- Drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have focused on activism
- Senior FIA representatives must now wait six months before joining teams
The International Automobile Federation (FIA) has moved to ban all political, religious and personal statements without prior approval from the governing body.
The new Article 12.2.1.n outlines the FIA's principle of neutrality, something clearly at odds with the activism pursued by drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
Someone will be deemed to have breached the FIA's rules if they show 'the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its statutes, unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for international competitions, or by the relevant ASN [National Sporting Authority] for national competitions within their jurisdiction.'
The most famous recent example of this would be Hamilton's protest against the unlawful killing of Breonna Taylor, as he wore a T-shirt on the podium at the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix which read: 'Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor'.
Vettel has also carried out similar protests, focusing on environmental and political issues. Examples of this include the 'Same Love' T-shirt he wore before the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix and his protest against the oil sands operation in Alberta before last year's Canadian Grand Prix.
The updated sporting code also includes a new section outlining that the FIA's president and deputy president for sport cannot be employed by a team competing in an FIA championship until at least six months have passed.
Perpetuating the myth that sport is apolitical only serves to exacerbate any potential damage. When Lionel Messi lifted soccer's World Cup to the skies, he did so wearing a bisht, a traditional Arab cloak handed to him by the emir of Qatar. The idea that this was not a political move to ensure this was as much Qatar's moment as it was Argentina's is frighteningly short sighted.
Politics will always use sport as a vehicle to pursue its goals and, with the Middle East tightening its grip on the world of motorsport, it would not be a surprise to see similar politically motivated statements take root. It can even be argued that racing in certain countries is enough of an endorsement from the FIA, especially after the cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix, certainly not a statement of neutrality.
But, anyone who decides to speaks out against socio-political issues around the world will be found to be in breach of the FIA's rules. What's more, the FIA's approval is required before any statement is made, which in simple terms means anything allowed by the governing body is suddenly a statement endorsed by the FIA.
Those who claim driver activism is a new phenomenon would do well to remember the 1985 South African Grand Prix and that Formula One was one of the last remaining sports to continue competing in apartheid South Africa. It was boycotts from teams and drivers that eventually steered the FIA in the right direction, yet the modern day organisation appears more old-fashioned than ever.