Drivers decry F1 body’s ban on political statements



F1’s governing body says drivers need written permission before making “political” statements. Photo: Alessio Mazzocco (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In 2020, Formula 1 initiated a new campaign known as WeRaceAsOne, with the focus shifting to “the three new key pillars: sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and community.”

One of the campaign’s main goals was to recognise and appreciate differences across the sport of F1 regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, and sexuality.

In recent times throughout the Formula 1 season, many drivers have made political statements.

For example, during the 2020 season the pre-race ceremony saw all drivers wearing T-shirts with the message “End Racism”, while Lewis Hamilton and former driver Sebastian Vettel wore helmets that had the pride flag on them.

These helmets were worn during races in Middle Eastern countries, who have views and values against the LGBTQI+ community.

But the sport’s governing body, the FIA, has now implemented new rules that ban “drivers from making personal, political or religious statements at races without prior consent from F1’s governing body.”

If drivers are found guilty of breaking these rules they will be sanctioned by the FIA, which can include “warnings, reprimands, fines (up to 250,000 Euros), and a large variety of sporting penalties including exclusion from an event.”

The document does explain that drivers will be able to express their views “in their own space.”

This means that they can use their social media platforms or other channels as a way of advocating for these issues, instead of doing it within a Formula 1 based event.

Nothing will stop me from speaking on the issues that I feel that I’m passionate about

— Lewis Hamilton

In response to the FIA’s new rules, Hamilton said, “nothing will stop me from speaking on the issues that I feel that I’m passionate about, and issues there are.”

At the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix, Hamilton found himself under investigation from the FIA following his wearing of a T-shirt on the podium with the message “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

Taylor – a black medical worker – had been killed by two police officers in the US state of Kentucky, when they mistakenly forced their way into her apartment as part of an investigation.

At the 2021 Hungary Grand Prix, Vettel was ‘reprimanded’ by F1 for wearing a rainbow shirt that had the message “same love” on it, over his racing uniform during the Hungarian national anthem.

The motivation behind Vettel’s statement was new anti-LGBT laws that had gone into effect in Hungary.

One of the reasons behind the FIA’s new ruling is its “longstanding commitment to protecting motor sport’s neutrality, and will particularly ensure neutrality during key moments across all motor sport competitions.”

But drivers don’t believe these new rules are good for the sport, with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez saying “that they need to be able to speak freely.”

Williams driver Alex Albon believes that as sportspeople they have a responsibility to help raise awareness of issues happening globally and advocate for problems they are passionate about.

“A lot of people look to us as a spokesperson for issues around the world,” Albon said.

For communities who have had Formula 1 drivers speak about the issues that they’re facing (creating more awareness for their campaigns) the ruling can be seen as a blow.

In March 2023, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) sent a letter to Hamilton and the other drivers urging them “to speak up against human rights abuses and show solidarity with a rights activist based in Bahrain,” ahead of the F1 season opener which takes place annually in Bahrain.

Now with the FIA’s new rules being implemented, it means organisations such as these who reach out to high-profile individuals to help raise awareness will have their hopes dashed.