**Update (June 28th, 2022; 5.30pm)
Since publishing, Red Bull Racing have terminated their agreement with Juri Vips, releasing him from all Red Bull-related duties.
Juri Vips’ actions during a live streamed gaming session resulted in his immediate suspension from Red Bull Racing activities, including the famed junior team.
And rightly so.
But how does one respond when one of the sport’s most respected members also commits such actions? The same, says Leigh O’Gorman.
There are occasions when a racing driver does something so astonishingly stupid, so intellectually corrupt that one is only surprised that they did not trip themselves up earlier.
Such a brutalist mindset stretches incredulity further by the use of sheer cockiness as a justification of said foolishness.
In my corner of Ireland, we call such behaviour “arseholery”.
Juri Vips’ use of painful derogatory language during a live streamed session of Call of Duty has had the stellar effect of crashing his career at the worst possible time, with Red Bull Racing responding by suspending him from all team duties.
Now halfway through his second season in Formula Two, the Estonian was looking at a future that possibly held possibilities of an F1 drive, particularly following a positive free practice run with the senior Red Bull team in Barcelona. But in a moment, course words tore those possibilities down.
Some of the reaction to Vips’ suspension on social media was interesting – indeed, most actions on social media could count as “interesting” – but let it be absolutely clear. Juri Vips is not some sheltered child, nor was his language acceptable, irrespective of the tone or proposed context.
There have been other examples of arseholery too, as explored by Nelson Piquet Sr. Footage recounted how, following the clash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at Silverstone last year, Piquet Sr also used derogatory language to describe Hamilton’s part in the incident. That this emerged today (June 28th, 2022) is unusual given the availability of the comments.
But the sport needs to face up to actions such as those perpetrated by Piquet Sr and Vips, so needs to play this accordingly. As it stands, the Federation have taken no action against either Piquet Sr or Vips (although the Piquet Sr revelation is recent), but if they do nothing, then it sends a woeful message to ethnic minorities inside the sport.
There will be comments eventually, followed by a declaration that says the right things, dances the right dance, sings the right song and when that is done, a hashtag will be developed to show everyone how wonderful we all are.
And once that has been signed off, we will slap ourselves on the back with such force, we will cough up our own humility and smile fractured smiles.
To Piquet, this probably matters not very much. His career ended thirty years and while he still does much to propel the careers of his sons, he does not need Formula One in which to thrive.
For Vips, the story is slightly different, as one wonders if this has helped solve a little problem for Red Bull early doors. There is no doubt that Vips is quick and an intelligent racer, but while his results are good, he is rarely outstanding.
At Baku last year, he was sublime, but that was one of few standouts in a Formula Two season that could be described as reasonable, as he claimed 6th in the standings. Staying with Hitech, a move up has been expected, but Vips looks to have stalled somewhat.
Places on the Red Bull Junior Team are precious commodities, and one could be cynical and suggest that this incident may have merely hastened the decision to remove him from the team – although that has not been confirmed.
By not setting the world alight, the world can become dim indeed and the case of Vips darker still, although all is not lost for the 21-year-old. He is not the first man to lose his way when the world is watching. NASCAR racer Kyle Larson suffered a similar incident in 2020 and was sacked by Chip Ganassi Racing, but returned to the sport last year, claiming the Cup title Hendrick Motorsport.
Prior to that, Santino Ferrucci’s cockiness got the better of him at Silverstone in 2018, which resulted in his expulsion from his Formula Two team, and also effectively side-lined his from his association with Formula One team, Haas. Like Larson, Ferrucci has found a new home in motorsport and is enjoying the fruits of redemption and success as handed out at the gates of the west.
And so, it may be with Vips. A very neatly transcribed apology on Instagram followed that spelled out conciliatory phrases in just the right way. Even more interesting were the references to self throughout Vips’ apology in which he adopted a small “i” in the mode of stylised contrition.
Along with the suspension from team duties, Red Bull announced an investigation, which is brace considering how widely available the video is, but if nothing else, it does buy them some time to decide what happens next.
While Vips might not have Formula One race potential, he had practiced with the team at Barcelona earlier this season with positive results and a title-winning squad such as Red Bull are always on the lookout for quick, intelligent drivers who can adapt to the team’s simulation programme.
So, was this the eventual end game for Vips anyway? A simulator position with the main team, in the same vein as held by Sebastien Buemi, when not racing in either Formula E or the World endurance Championship?
It’s possible and may have been the longer-term plan, but it’s now also possible that Vips’ actions have accelerated those plans, but there is certainly little chance of a Formula One race drive now – his sport’s personality brand has been tarnished, and he does not possess the red-hot raw talent to use as a bargaining chip.
There is no doubt that there are significant pockets of racism seeded into the undergrowth of our sport and that should not be a shock, but people should not be frightened to call it out when it rises to the surface.