Horner: ‘F1 purpose to entertain not a political tool’

Formula One appears to be engaged in a bout of naval gazing at present. The teams are looking inward rather than embracing an expanded grid and the row over freedom of speech is getting out of hand.

This year, the FIA strengthened the International Sporting code in relation to drivers’ making political or personal statements. However, the politicisation of Formula One has always been forbidden by the FIA statutes.



FIA fined previous F1 participants $5m for political statements

Turkish F1 promoters were fined $5m for breaching the sport’s neutrality position when they labelled one of the officials in the prize giving ceremony as “The president of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.”

The official was in fact the Greek Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. Cyprus is a divided territory with ownership claims being made by Turkey and Greece.

Of course the world has changed in recent years and with the arrival of Generation Z the notion of truth as in any way objective or having an absolute form has been challenged. 



Who decides what is acceptable?

As the recent Megan and Harry Netflix series revealed being able to own “your own truth” is now important regardless of how that relates to reality or another person’s conflicting experience of the same event.

Whether “my truth” upsets or offends anyone else appears not to be a filter on expression.

Even before Generation Z, international organisations realised to retain their ‘message’ and appeal adopting a neutral position on certain disputed topics was the way to go.



Not ‘mixing politics with sport’ age old notion

The idea of not mixing politics with sport is as old as sport itself. Sport has been argued to be an agreed construct around which people with differing political or societal views can unify.

Its no coincidence it was towards the end of Jean Todt’s 13 year reigns as president of the FIA the mass mobilisation of Black Lives Matter found a foothold in Formula One.

With its only non-white driver having suffered racism throughout his career, Lewis Hamilton quickly recruited to the cause.

BLM is both a generic idea and a political movement and its probable Hamilton didn’t realise exactly what he was promoting. Under the auspices of previous FIA president Max Moseley the kneeling and other BLM protests would have been quickly stamped out because of their “political nature”, yet Todt let it slide.



Hamilton berated fellow F1 drivers

The reason why sport should not be used as a political tool was embodied in the row over kneeling before each race. 

Prior to the Hungarian GP Lewis Hamilton spoke out on the subject at an F1 organised media event.

“There is definitely not enough support for it [kneeling],” said Hamilton. “It is like it has gone off the agenda. It is lacking leadership.”

“From a drivers’ point of view, many seem to be of the opinion they’ve done it once and they’re not going to do it again.”

“We are all members of the GPDA and the GPDA is run by three people – two who are really supportive, and one who tends to think it is not important to continue with.



Domenicali support for drivers is itself political

Lewis’ final comment was directed at Romain Grosjean who was a driver representative and felt kneeling should be a personal decision and not forced on the collective as Hamilton was demanding.

The tweak in the International Sporting Code by the FIA for 2023 will also see the “we race as one” grid presentation dropped. Whether it will be replaced by alternative media content or not is unclear at present.

Stefan Domenicali has waded into the row over F1 drivers’ freedom to make political statements’ which are not previewed by the FIA. Yet this has more to do with his battle with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem than a genuine freedom of speech debate.

However, Christian Horner has what appears to be a more tempered view on the matter though he is firm that sport “should never be used as a political tool,” because primarily “it is to entertain.”



Horner: “Sport is primarily to entertain”

Speaking to assembled media the Red Bull team boss was asked about the recent beef up in the International Sporting Code regulations on political statements.

“We certainly at Red Bull have never constrained our drivers of their freedom of speech, or the ability to speak their minds because they do have a voice,” he said.

“I think it’s a matter of finding a balance. In the world that we live in today, everybody has a voice and that shouldn’t be suppressed.

“But of course, it does have to be done responsibly. So, we don’t want a load of robots that are without a opinion going racing.

“Like with all things, it just has to be a sensible balance.”



But who decides what is acceptable?

Whilst this is all very ground up and respectable, the notion of a sense of balance requires an arbitrator. Someone has to decide whether F1 drivers are free not to kneel or should comply with the views of another who believes this should be mandatory.

Sergio Perez when asked about the topic embodies the problem the FIA faces. 

“We want to be ourselves and we want to be able to express ourselves in any way that we want.

“We all have differing views and differing beliefs in religious ways. I get the political side but we all should be free to express ourselves the way we want.”



Free speech isn’t banned in F1, just consideration required

Of course Checo doesn’t actually mean “express ourselves in any way we want,” because if Daniel Ricciardo was enlisted to make a Tequila advert depicting lazy drunk Mexican’s learning against a Cactus under a huge sombrero – Perez would rightly object.

The FIA hasn’t banned driver free speech at all, its merely requesting there is a filter on any potential bandwagoning by F1 drivers, which may cause offence elsewhere.

On matters of a political of societal nature that may affect F1 in a global fashion, the drivers have been told they should engage with FIA officials to ensure what is said isn’t offensive to anyone else.

Isn’t that just old fashioned common decency?

Or maybe we want anyone in F1 to be able to say whatever they like regardless of the consequences for others.

READ MORE: Ferrari confidence for 2023, unusually high

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