The war of words between F1 and the FIA takes another turn as Liberty Media’s CEO of Formula One attacks the clampdown on drivers’ expressing their personal views. The FIA changed the International Sporting Code making it illegal for F1 drivers to make political statements without prior consent from the FIA during an F1 weekend.
Further, the on the grid “we race as one” feature will cease this season as will the kneeling and wearing of items of clothing in support of political or environmental matters.
Bottas surprisingly speaks out
Since the clampdown was announced a number of drivers including Valterri Bottas – who is not known for his political grandstanding – have come out against the new missive. Speaking to a Swedish publication last week, the Alfa Romeo driver revealed, “Personally, I don’t like politics.
“I like to do what I love, which is racing, but at the same time politics is part of today’s society.
“I think Formula 1 has done a good job of bringing attention to some of these types of issues and many drivers have raised their voices, including Sebastian.
“I don’t understand why they want to control us. I think we should have the right to talk about what we want. That’s how I see it, but we’ll see what happens.”
F1 CEO promises to “never gag anyone”
In an interview with The Guardian Stefano Dominical ratchets up the pressure on the FIA to reconsider its position on the matter of F1 driver’s opinions insisting his organisation does not support the ban.
“F1 will never put a gag on anyone,” says FOM’s CEO.
“Everyone wants to talk, so to have the platform to say what they want in the right way the better it is.
“We have a huge opportunity because of the position of our sport which is more and more global, multicultural and multi-valued.
“We are talking about 20 drivers, 10 teams and many sponsors, they have different ideas, different views.
“I cannot say one is right, one is wrong but it is right, if needed, to give them a platform to discuss their opinions in an open way.
“We will not change that approach as a sport. That should be the line of our sport, to give everyone the chance to speak in the right way, not with aggressive tones or to offend but with respect.”
What if F1 drivers criticise FOM sponsors?
This is all well and good so long as the drivers’ opinions do not upset one of Formula One’s big sponsors and then Dominical’s opinion may well change.
Formula One has dodged a bullet this year with the cancelation of the Chinese GP due to the residual impact of recent draconian Covid restrictions. The sport has not visited the communist country since the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have become highly vocal over human rights and environmental concerns involving the host countries where F1 visits.
Clearly there is concern over the treatment of Uyghurs one of China’s 55 officially recognised minorities. Since 2014 reports suggest the Chinese government has subjected Uyghurs to widespread human rights abuses including forced sterilisation and forced labour. Scholars have estimated over one million have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps since 2017.
Chinese Uyghurs an obvious target for F1 protest
Given the authoritarian nature of the Chinese authorities a driver speaking out against them while millions watch on TV would surely not end well. Further, F1 could be banned from the country costing Dominicali’s bosses tens of millions of dollars.
Sebastian Vettel last year criticised the Canadian government over environmental pollution they were allowing, though he was called a hypocrite given Aston Martin’s main sponsor Armco is the world’s single largest corporate biggest polluter.
“We keep monitoring the situation,” added Domenicali. “We keep the drivers informed, we meet with the Grand Prix Drivers’ Associations to discuss it.
“How we can allow the drivers to be open as human beings in our sport. Athletes can be very emotional and passionate about some things and they need to discuss that constructively with people they trust.
The matter of Olympic charter raised against FIA
Domincali is at least lending the F1 drivers support in their push back against the FIA, though stirs the pot somewhat in his concluding comments.
“I believe the FIA will clarify what has been stated, in terms of respecting certain places where you cannot do it.
“I am sure the FIA will share the same view as F1 but they are part of an Olympic federation so there are protocols to which they have to abide.”
The notion the FIA regulations are in contradiction with the olympic movement’s guidance is laughable when considering the sporting authorities in Russia and China who are also part of the Olympic movement. Neither allow the expression of dissent or political comment in a way that is contrary to the views of the state powers that be.
FIA rules to prevent improper protests
A number of the drivers were concerned or upset around the time Lewis Hamilton began promoting his Black Lives Matter agenda. Many understood the movement to be a political organisation rather than a generic sentiment and disagreed with BLM’s tenets such as “defunding the police.”
A number of drivers refused to take the knee and were openly criticised by Hamilton.
Its exactly this kind of political bandwagoning that the FIA should clamp down on and maybe how the Sporting Code article is intended.
Dominicali may find it convenient today to support the F1 drivers’ rights to free speech because it suits his current agenda to rack up pressure on the president of the FIA. Yet the day may come where the Italian rues his mischief making were the drivers’ focus to turn on say the excessive demands made on them by Formula One.
— Formula 1 (@F1) February 8, 2023