“We have to wait and see how the matter develops” says Wolff comments on the ban on political statements that some find are targeting specifically Mercedes AMG F1 driver Lewis Hamilton. The FIA, the world governing body for motor racing, caused a stir just before Christmas when it announced that it would ban all drivers, including in Formula One, from making any non-neutral “political, religious or personal” statements or comments without prior approval in future.
In an updated version of the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which governs all sanctioned competitions, the offence is defined in Article 12.2.1.n.
This states that drivers commit an offence if they “make or display political, religious and personal statements or comments which are contrary in particular to the general principle of neutrality promoted by FIA under its Statutes”.
Exceptions to this rule are statements that have been previously approved in writing by the FIA or the respective national representative body. The new rule was met with criticism from fans and was perceived as a direct response to the involvement of drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who use Formula One as a platform to advocate for issues close to their hearts.
Wolff has faith in bin Sulayem
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, however, does not believe that the rule will really be implemented as strictly as it might seem at first glance. True, he too suggests that the wording seems rather presumptuous. But how FIA President Mohammed bin Sulayem handles things is another matter.
“We have to wait and see how things really develop,” says Wolff. “We know that sport is not there to play politics, but on the contrary to unite.”
“I have no doubt that Mohammed and the FIA mean well and want to achieve the right things. It’s just a question of reconciling that with the drivers, who have been a bit more open in the past,” the Austrian says.
“I know that every time Mohammed has spoken to Lewis or vice versa, it has ended in a positive conversation. So I have no doubt that once people sit around the table together, things won’t seem as harsh as they’ve been put down.”
Vowles hopes for clarification
For that matter, new Williams team principal James Vowles believes it is important for Formula One teams to sit down with the FIA to better understand the situation. Because silencing the drivers is not the way to go, he said.
“In terms of political statements, I think our drivers have the freedom within a certain framework to say what they believe and what they think, obviously in a reasonable and controlled environment,” Vowles said.
“I think the most important thing is to have a discussion about what has been published so far. Putting it in external media is probably not the way to go.”
“It just needs a good internal discussion because I’m sure we all want the same thing: for the sport to grow, for the sport to get better as a result. But at the same time we need to give a voice to the people,” thinks the British man, who most recently served as chief strategist at Mercedes.