F1 ultras hounding Lewis Hamilton – even torching his merchandise before races

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Lewis Hamilton is being hounded by football-style F1 ultras who torch his Mercedes team’s merchandise before races.

The sport’s bosses are worried by the increasingly aggressive behaviour of an army of uber-fans and have launched a campaign to drive out abuse. Video footage has emerged of orange-clad supporters of championship leader and rival Red Bull driver Max Verstappen burning Mercedes products at race tracks.

One man was filmed laughing as he set fire to one of the motor company’s caps in the crowd at a drivers’ pre-race meet-the-fans session. The mob were heard cheering after seven-time world champion Lewis, 37, crashed during qualifying for the recent Austrian Grand Prix.

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The meeting was marred by reports of shocking crowd behaviour – including allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia. Several female Lewis fans dressed in Mercedes shirts complained they had been harassed by Dutch supporters.

Mercedes chiefs fear Hamilton will face more hostility at the Dutch Grand Prix next month – which is viewed as Verstappen’s home race. Though Belgium-born, Max, 24, grew up in the Netherlands and his supporters are known as the Orange Army.

Formula 1 has launched a Drive It Out campaign in a bid to stamp out bad crowd behaviour. Drivers and team bosses are being encouraged to report abuse online and fans caught stepping out of line face race track bans.

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Lewis’ Mercedes team-mate George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, said: "Abuse of any kind has no place in F1. If you see inappropriate behaviour report it. If you're being targeted, reach out. We all love this sport so let's look after each other."

While motorsport has long attracted super-fans rivalries involving groups such as Ferrari’s red-wearing Tifosi have been traditionally good-natured. Some in the sport believe smash hit fly-on-the-wall Netflix documentary Drive To Survive – which has highlighted behind-the-scenes bitterness – could have new more aggressive supporters.

Others – such as four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel – said the rise in abuse may be due to the sport’s younger new audience being more willing to call it out.

"I think there has been a shift in the fan base," said the 35-year-old German. "We can all see the excitement for F1, a younger audience on average coming to the track. The abuse has probably always been there but I don't think at any time it was correct.

But maybe you are seeing a generation coming to the track who complains about it and makes a noise and uses different platforms to complain about it. It is great to see people having the courage to stand up because by learning about it, we can do something about it."

After he found out spectators cheered his Austria crash Hamilton said:" I don't agree with it, no matter what situation it is in. A driver could have ended up in the hospital. Are you going to celebrate that?

"It's amazing that people do that knowing how dangerous our sport is. You should never cheer when someone has a problem or an accident."

Verstappen has also slammed crowd behaviour, saying: "It is a shame that they react as football fans where they always boo the rival."

Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff, 50, said: "We need to educate people. I think we just need to speak more to the fans that are cheering when the car is in the wall or booing a driver that gives an interview.

"It’s not what we would do with our competitors or enemies even though you can think we would have some animosity out there. So nobody should actually do it."

Though he has hailed the support his drivers get as "incredible" and the fans’ passion "great", Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, 48, said it "shouldn’t spill over into jeers at our opponents."

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