Why do we boo racing drivers?

Last weekend’s British Grand Prix was the latest in a series of high profile motorsport events where fans (Not all fans, but various different groups of fans) booed a driver on the podium. It goes without saying how disrespectful this is to the drivers and teams in question, but let’s try to figure out why it’s happening in the first place.

Interestingly, the first instance of booing this year that I noticed on a race podium was not in Formula 1, but at the Le Mans 24 hours. As we all know, this was a race decided when Toyota, who had lead since the early stages, suffered a failure in it’s lead car of Nakajima/Buemi/Davidson in the final few minutes of the race, handing victory very unexpectedly to the #2 Porsche of Jani/Dumas/Lieb. The boos seemed to surround the fact that whilst Toyota were in despair and heartbreak in their garage, Porsche were celebrating in shock at a race they had never expected to win. This is backlash I didn’t really understand; were they supposed to feel guilty for winning at the last death and building a more reliable car? Did they not work just as hard for victory?  Porsche drivers and team members displayed a lot of empathy in interviews, and their publicity afterwards gave almost as much credit to Toyota as to themselves.

Most recently we saw booing at the podium of the Austrian GP after Nico Rosberg collided into Hamilton during an incident on the final lap of the race. The circuit commentator read the crash as Hamilton turning into Rosberg, and many on the ground held the Englishman responsible as a result and let him know about it in no uncertain terms. Not to be outdone, members of the British public decided to retaliate by booing Rosberg on Friday during a public appearance at the track, and then they opted to do the same after the race, despite Rosberg doing very little wrong the entire weekend; even his team giving him advice on how to manage a gearbox issue could not really be classed as his own fault.

This is nothing new. I remember the first time I saw booing at a motorsport event, and not just minority booing but full scale booing from an entire crowd: It was the Austrian Grand Prix, this time back in 2002. I was a 6 year old at the time and it was my first season watching Formula One, but I remember vividly watching on TV as Rubens Barrichello, who had led the entire race, was forced by Jean Todt over team radio to move over for his Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher in the closing stages, the Brazilian choosing to do so in the dying metres before the finish line on the last lap. The crowd was furious at the fixed result, and quite justifiably expressed their huge displeasure towards Ferrari despite Schumacher attempting to appease the crowd by letting Rubens stand on the top of the podium. Being very young and having seen most of the 2002 season up to that point, I was under the assumption that pretty every race was arranged so that Schumi won; I couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. When I got upset was a few races later at the Nurburgring when Barrichello led Schumacher in the closing stages and didn’t let him through… I remember getting very upset about that and being sent to my room by my parents as a result. The irony being that years later after leaving Ferrari Rubens actually became my favourite driver on the grid. But I digress.

It was incredible to see a motorsport crowd express so much anger and rage. I never thought it would be matched until I saw the 2005 United States Grand Prix, a race infamous for a Michelin tyre fiasco meaning that only the six Bridgestone runners could take the start of the race. Like in Austria, American fans were understandably bemused and very annoyed in 2002 when Schumacher pulled over for Barrichello on the line in an attempt to stage a dead heat, which was seen as almost “pittance” for Austria. But this turned to pure anger at the farcical race in ’05; cans were thrown onto the circuit, makeshift banners blaming Max Mosley and the FIA were created, and those that didn’t leave instantly booed in unison. Endangering the lives of the drivers was perhaps taking it too far, but again the reaction makes sense because they felt robbed of a show they’d paid to see.

One-off booing can be dismissed and moved on from, but repeated boos at multiple venues can be hard to take. Look at the case of Sebastian Vettel during his 10 race winning streak in 2013; he was being booed for performing too well, too often and making the sport boring and predictable, as well as the fallout from the multi-21 controversy. Publicly he laughed it off, but once he wrapped up the title in India that year he revealed just how much it had affected him.

“It’s very difficult for me personally, to receive boos, even though you haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.

“At the time it hurts not to get the reception you expect but I think I’m clever enough to understand why they do it. I’m not blaming them.”

Even Rosberg has suffered booing in the past after causing a puncture for Hamilton at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix. That day in the podium interviews Eddie Jordan chastised the hecklers for their reaction, but at Silverstone Mark Webber chose much more tacitly to introduce Max Verstappen and then redirect the cheers for him towards Rosberg, thereby highlighting those in the crowd that cheered and applauded all top three finishers.

Booing can be done for many reasons, but it is often tribal and intended to make the targeted driver feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or guilty. Whether you’re blamed for a controversial incident or simply deemed to be too successful and therefore undeserving, the result and reaction from the crowd is the same. In some instances where there is blatant manipulation at play then such a reaction is partially justified; by comparison though the boo brigades at recent races have seemed pathetic and bitter, as though they could not celebrate with the winner due to their own bias/prejudices, or just wanted revenge for a previous race where their driver was wrongly accused. But revenge doesn’t make things better, it just reignites animosity and creates an unhealthy atmosphere. And at classic circuits like Austria and Silverstone which are supposed to show off the best of F1 and at which we claim to have some of the best F1 fans in the world, (and certainly get some of the best attendance  trackside) maybe a little more restraint and respect for those who have worked so hard to reach the podium, regardless of personal feelings amongst fans, would go a long way.

Why do we boo racing drivers?

Why we will miss the Aguri name from the grid

Jaguar is joining the field and the championship fight is going down to the wire: There’s a lot to be excited about for the future of Formula E as we head to the last two rounds in Battersea Park. However, one name is disappearing from the grid for season 3. Aguri Suzuki, the ex-Formula One driver and team owner is leaving the Anglo-Japanese squad, which has registered under a British name for the 2016/17 season. Undergoing a Chinese buyout, this is a time of great change in the team’s identity, so it seems fitting to reflect upon the brief history of the Aguri team in international motorsport, and why it will be a shame to see the name disappear from Formula E’s garage doors.

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Takuma Sato driving in Super Aguri’s first Grand Prix, Bahrain 2006.

The Aguri team first came to prominence on the world stage a decade ago as Super Aguri (A cartoony yet iconic name; if anything it was a misnomer as some very competent staff were behind the leafield team) back in the 2006 Formula One season, and was essentially an 11th hour entry to give the popular ex-BAR Honda driver Takuma Sato a drive. An old Arrows A22 chassis (A 4 year old car) was converted to 2006 regulations and given a Honda engine, and the second seat was given to Japanese rookie Yuji Ide, who is the last F1 driver to have his super license revoked after launching Christian Albers’ Midland into a frightening series of barrel rolls on the first lap at the San Marino Grand Prix. The second seat was then occupied by future Formula E drivers Franck Montagny and Sakon Yamamoto, before Anthony Davidson filled the seat more permanently from 2007 onwards. Sato and his various teammates regularly propped up the back row of the grid in the team’s first year, but there was something very loveable about the underdog privateer team and it’s buckets of enthusiasm despite a baptism of fire, and with a B-Spec car introduced they started gradually to gain respectability: Sato ended the season with a 10th place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

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Sato sets up Fernando Alonso ahead of the famous giant-killing overtake in the closing stages of the Canadian GP, getting the team’s best ever finish in 6th.

For 2007, Super Aguri started using a customer Honda chassis, (The race winning RA106) and as the factory team struggled, the Honda B-team made hay and surprised everyone by qualifying 10th and 11th for the first race in Melbourne. Even better was to come in Spain and Canada, where Takuma Sato scored what would prove to be the team’s sole points finishes of 8th and 6th respectively. Canada in particular was a giant-killing feat, with Taku memorably going around the outside of the McLaren of Fernando Alonso: These days that may not sound like such a big feat, but back then the two teams were such polar opposites in terms of performance that it was unheard of.

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Davidson on another hot lap in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix in at Fuji. Also note the absence of main sponsor SS United.

Davidson often shined in qualifying but didn’t seem to have the same amount of fortune come the races: He was infact running 3rd in Canada before a local groundhog ran into the path of his car, ending his race. Unfortunately after issues with oil sponsor SS United who had failed to honour sponsorship payment agreements, the team fell into financial difficulties (Interestingly, there were rumours of a partnership with the now Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag and Adrian Campos to save the team which didn’t quite come off) and was only able to manage four uncompetitive races in 2008 with a recalcitrant RA107 before Honda pulled the plug amidst the world financial crisis.

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Spirit, Grit, and determination… Super Aguri trying desperately to stay afloat at Bahrain 2008, scene of their debut two years earlier.

During it’s relatively short time in the sport, Super Aguri had garnered a cult following amongst F1 fans; it had a reputation as the little team that could, and it’s no coincidence that former Super Aguri engineers contributed greatly to the 2009 title winning success of the Brawn GP outfit as well as the infamous double diffuser it used to great effect. So when Aguri Suzuki announced plans to enter a team into the inaugural Formula E season, he was given a warm welcome.

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Davidson driving the championship winning BGP 001 during a celebratory demonstration at Mercedes Benz world, Brooklands in 2009. Some of Ant’s old colleagues from Super Aguri played a key part in the car’s success.

Mark Preston, formerly the technical director for Aguri in F1, moved up to the role of Team Principal at Aguri’s behest, but having secured sponsorship from investment firm Amlin, the team was renamed Amlin Aguri and the cars were painted in a distinctive metallic blue and orange colour scheme. Portuguese driver Antonio Felix Da Costa would be a mainstay for Aguri despite DTM commitments taking priority and forcing him to miss a handful of races for the team, where Sato and Yamamoto would substitute for him. The other seat for the first season was initially occupied by endurance racer Katherine Legge, who failed to impress in her two outings and was promptly replaced by the Mexican Salvador Duran. The team took a shock victory at Buenos Aires with Da Costa after an eventful race where Sebastien Buemi and Lucas Di Grassi hit the wall, whilst Nick Heidfeld and Sam Bird served drive through penalties, clearing the way for the 23 year old to take an unlikely first Formula E victory.

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Da Costa celebrating his against the odds victory at the 2015 Buenos Aires ePrix; only the 4th race for the team and series.

Unfortunately this proved to be the sole standout high point of Team Aguri’s time in Formula E. Although Da Costa continued to impress with five other points finishes in the season, another podium appearance was not to be repeated. Duran was able to score in Miami, Moscow and London to bring Amlin Aguri to 7th in the team’s championship with 66 points, and despite missing three races Da Costa was able to finish 8th in the driver’s standings with 51 points. All in all it was a solid first season, but Aguri had been struggling in qualifying and that seemed often to be what held them back from better results as they got stuck behind cars with worse energy management: A case in point being Moscow where Da Costa was held up for several laps behind Jarno Trulli who cut a chicane repeatedly to maintain track position. 

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Jarno Trulli leads Da Costa and Justin Wilson at the 2015 Moscow ePrix, after cutting the chicane multiple times to keep the Portuguese driver behind him, Da Costa eventually got past and Amlin Aguri achieved a double points finish for the second time.

For season 2, Amlin defected their title sponsorship to the Andretti team instead, meaning the team would simply be named “Team Aguri” throughout 2015/16. The decision was made early on by Mark Preston and the team to maintain the season one powertrain, as they felt the difference in terms of race power mode that the standard McLaren unit could do compared to the custom made powertrains would be minimal, although they did seek out an OEM with the view to creating a powertrain for season 3 this did not work out as planned. In addition, the team gradually began to change, with figures like technical director Peter McCool departing, chief engineer Gerry Hughes joining NEXTEV as chief performance engineer and commercial director Keith Smout leaving mid-season for Dragon Racing, right after securing a new main sponsor for Team Aguri in the shape of Gulf. So the make-up of Team Aguri in season 2 became vastly different to that of Season 1.

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Da Costa retires whilst running in second place in Buenos Aires; the second time this season that a podium finish slipped from his grasp through no fault of his own.

This season has been a much more trying one. It started out quite strongly: Despite some uncertainty Da Costa returned for season 2 and would only have to miss a single race. (Berlin, where he was replaced by Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast) He was initially partnered by Frenchman Nathaniel Berthon, who was able to take advantage of a Virtual Safety car in Beijing during his later pitstop phase to finish 8th. This proved to be the only points he would amass though as he struggled enormously in his next two races before being dropped. Meanwhile Da Costa made up for crashing in the first round with a brilliant performance in Putrajaya where he ran in the podium positions and briefly led eventual winner Di Grassi before a heating issue with his power unit forced him to slow, meaning he ended up finishing 6th, a result repeated at the next race in Punta Del Este at a track which did not suit the car. Da Costa was set for another strong result at Buenos Aires, but just after passing Nico Prost for second place he suffered a terminal car failure; the cause was a $2 part which broke. Salvador Duran rejoined the team, but he lasted three pointless races before being replaced again. In Long Beach, Da Costa was able to brilliantly qualify on pole, but then had it cruelly snatched away from him due to tyre pressures being found to have been set too low. Still, he had recovered to 8th in the race when he suffered yet another car failure. In Paris, Da Costa came 8th after a thrilling battle with Andretti’s Robin Frijns, whilst his new teammate, Ma Quing Hua, crashed out after an otherwise fairly promising debut.

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The future of Team Aguri? Ma Quing Hua has been brought in to drive the last four races and with the financial help of CMC the team will be renamed Techeetah for season 3.

With Ma came rumours of a Chinese buyout, by CMC (Chinese Media Capital) which were confirmed on Tuesday. After only two races it’s much too early to judge the quality of the Shanghai-born driver, but his position is almost guaranteed regardless of his performances. That’s not to say he is a pay-driver by any means though, and hopefully Ma can go on to build a successful career for himself in Formula E. Da Costa will be his teammate for the final two races of Team Aguri’s history in London, but beyond that it is strongly rumoured that he is to jump ship to replace Simona De Silvestro at Andretti, which has links to his DTM manufacturer, BMW. Time will tell what will become of the Chinese owned outfit. For now though all we can hope is that Team Aguri have a decent end to their season; Antonio making the podium once again looks a tall order, but it would be a fitting send-off.

The Aguri team embodied a passion for motor racing and a strong privateer spirit. They made a habit of making the most of what they had, which often wasn’t much. It was a healthy mix of Anglo/Japanese engineering and enthusiasm backed up by serious professionalism. It went from being a Honda B-Team to an against the odds points scorer to a Formula E race winner. CMC ensures the future of the team and hopefully will create a strong team identity of their own; but it seems with this necessary culture shift that there is no way that the Aguri name can survive.

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Many in Formula E will feel sad to see Battersea Park go from the calendar, but as far as I am concerned the saddest goodbye will be to Aguri Suzuki and a name that inspired fans around the world.

ありがとうございますあぐり

Why we will miss the Aguri name from the grid