.
“I would say there aren’t that many other sports where the fans can maybe get that close to the athletes right now,” he said.
“But in many other sports, they just seem more respectful. They have to show that [respect] more often. As simple as that.”
Lewis Hamilton fans
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
Ricciardo echoed his teammate’s opinion, noting that things have built up over the season as F1 has admitted more people.
“To be honest, this year has definitely gotten more hectic,” said the Australian. “I think there are two sides. I think the paddock used to lack atmosphere. I remember eight years ago, ten years ago, the paddock was actually a pretty boring place.
“That’s why I like the atmosphere in the paddock. I think it should be a comfortable place, but there should also be limits.
“I think being in the paddock and having a VIP pass is a privilege and I think you should also act with some maturity and respect. And that hasn’t always been the case this year. People are losing their minds.”
Ricciardo made the simple point that those who buy paddock access should be given a set of rules to abide by.
“I think they should at least have some guidelines, like the kind of rules in the paddock. Like I said, I like the atmosphere. And I don’t want security, to be honest I don’t want to walk in a crowd and just walk through people I want to be able to have photos and sign.
“I think if everyone just says ‘please, thank you’ and shows a little respect, then of course we’re going to continue to give that back to them.
“Honestly, I catch myself yelling at people far too often because they don’t say ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’ They just run upstairs, don’t say a word, do what they have to, and then leave.
“You feel a bit used for that, honestly. I think if they set some guidelines maybe that will help because there aren’t any at the moment. So if it’s just a little bit of awareness, then maybe they’ll be a little bit cooler. I don’t want it to change. I just think adults need to behave like adults.”
Ricciardo pointed out that attention from overzealous fans can be particularly distracting just before drivers take to the track.
“People forget that this is not an ordinary sport,” he added. “We’re jumping in cars, we’re going at the speeds we’re going, we require a certain level of commitment, focus and all those things. And that’s just the truth.
“Especially the fact that it’s not an ordinary sport either, there has to be a certain distance before we get in the car and compete.
“So it could even be that there is something like a blackout interval of 15 minutes before the session starts, or 20 minutes, that there is some form of policy – this is a moment where drivers are kept to themselves.
“I don’t want to find instant solutions. But we have to give ourselves some headroom to get behind the wheel of these cars. So I think it might help to have some distance at those crucial moments.”
Norris agreed with Ricciardo that guidelines or rules would help.
“It’s hard to know exactly what needs to be done,” he said.
“But one simple thing, when they sign to get the tickets, you have to show respect to the drivers and behave appropriately when you’re in the paddock, especially leading up to a session that we’re going to be conducting.
“And if that’s not being followed and people are aggressive and grab you like they do most of the time, punch them out.”
Fans wait for autographs
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
McLaren boss Andreas Seidl came to F1 from championships with relaxed access to the paddock and he sees the bright side.
“I think it’s very important not to overreact now,” he said when asked by Motorsport.com. “When I left F1 after my first stint in 2010 and was able to experience other paddocks like the DTM, the Nordschleife, the WEC and especially Le Mans.
“Honestly, I enjoyed it. It was much more open to the fans, the fans were much closer to the action, the fans had access to the drivers and the teams.
“And whenever I went back to the F1 paddock as a guest during this period of my sports car days, it felt a bit strange because it was so sterile and quiet, even on a Saturday/Sunday where you were, no guests inside I’m not sure if that’s the right way to create exclusivity or whatever.
“I think the direction that F1 has taken is definitely the right one and we really appreciate the atmosphere that has now prevailed in the paddock throughout the season.”
However, Seidl acknowledged that things had gone too far in Mexico and that a compromise would have to be found for future races.
“It’s definitely too extreme here,” said the German. “And I think we just need to go ahead now and have a good discussion with F1 about how to make sure that, especially in countries like here in Mexico where the fans are so passionate and so enthusiastic, we just always keep that in the right balance of respect.
“And I am sure that we will find solutions there. And then we can continue to enjoy this new atmosphere that we have in paddocks around the world.”
It’s worth noting that in just two weeks, F1 will be in Brazil, another Latin American country full of passionate fans – and with a much tighter paddock than Mexico. Can you trade until then?
“A lot of sensible people are involved on the team and F1 side,” said Seidl. “I am sure that the right measures will be taken in the short term and in the medium/long term.”