Quiet please! At least that is the wishful thinking of the world motorsport association Fia for Formula 1 drivers.
At the end of December, the world association had tightened its ban course. Since then, point 12.2.1.n of the International Sports Regulations has defined "political, religious and personal statements or comments" as a violation of the rules unless they are approved in advance.
In a three-page letter to the racing teams, the Fia recently made it clear again that political or religious statements on the racetrack can be considered a violation of the rules in the future if they have not been previously permitted. This applies to statements or signals during the award ceremonies, the drivers' parade or even during official press conferences, provided that the drivers do not answer a journalist's direct question. The umbrella organization justifies its harder line with the general principle of neutrality, to which the Fia is subject as a member of the Olympic family.
Harsh criticism from Hamilton and colleagues
Hamilton and other Formula 1 drivers sharply criticized the silence of the world association. "Nothing will stop me from expressing myself on the things that are close to my heart and on the issues that exist," announced the opinionated record world champion from England. "Sport still has a responsibility to speak up and raise awareness on important issues, especially when we travel to all these different places. So nothing changes for me."
Hamilton's Mercedes teammate George Russell, who is also a board member of the Formula 1 drivers' association GPDA, also resisted. "I can't imagine that they would want to restrict any of us in our views. That's part of freedom of speech. We have the right to express our views on any platform we want," said Russell. He doesn't know why the Fia took "such an attitude". "I think it's totally unnecessary in this sport and in the world we live in right now."
McLaren driver Lando Norris felt bullied. "We're not in school. We shouldn't have to ask everything, 'Can we do this? Can we do that?'" Norris etched. "We are mature enough to make wise decisions."
In Formula 1, Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who retired at the end of last season, caused a stir with their political statements. Hamilton wore a t-shirt that read "Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor" after his Mugello win in 2020. The Englishman recalled the black American woman who had been shot dead by police officers during an operation in her house months earlier. The Fia then prohibited the visible wearing of T-shirts on the winners' podium.
Political messages on the race track are prohibited by the regulatory authority in principle. However, since the beginning of 2020, the association has also permitted gestures in support of the fight against racism at the instigation of Hamilton's drivers. Since then, the Fia itself has been driving the "We Race as One" campaign to combat inequality and improve sustainability.
"We know politics and attitude are sensitive areas but we need clarity from the FIA on what they are trying to tell us," remarked Williams driver Alex Albon. "A lot of people see us as a mouthpiece for issues around the world. I think it's the driver's responsibility to make people aware of these situations."
In a longer catalogue, the Fia gives a number of examples of themes of possible forbidden messages, gestures or symbols. Statements about parties and organizations are therefore just as undesirable as statements about military conflicts or the oppression of minorities. Crossing or pointing to heaven is exempt from the ban on religious messages.
However, the pilots are not bound by the new directive on their social media channels. They can also continue to express themselves freely in television interviews, the Fia assured. The race stewards will decide on possible sanctions in the event of violations of the rule on expression of opinion.
The list of penalties under point 12.4.1 ranges from a warning to a fine, the obligation to do social work, penalty laps and exclusion from the race. "It would be stupid to say that I want to get penalty points because I comment on certain topics," said Hamilton, who sees a powerful ally in Formula 1 Managing Director Stefano Domenicali. "But I will continue to speak my mind." The season starts on March 5th in politically explosive Bahrain.