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Opinion: Stop baying for blood when a motorsport driver is offensive

This isn't a justification for being offensive, mind. But it's also not a justification for asking the FIA to punish Verstappen on the weekend

16w ago

I think this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned motorsport in something I’ve written; because to me, sport’s like cooking. Watching it is boring.

I work on a car platform, however, which means I’m aware of what’s going down in motorsport, even in Formula 2 – but I regard it all with a bit of a shallow apathy. Lewis Hamilton’s won again. Don’t like his sneakers or his attitude. Ricciardo? Don’t care how he’s going - happily – but what a legend.

Nonetheless, there’s been two events recently that I do have a more serious-minded opinion on, and which I’d presume to engage the motorsport community about.

The first of which was Kyle Larson’s n-bomb moment: that time he thought his mic was broken during a race and he said ‘You can't hear me? Hey ... [*******]. Turns out everyone could; he was banned from racing and compelled to undergo sensitivity training.

The second? It happened last weekend at the Portuguese Grand Prix, which again, I didn’t watch. But apparently Max Verstappen and Lando Norris lost it on radio at Stroll; in the red-hot tirade, Verstappen called Stroll “a Mongol” and a “retard”.

Of course, he’s been warned by Red Bull to never use that language again, and he himself has expressed regret:

"First of all, I never intended to offend anyone, that’s never what I want. It happened in the heat of the moment, when you are driving at such speeds, things like that can happen. I don’t say that the words I chose were the right ones.

...I know they are not correct. Once again, I never meant to offend anyone. I was swearing at Lance, but then I saw him straight away after and that’s what racing drivers are as well. We can be angry at each other, but in five minutes, when we talk to each other, look each other in the eyes, it’s forgotten.

Sometimes things get a bit heated up. From the outside, I never meant to hurt anyone in particular...”

Right, he had a hot-headed moment on radio. He got warned. You’d assume it could die there.

Instead, yesterday’s headline is that Mongolia’s ambassador to the UN has said he hopes that FIA will do something about it: "I am confident that in order to prevent the recurrence of such unethical behaviour in sports, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) will take actions against Red Bull driver Max Verstappen for his unacceptable behaviour of repeatedly using racist and derogatory language against any ethnic groups."

In other words, let’s drag it out again, beat it up, and beat Max up too – there has to be some punishment and humiliation. Of course, he’s a one-track ambassador for his country. The trouble is, plenty have agreed.

I saw something similar in comments sections regarding Kyle Larson's application to be reinstated as a NASCAR driver. There were, despite a profound apology and despite the fact the single word he uttered was out of character and divorced from hateful intent, those who said NASCAR had no place for him. There could be no forgiveness.

Imagine that. Your career and reputation ended by a word. Not an act, not a strung-together rant that reveals an attitude – but a single thoughtless word. A word, divorced from its meaning, spat out in silliness. One moment you’re a good person. The next, you say the word, and you’re a disgusting human.

No word should have that power. It’s a frightful indictment on our ability to judge if we give an independent word that power.

Of course you’ll ponder, as I have done, what it means when such words are at hand in a vocabulary. Kind of like the suggested words on a phone keyboard; it reflects something, doesn’t it? Except we’ve all surprised ourselves in hot-headed moments. And we’ve all, no doubt at some point in our lives, said a word we’d hate to have piped through loudspeaker.

And you might say – but these guys are celebrities, literally being piped through loudspeaker. A thoroughly public pillorying will not only remind them how inappropriate it is, but also the world – something that sounds meritorious in itself but which I don’t find particularly empathetic. I’d counter that a penalty of being flogged the length of Suzuka would deter – it’s still an unjustified overreact.

So what do I, a normally apathetic spectator in the motorsport field, propose? I’d propose we don’t in any way justify motorsport racers who use demeaning language. But this doesn’t mean we must join a Twitter throng and call them disgusting people who need to bury their racist, Down Syndrome child-hating little heads in the sand – it should be an altogether more balanced response. A response that doesn’t just fixate on the word and divorce the context.

As Lando Norris - the great chap we all appreciate more than ambassadors to the UN, said, referring to his own anti-Hamilton and anti-Stroll outburst:

"At the same time there’s a lot of ways that no matter what you say, people can just take it into a bad context and publicise it in a way to make it look a lot worse than the way you meant it in the first place. It’s just how things are perceived nowadays can be taken both ways very easily and that’s just the world we live in in 2020.”

It doesn’t have to be.

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Comments (66)

  • I hope you wrote this article in search of a greater understanding of what hate speech is and it's affects on society or those targeted by it.

    Have you asked any black people how they felt about Kyle Larson’s n-bomb moment? Or better yet, have you asked any black Americans from the South how they felt about it? Do you know much about the racist culture of NASCAR and it's fan-base?

    Have you given much thought to the historical context and use of the word mongoloid? Before writing your article, did you consider how insulting it might be to the peoples native to, or descended from North Asia, East Asia and Pacific Oceania when they hear it?

    Did you do any homework before publishing your male white perspective on racial slurs?

      3 months ago
    • Right on. Perfect response.

        3 months ago
    • Robert - this isn't an argument about the appropriateness of those words, and I'm disappointed you believe it is. I would never write an article about that - primarily because, I am utterly ill-qualified to discuss it from my own...

      Read more
        3 months ago
  • Welcome to another instalment of Joe’s Two Pence (For What it’s Worrh)

    Ok, I agree with you, for the most part.

    I believe he should be punished, but not in too severe a way, I don’t want his job and reputation to get decimated as he’s a bloody good driver. I think, if he was going to swear/curse, a simple f-bomb would’ve been slightly more acceptable, but hey, it all happens to the best of us.

    Tell me what you think?

      3 months ago
  • Totally agree John!

      3 months ago
  • Thank you John for writing this article. I’m sure you will be in quite some “heat” because of that.

    Motorsport in general became too much of a political focus lately. I grew up in Motorsports during the times when the drivers including the team members have been “Daredevils” Trust me calling someone a M.. was a compliment.

    Nowadays there is a Garage door pull looking like a noose and the FBI has to investigate.

    As far as I remember the term “Mongool” was commonly used in Dutch and Afrikaans. This word was never intended to insult a country.

      3 months ago
  • I totally agree. Should they have said those things? No. Should they be warned? Yes. But punishing them by stripping their entire career away is not an appropriate punishment.


    I like to think of this as it relates to the BLM protests (sorry for bringing this up). The officer that killed George Floyd should not have done so. He should absolutely be punished for it, just like anybody else would be if they killed someone. But just because he made a mistake doesn't mean everyone should have "peaceful" protests that turn into riots.


    Before I go on a total rant here, the public needs to forgive the officer and move on, just as they and the racing series, sponsors etc. need to. It will make the world a better place.


    Great article btw, I really enjoyed it.

      3 months ago
    • The thing the Cop did was unacceptable tho, that's murder,tbh,and let's not make this political.

        3 months ago
    • Did I not say that it was unacceptable?

        3 months ago