With the retirement of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton lost the. support of a fellow world champion who shared the British drivers’ activist ideals. The FIA attracted a significant amount of comment when following Vettel’s last race it amended the International Sporting Code to strengthen the regulations over drivers making ‘political, religious or personal statements’ without its approval.
Previously, senior drivers like Hamilton and Vettel who are less concerned about the F1 authorities power to punish them have used their position within the sport to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ rights, the Black Lives Matter movement together with the topic of climate change.
Hamilton attacks fellow F1 drivers
Following the death of George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of police officer Derek Chavin in Minneapolis, Hamilton became a vocal advocate in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hamilton attacked fellow F1 driver Romain Grosjean because he failed to support the British drivers’ demands for the drivers to take the knee before each grand prix race start. Grosjean believed the BLM movement was in fact a political organisation and not the loose association of intent Hamilton claimed them to be.
“[Grosjean] doesn’t think it’s important to do it,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. “[Grosjean is] one of them that thinks that it was done once and that’s all we need to do. I tried to speak to [Grosjean] about what the problem is and it’s not going away.
Lewis Hamilton accused of hypocrisy
At the time Romain was the spokesperson for the grand prix drivers’ association (GPDA) and Hamilton wished him to take a lead on the topic. Yet Lewis during his career has shunned the GPDA leading to accusations of hypocrisy.
“We have to continue to fight for it. I think this time [Grosjean] didn’t mention anything in the drivers’ briefing and neither did [F1 driver and GPDA director] Sebastian [Vettel]. Sebastian and I message each other and he stressed, as did I, the importance that we continue to do it.
Lewis also hit out at Formula One for failing to act on the self declared important topic of stamping out racism and promoting diversity.
“I don’t know why they’ve [FIA, F1] only done it for the first race, at the start. They’ve not done it since then. They’ve come out saying they’re going to be fighting for diversity and to end racism, but they’re not giving us the platform to continue that. It’s all rushed.”
FIA sanctions Hamilton protests
At the Tuscan GP held in Mugello 2020, Lewis famously caused a stir when he wore a T-shirt on the podium stating: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor,” on the front. On the back, it featured a picture of her face and the words: “Say her name.”
Taylor had been killed in a shootout between her boyfriend and the police during a narcotics raid. The FIA responded immediately by regulating the drivers’ could only wear their racing suits which must be done up to the neck for podium presentations and post race interviews.
Just 4 weeks ago the FIA strengthened the International Sporting Code to regulate drivers’ making “political, religious or personal statements.”
Black Lives Matter banned from F1
A new Article 12.2.1.n states that drivers will be deemed to have committed a breach of the rules if they show “the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes, unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for International Competitions, or by the relevant ASN for National Competitions within their jurisdiction.”
Following the retirement of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton is now the only driver on the F1 grid who significantly uses his position to champion causes close to his heart. Yet the induction of new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has seen the pair lock horns from time to time during the first season of the Emirate’s tenure.
Hamilton was sanctioned by Ben Sulayem for failing to attend the 2021 end of season FIA gala. The subsequently the FIA president demanded F1 stewards police the ‘no jewellery’ whilst driving regulation which is thought to affect Hamilton alone.
Mercedes boss worried over Hamilton ban
Toto Wolff is now concerned the amendment to the International Sporting Code will see his star driver given a race ban this year.
The FIA president was asked this week why the FIA felt it necessary to come down hard on drivers’ making personal or political statements.
“You can use sport for peace reasons but one thing we don’t want is to have the FIA as a platform for private personal agenda. We will divert from the sport,” said Ben Sulayem.
“What does the driver do best? Driving. They are so good at it, and they make the business, they make the show, they are the stars. Nobody is stopping them.”
“There are other platforms to express what they want. Everybody has this and they are most welcome to go through the process of the FIA, to go through that.”
FIA clampdown breach of human rights?
There has been an element of push back toward the FIA’s clampdown on the Formula One drivers as epitomised in an interview given to the Telegraph by Rob Koehler, chief executive at Global Athlete.“‘It is blatantly hypocritical to tell athletes to stick to their sports and stay out of politics while the FIA consistently leverage politics to their advantage,” he said.
“Freedom of expression is a basic fundamental human right and sport rules cannot supersede human rights. Many people look up to athletes as agents of change. The example set by the FIA is that every child, youth and adult watching the sport should remain silent on social justice issues. It is simply wrong. Shame on the FIA.”
However, Lewis’ team boss is now calling for a sit down between his star driver and the president of the FIA ahead of the start of the 2023 season. Wolff is said to be ‘deeply concerned’ Hamilton is in danger of receiving a race ban for championing certain causes close to his heart.
Wolff calls for ‘sit down’ between Hamilton and the FIA
“We need to see how this really pans out,” Wolff tells the Sun newspaper. “We understand that sport is not here to mix with politics but on the contrary and to unite,”
“I have no doubt [FIA president] Mohammed [Ben Sulayem] and the FIA mean well and want to achieve the right things. It is just about aligning it with the drivers who have been more outspoken in the past.”
“When Lewis has spoken with Mohammed in the past it has always ended up in a positive discussion, so when people sit around the table together I don’t think things will be as harsh as they are written down.”
There is a view held amongst some F1 observers that Mohammed Ben Sulayem is on a mission to emphasise his authority as the head of Formula One’s regulator. The Emirati is the first “non F1” appointment to lead the FIA since Jean-Marie Balestre’s election back in 1985.
FIA president with non F1 background causing a rift in the sport
Since his appointment Ben Sulayem has upset pretty much all the stakeholders in Formula One. The announcement of the 2023 calendar without informing Liberty Media irritated the sport’s commercial rights holder and the F1 teams are predominantly in revolt of the FIA’s push to add an 11th and 12th team to the grid.
There was even talk during the early summer in 2022 of a breakaway by F1 from the FIA, though this would be difficult given European law has enshrined the French based institution to be the only recognised regulator of the sport.
Hamilton was more concerned with the poor performance of his W13 during the 2022 season than trumpeting the social issues with which he is aligned. So it maybe in 2023 Lewis will not fall foul of the FIA’s new ban on personal and political statements if Mercedes again fails to deliver him a car capable of winning races.
"@F1 is drama."@MercedesAMGF1's Toto Wolff took us behind the scenes of the iconic moment when he smashed his headphones during the 2021 season that was captured by Netflix. Watch more: https://t.co/6uxeJK1PUd pic.twitter.com/Z25gPpSDaZ
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) November 17, 2022