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Opinion: New FIA Mandated Silence will be Deafening in F1

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Opinion: New FIA Mandated Silence will be Deafening in F1

The idea of sports and politics mixing is often viewed as being like oil and water; ideas that many believe should be kept separate. It is simply impossible to make an effective combination of the two. Formula 1, at times, proves this notion incorrect. Increasingly over the past few years Formula 1 drivers have made their voices heard on a variety of issues, most prominently multi-time World Champions Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. However, the FIA, the governing body who oversee F1, announced in December that a revision of their regulations would see drivers not being permitted to make “political statements” without prior approval. The FIA are trying to silence activism that has made such an incredible difference to so many; it won’t work for long.

The FIA have claimed that this change in regulations is an attempt to ensure that the neutrality of the sport is maintained, and that no opinions that are not publicly shared by the FIA are promoted by drivers in the sport. The aim of the FIA is to keep a sense of unity of opinion, or in most cases, a lack of an opinion. Ostensibly, this rule change is a silencer. It becomes an attack on both passive and proactive forms of activism we have seen by drivers in the sport more and more over the past three seasons because the FIA is afraid of the backlash over individual drivers daring to express their own perspectives and opinions. Whether it be Lewis Hamilton’s “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” t-shirt he sported at the Tuscan Grand Prix in 2020, or Sebastian Vettel’s “Same Love” rainbow t-shirt he sported at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2021, the FIA are insistent on their concealment and reduction of these individual drivers’ viewpoints. Simply put, the FIA don’t want to hear it. It is a peculiar decision from the FIA because previously this activism has given a voice to many that feel so under-represented in sports, and some of the most commonly marginalised groups in society.

Hamilton has often spoken about the racial abuse he has received throughout his life. Hamilton is the sport’s first and only black driver, and perhaps the most famous Formula 1 driver of the modern era. He is the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time; an inspiration for so many, and his lack of fear to make his voice loud and clear surrounding societal issues which means so much to those around the world enables him to be that inspiration. Take also Sebastian Vettel, who has never wavered in his support for LGBTQ+ rights, wearing the “Same Love” t-shirt in notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ rights Hungary in protest. His interviews in magazines such as Attitude where he has said that “F1 is ready for an out gay driver” have given many the idea that this may ultimately happen some day. However, until it does, activism by drivers such as Vettel gave people in the LGBTQ+ community a point of solidarity in the sport. The FIA wants to take that away.

Valterri Bottas, driver for Alfa Romeo, has claimed that this regulation change has been made by the FIA because “they want to control us”. In an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen, Bottas explained that “politics is part of today’s society”, and that he thinks that “Formula 1 has done a good job at paying attention to these kinds of issues”. Bottas sums it up perfectly. The FIA is trying to control its own sport’s drivers. It is trying to absolve itself of any controversy, not because of supposed desires for “neutrality”, but out of cowardice over negative public opinion. The FIA, in restricting the voices of drivers who wish to signal their support for equality, is letting those with racist, homophobic viewpoints and prejudiced attitudes within society win.

In a sport that is characterised by its volume, whether it be the cars or the drivers, the silence from the drivers on so many issues will be deafening this season. I truly do hope the FIA will hear the public and insider backlash to this decision and reverse their regulations because until then, they are handing a Grand Prix victory to those who want to attack some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

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