Lewis Hamilton and the now retired Sebastian Vettel led the way amongst Formula One drivers in a campaign for greater diversity, inclusion and for human rights to be respected wherever Formula One has taken up camp.
The FIA over the winter strengthened the International Sporting Code which now requires F1 drivers to obtain prior approval of any political or personal statements they wish to make during a Formula One event.
F1 “never… gag anyone”
A number of drivers questioned the move and F1’s CEO came out in support of the drivers in a recent interview with the guardian. Stefano Domenicali said F1 would “never put a gag on the anyone.”
Hamilton praised the ex-Ferrari boss for his stance saying, “It’s been really positive to see Stefano stepping up and supporting those drivers.”
At Mercedes launch of the W14 car Hamilton was asked about the recent restrictions set out by the FIA.
“I wasn’t really watching the news over the winter, but I heard it,” Hamilton said.“It doesn’t surprise me.
“But nothing will stop me from speaking on the things that I feel that I’m passionate about and issues that there are.
Hamilton integrity check coming
Hamilton is now set for an integrity check at the 2023 season opener this weekend in Bahrain.
In a letter addressed to Hamilton and other F1 drivers ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) has asked the drivers to use their platform to raise awareness of human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Bahraini authorities.
Human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison after participating in 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain.
The ECDHR want the drivers to speak up over this man’s plight and that of others who have criticised the Bahrain authorities for their suppression of the freedom of speech.
Human rights authority writes to Lewis
The letter to Hamilton and others continues:
“We hope your openness to be informed about the human rights situation in the countries you race in will inspire others to follow your example, because, as you have rightfully pointed out, ‘one person’ can only make a certain amount of difference, and there is a ‘need for collective support’ to make a difference.”
The letter arrived a day after human rights campaigners in the UK urged the Formula One drivers to speak out at the F1 season opener in Bahrain.
Paul Scriven, a member of the House of Lords gave a press conference any the London HQ for the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
F1 accused of saying nothing
“There are two roads that F1 can now take. One is a road which is a moral vacuum where the leaders and the administrators seem to be going,” said Scriven in a dig a Domenicali.
Scriven suggests drivers even threaten to boycott certain F1 weekends unless F1 acts.
“Lewis and others would be correct to say that, unless F1 and the FIA put in place a framework which is in line with the United Nations’ guiding principle on business and human rights, that he and other drivers would feel uncomfortable about racing [there].
“They could increase pressure, both in terms of highlighting the topic, but also getting the dinosaurs of managers and administrators of their sport to actually put in place the correct framework so there is a systematic legal approach to how F1 and the FIA decide where to race.”
Hamilton calls out Saudi’s
Hamilton to date has been selective in his choice of rights organisations he has chosen to support vocally, never before speaking on the record about human rights in Bahrain.
He has though questioned the approach of the authorities in Saudi Arabia on both occasions Formula One has visited the Kingdom.
At the inaugural Saudi event Hamilton revealed he was “not comfortable” racing there and reiterated his thoughts at last years event.
“My position is still the same as when I spoke on this last year. There is not really a lot that I can say that is going to make any difference.”
F1 must raise awareness – at least
“The sport has taken the choice to be here and, whether it is right or wrong, I think that while we are here, again, it is important we try to raise awareness,” he said.
“We don’t decide where we go, but we’re duty-bound to try and do what we can while we are here. It is not necessarily our responsibility, but we try and do what we can.”
Lewis comments came less than two weeks following a reported 81 executions in Saudi Arabia. Hamilton also revealed a 14 year old on death row had reached out to him in a harrowing letter.
“It is obviously mind-blowing to hear the stories,” Hamilton said. “I have heard there is a letter that has been sent to me, for example, from a 14-year-old that is on death row.
Death row for 14 year old
“At 14, you don’t know what the hell you are doing in life…”
“I think it is important we try to educate ourselves and with a little bit of difference, we can try to make sure we are doing something. But, ultimately, it is the responsibility of those that are in power to really make the changes and we are not really seeing enough. We need to see more.”
The Formula One circus often lives within its own small bubble and it may be Hamilton has never heard the reports of the Bahraini authorities human rights abuses.
This year however, following the speech of Lord Scriven and the direct letters from the ECDHR, Lewis will invariably be questioned on the topic.
Hamilton has relationships within the Bahraini social elite forged from his days at McLaren. He now has the opportunity to demonstrate his integrity and call out abuse in all quarters even when uncomfortably close to home.
At my business, I, from time to time remind my employes that if they are on my time (on my property, being paid by me) there is no politics. Face masks, when they were required, t-shirts and hats can have no messages on them that can be called political, and I make that decision.
This is something Lewis needs to learn. He can be as political as he wants, just not at the track.
It will be nice to see Hamilton boycott Bahrain or be banned from it. It will then give an excuse to him as he is not expected to come in higher than 6th in the race.
Why should UK and European politicians impose their will on another country? Bahrain can then demand sharia law to be implemented in UK and Europe.
If the Bahraini authorities want to practice the ‘Equality’ that Hamilton screams about, they should arrest him if he does anything out of turn just like they do to the others. Let’s see if his bravado stands up!
I repsect your right as a business owner to limit expression, as long as it is applied equally. But FIA has clearly contradicted its own Article 1.2 which obligates them to use their global platform to promote the protection of human rights and to “refrain from manifesting discrimination” on a range of issues including ‘political opinion’. When you take this “gag order” along with the new “Misconduct” rules, their motivation becomes pretty sketchy.
Given that FIA has issued a rash of clarifications lessening the totality of the ban since FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced he is relinquishing his duties, one has to question if this was more a personal crusade. Shining light on human rights violations or resistance to equality and inclusion are not “political opinions”, they are the basis of humanity and freedom. Attempting to ban them as such is an intentional attempt to validate and protect one’s willful bigotry.
This is utter nonsense. Hamilton has spoken up in Bahrain before. The Guardian newspaper reported it. At last year’s race he stated: “I have been to see the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and spoken to Bahraini officials also. At the moment the steps I have taken have been private and I think that is the right way to go out about it but I am definitely committed to helping in any way I can…“There are issues all around the world but I do not think we should be going to these countries and just ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a great time and then leaving,” said Hamilton, before revealing that he takes the situation in Bahrain so seriously that he has spent the past few months educating himself on it.”