Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have revealed their opinions of the flares which dominated the skyline of the F1 Austrian GP venue at key moments of the weekend.
Most prominent at the start of the Grand Prix on Sunday, Verstappen fans let off an abundance of orange smoke flares from the grandstands with some even throwing them towards the track. It had been happening throughout what was a tainted weekend as a whole from a spectator point of view, with cheering at crashes and reports of harassment becoming apparent as the event went on.
At the jam-packed grandstand between Turns 6 and 7, the broadcast cameras showed the thick oran smoke obscuring not just the visibility of those in the stands, but those watching on TV and likely the drivers themselves. This last point was something which was put to the three podium finishers post-race, as it was clear for the viewer to see, or rather not see, how badly affected the visibility was in places before the wind broke up the fog.
“The formation lap was quite a lot but yeah, but nothing too bad,” conceded race winner Leclerc. “I mean, you could still see so it was fine.” This is a stark contrast to third-place finisher Hamilton’s view of the formation lap in particular – the Mercedes driver starting Sunday’s race down in P8.
He agrees with the Ferrari driver that the flares didn’t hinder the drivers as much as you would have thought, but he admits to being totally blinded in the middle sector on the formation lap.
“I would say the same [as Charles],” Hamilton said. “Just on the formation lap, you couldn’t see the apex of Turn 7, and at the end of the race you couldn’t see anything through Turn 6! So fortunately, it wasn’t necessarily the case during the race but maybe they should just save them more so for the end? Yeah. I can’t believe they’re already good environmentally either.”
Verstappen, who hunted Leclerc down in the closing laps after the Monegasque’s Ferrari developed a nerve-wracking throttle failure, chose not to criticise the use of flares by the crowds. With what appeared to be each and every one of the flares set off in support of the Red Bull driver, Verstappen called for fans to make sure they are used as they should be.
“I saw one flare [from inside the car], like they threw it onto the track or into the grass,” he reveals. “I think that’s the only thing they shouldn’t do – but as long as you keep it on the grandstand. I mean, the wind blows it over the track for like one lap, so it doesn’t arrive within the track, I think it’s OK.”
Amid this, reports of certain F1 circuits and venues struggling to cope with the increased influx of fans in attendance at Grands Prix comes in the wake of the success of Drive To Survive, alongside the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
Seven-time champion Hamilton, who missed the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for the virus in which he reportedly suffers mild ‘Long COVID’ symptoms to this day, chooses to continue wearing a mask. He was asked for his thoughts on where the sport is in terms of restrictions and whether he feels relaxations occurred too quickly.
“No, this is personal choice,” he replied. “I just noticed a lot of people around me are getting sick and I definitely don’t want to get sick again. I’ve already experienced it twice. But just I notice a lot of people around me, a lot of my friends messaging me that they’ve got COVID and some of them are much worse than others.
“Obviously I didn’t have Bono with me this weekend. No one’s wearing a mask so I’m definitely wearing my mask. I urge people to do what they want to do and it’s your health at the end of the day. But yeah, I want to go home healthy. I want to be able to get up and train and do the things I love doing. And I try, if I can, to keep the people that I love around me also safe when I can, when I’m around them. So yeah, that’s it.”
Here’s Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc on F1 fan behaviour