The president of the FIA Mohammed ben Sulayem has condemned death threats made against a Formula One race steward and warned that the toxic abuse directed at FIA staff and volunteers threatens to “destroy” the sport.
As F1 reels under an onslaught of often poisonous online abuse between fans of different drivers, Ben Sulayem revealed that the FIA steward Silvia Bellot had recently received death threats. He also noted that other FIA staff had been “targeted” with harassment and hate posts, which he insisted was unacceptable.
“It is utterly deplorable that a volunteer such as Silvia or any of our marshals and officials, who volunteer their time to allow us to go racing, is the subject of such hatred,” he said.
Bellot is well-respected in the sport and made her debut as an F1 steward in 2011. She is also an ambassador of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission. Bellot was one of the stewards at the US Grand Prix that was involved in Fernando Alonso’s controversial post-race penalty, later overturned, and was subsequently targeted with angry, threatening abuse online.
“It is totally unacceptable that our volunteers, officials and employees are subjected to this extreme abuse,” said Ben Sulayem. “Without these people there would be no racing. We have to ask ourselves, who would want to pursue becoming a top official in this environment? The reality is obvious, if this continues it will destroy our sport.” Alonso and his Alpine team condemned the way fans had behaved toward Bellot.
The FIA is to pursue a process of attempting to prevent the abuse, working with social media companies and to use artificial intelligence to remove unacceptable content from their channels in what Ben Sulayem described as a “concerted campaign”, with further details to be announced at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Their forthright position has been adopted after both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen condemned the toxicity of F1 social media that has become noticeably and progressively worse this season. Hamilton was sufficiently disillusioned with the situation to state last week “we should all come off social media.”
F1 management has been working with the teams to combat online abuse. They are also expected shortly to announce a comprehensive programme of measures to tackle harassment and threatening behaviour at race meetings, after this year’s Austrian GP was marred by a series of accusations of sexist catcalling, inappropriate touching of female fans and homophobic and racist abuse.