‘Let’s not turn Formula One into a political sport’

‘Let’s not turn Formula One into a political sport’



McLaren CEO Zak Brown says the FIA is right to try to find a balance around drivers making political gestures at races as he feels protests and statements got “out of control” on several occasions in recent years.

Motor racing’s governing body added a new article to its sporting code this month that prohibits drivers from “the general making and display of political, religious or personal statements,” unless permission is granted beforehand.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have been two of F1’s most outspoken drivers on a number of social issues in recent years.

Since the start of 2020, Hamilton has often worn T-shirts in the build-up to races that carry slogans or political messages — most notably at the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix, when he wore a shirt with the message, “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

Hamilton’s decision to wear that same shirt on the podium after the race led to the FIA revising postrace procedures around clothing.

Vettel — who has now retired from F1 — joined Hamilton in carrying messages of support to the LGBTQ+ community at various events, as well as highlighting environmental causes.

When asked for his thoughts on the FIA clampdown, Brown told ESPN: “It’s tricky, right? Because some of the topics are really good, some are controversial, some are polarising.

“I think in general we want to be a sport that is doing good. We just need to find a balance there and not have every start of a race being a new political agenda for someone. I don’t think that’s healthy as it can detract from what everyone has tuned in to, which is they want to watch a grand prix.”

Brown is happy drivers and teams still have an avenue to explore if they want to make a gesture or statement about issues they are passionate about.

“I’m glad the door is open for drivers and teams to talk to the FIA if there’s an issue they want to discuss. It wasn’t a ‘You can’t do it.’ It was ‘You can’t do it without our permission.’ So at least the door is open.

“Everyone is allowed freedom of speech. It did get out of control at times with so much messaging going on … does it detract from the focus of the sport? These drivers can do this stuff in their own time, so I think it is within Formula One and the FIA’s right to say here’s the code of conduct we expect for you to follow during a grand prix weekend. You’re free to do whatever you want to do Monday through to Friday, so to speak, but obviously it’s at a grand prix weekend the drivers have the most cameras on them.”

The FIA clarification came several weeks after football players were prohibited by FIFA from wearing the “OneLove” rainbow armband at the World Cup.

“I’m not sure if something triggered it, I don’t know if it’s coming out of the World Cup and it being a big topic there,” Brown said.

“Politics is tricky by nature. That’s what they’re probably, at a macro level, trying to avoid is let’s not have Formula One become a political hotbed for various topics. But it is damned if you do, damned if you don’t, on some of these topics.

“I think that’s what we’re trying to avoid, let’s not turn Formula One into a political sport. Let’s just go racing and be respectful of where we’re racing.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all in this world for political parties or political agendas, so I think there’s a good way that every team, driver, can carry their values in a way that’s noncontroversial.

“It’s becoming a hot topic in all these sports. In NFL it was taking a knee, that started there. You’ve got the armbands in Qatar. I think those things can start to deviate away from sport, and that’s where we need to find the right balance.”

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