FIA’s clampdown on drivers’ political statements won’t be “harsh” – Wolff

2023 F1 season

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Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff doubts the FIA’s new clampdown on drivers making political statements will be as “harsh” as coverage of it has suggested.

An addition to the International Sporting Code ahead of the 2023 F1 season has banned “the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements” by drivers without the permission of the FIA. Wolff says discussion is needed between the drivers and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is now needed to clarify the situation.

“I think we need to see how this really this really pans out,” he told media including RaceFans last week. “We understand that sports are here to not make politics, but on the contrary, unite. And I have no doubt that Mohammed and the FIA mean well to achieve the right things. It’s just about aligning that with the drivers that have been more outspoken in the past

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has been among the most outspoken drivers on a range of political matters, including urging greater support for human rights after receiving letters from inmates awaiting execution in Saudi Arabia. He clashed with the FIA last year when the sport’s governing body began enforcing its rules on the wearing of jewellery more strictly.

“Every time I know when Mohammed’s spoken to Lewis and the other way around, it’s ended up in a positive conversation,” Wolff continued. “So I have no doubt that when once people sit [at] the table together that things will not appear as harsh when they are being written down in the off-season.”

Wolff said he hasn’t had any discussions with his driver on the subject during the winter break.

“We haven’t talked about the political situation because he’s in his off-season and I think that’s important to shield yourself also from Formula 1 and this is what I’m very much doing – helping to shield. Once he’s back these things will be certainly discussed and with a positive mindset.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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30 comments on “FIA’s clampdown on drivers’ political statements won’t be “harsh” – Wolff”

  1. “We understand that sports are here to not make politics, but on the contrary, unite.”

    Uniting people is, of course, politics.

    1. Indeed. Not that it’s true, of course. F1 is full of people who’ve fled their country of birth to save on taxes, even though they’d also be ridiculously rich if they stayed put. Politics is OK so long as it doesn’t cost them anything – literally and figuratively. They’ll still wave the flag of course.

      In any case, it should be a hoot to see the FIA enforce their ban on ‘general … display of … religious … statements’. Talk about opening a can of worms!

    2. I think that’s a large part of the problem. Almost any statement or section can be considered political, depending on your viewpoint. I, personally, don’t consider it political to speak about unity, human rights or equality, but many do. Conversely, I consider national anthems, military displays and politicians/royals being given the spotlight to be political, whereas others don’t.

      It will take a great deal of care to handle this correctly, and is much more likely (IMHO) to make it look like the sport and it’s participants support certain political views and oppose others.

  2. Soft and cuddly control over people sharing their opinions is the best.

  3. The juxtaposition presented in the final statement is quite interesting indeed.

    The 7 or so hours of official activity at each F1 event are a kind of mini holiday or off-season (just like Hamilton’s leisure time) and, likewise, many viewers would like to shield themselves from outside politics when watching F1.
    All season long….

    Here’s hoping the FIA stick to their words this time.

    1. I’d love to shield myself from outside politics while watching an F1 event, too. However, when an event is being hosted in countries with highly controversial political policies, with their militaries putting on displays, their national anthems being sung, and their politicians being given a platform, politics is shoved in my face.

      Drivers wearing t-shirts, putting designs on their cars/helmets or making short statements to the press in the middle of interviews about causes they believed in is nothing, to me, in comparison to the above.

      1. However, when an event is being hosted in countries with highly controversial political policies, with their militaries putting on displays, their national anthems being sung, and their politicians being given a platform, politics is shoved in my face.

        As a TV viewer, how much of that do you actually see at the F1 event?
        None of the political policies – controversial or otherwise.
        – At most, one military display – which is generally not ‘military’ but ‘entertainment ‘in presentation (ie, only a flyover).
        One pre-event national anthem (which is hardly political, even in the loosest definition of the word) – plus all the winning drivers and teams get one too, as part of standard ceremony.
        – And sometimes politicians/leaders presenting awards (but not given any further exposure to do anything else).
        All of those things relate (at most) only to that country’s internal ‘politics’ (if that’s what we want to call it) – they are not sending ‘political’ messaging to any external party.

        Drivers making statements, however, do exactly that.

        Drivers wearing t-shirts, putting designs on their cars/helmets or making short statements to the press in the middle of interviews about causes they believed in is nothing, to me, in comparison to the above.

        It’s nothing to me too – which is why I won’t miss it in the slightest when it’s not happening anymore.

        1. If it’s nothing to you, why did you (and certain others) spend so much time criticising drivers for doing so?

          And some countries have already made such a strong external statement in terms of their internal and external policies that the mere presence of a politician is a strong political statement. Much more so than a rainbow in a helmet design or a t-shirt worn on the podium. The helmet or t-shirt expresses one driver’s stance, where official parts of the event tacitly express the entire sport’s political position.

          By inviting a politician onto the podium in an official capacity, the governing body have specifically authorised their presence, advertised their position, and have therefore at least implied their support for them.

          This is even more strongly implied when politicians/leaders only present awards at certain events, which are mostly the events in more controversial regimes.

        2. We do see some of the political policies. And experience them (for example, I’m subject to a blanket ban from attending China’s Grands Prix since 2007 due to having a disability forbidden by its regulations that it only recognised existed that year).

          Multiple military displays are potentially seen (especially if at the track or watching through one of the extended-coverage broadcasters rather than a highlights package. Although that’s reducing, there are still plenty of national airline displays and exhibitions by display teams and nationalist musicians, both of which are also inherently political.

          National anthems are political in some places even now (Spain is a good example, as there are parts of Spain where significant numbers of people don’t recognise that anthem), and F1’s use of it immediately before races with compulsory attendance was due to a direct request from Vladmir Putin for political positioning.

          There are many politicians, who sometimes (as in the Putin example) make requests that the FIA follows.

          The fact is that being a global sport inherently oblige political positions.

  4. I would suggest that the restrictions should also include drivers from getting free promotional time provided by the FIA and F1 to get publicity for their private gain. This would include, but not be restricted to drivers promoting their own fashion line during official F1 appearances. At media commitments, they should be required to wear team outfits, not their own fashion garments and garner the free benefits. The free advertising value that Lewis has been personally getting is immense. Do it in their own time, no problem at all, but not while official F1 duties. I am not anti Lewis and I don’t care who it is. Le Clerc recently was quoted that he was going to follow Lewis’s lead in regards to having his own fashion line. It will also apply to him.

    1. I don’t think you need to worry about Leclerc specifically following, at least not while he’s at Ferrari and the team sponsors are likely to veto such an idea ;)

      However, such a rule is unlikely given that, from the FIA’s perspective, that only exchanges the drivers getting free private benefit with the teams getting free private benefit. Allowing clothing that is either the driver’s or the team’s idea as long as it is pre-approved (as is effectively the case with podiums – teams can allow drivers to pick their own overalls as long as they follow FIA policies regarding effectiveness and FIA-perceived-political-neutrality) is a far more likely occurrence.

  5. I think that FIA now has some pre-handed info on which way people think. I can see anti-racist message still being allowed. But with the guideline which was there last year: would it have had sanctions if someone had completely different opinions to the most of the democratic world and raised those opinions?

    1. Tbh that would be even worse: that’s the FIA deciding which politics are acceptable and which aren’t.

      It should be all or nothing, in my opinion.

      If no politics are to be shown, it should be absolutely none: no flags, no anthems, no politicians/monarchs/military (in any official capacity), and no statements in support of or opposing any government/country/party/view. Sanitise the sport completely of any outside content, keep it purely about the cars, teams, drivers and racing.

      However, of you’re going to let any political content into the sport, all political content should be allowed, with the only restrictions being those on bringing the sport into disrepute. If a driver wants to show support for something highly controversial, let them, as long as it doesn’t damage the sports reputation. If they do cause such damage, that’s what should be punished, not making the political statements.

      1. It should be all or nothing, in my opinion.

        The FIA are trying to make it ‘nothing’ – you just don’t agree with their definition of ‘nothing.’

        with the only restrictions being those on bringing the sport into disrepute.

        The FIA have decided that bringing external politics into F1 and the unauthorised hijacking/exploiting of F1’s media reach is essentially doing just that.

        Reminder that the FIA and F1 are private business ventures and any participant is willingly agreeing to abide by their rules.
        Whatever those rules may be….

        1. I don’t agree with their “definition of nothing” because it isn’t nothing. There are still political elements, which means the FIA are choosing which politics are acceptable and which aren’t.

          This is always going to be the case, though, when there is an attempt of this nature. Because everyone’s definitions of the subject matter are different, it is impossible for the FIA to come out of this without looking like they are selecting the acceptable politics for the drivers to support. It’s doomed to make the FIA look bad to a decent proportion of people no matter how they do it.

    2. @bleu The FIA has already banned some anti-racist messaging, so I don’t think you need to worry about that.

  6. It won’t be harsh, it’ll be selective.

  7. I think that here they have work to define, above all, what is considered a “political declaration”.

    For me, a political declaration would mean something like the demand for independence of a region belonging to a nation, or support for certain politicians and things like that.

    Statements calling for equality, anti-racism or denouncing the non-existence of human rights do not seem like political statements to me, they are common sense.

    The first thing, I can understand and I even agree to its prohibition. But the second thing, if they forbid the pilots to do this, it would be like forbidding anyone from saying “don’t eat babies” or “don’t drink bleach” and it doesn’t make any sense beyond protecting the interests of the nations that organize GPs who do not meet the minimum requirements of human rights, and of the fans who are openly homophobic or racist.

    1. @esmiz The problem with ‘common sense’ is it’s tied to upbringing and culture. My grandfather’s generation had deep mistrust of Japanese people, se had burning hatred even, it was common sense to them because the association was an war time enemy. Some people but heavy into propaganda and burn it into their brains as common sense.

      I have no doubt my common sense will differ from yours in multitudes of insignificant ways and likely one or two very hugely significant areas, as it does with my own siblings, so we can’t generalise common sense and attempt to use it, it’s wacky

    2. I’m with you: I don’t consider those things political either.

      However, many do see LGBTQ+ rights or gender equality as political. Heck, I’ve spoken to farmers who consider saving the bees political, because it has led to band on pesticides which have damaged their CEO yields. That’s the problem here: almost anything can be considered political, depending on the political views and culture of the person you are speaking to.

  8. petebaldwin (@)
    16th January 2023, 17:34

    It won’t be harsh – it’ll be non-existent. They’ve made their threats and the idea will be that the drivers all just fall in line. If one decides to ignore the FIA’s “rules”, they won’t have a clue what to do about it.

    “Hamilton fined by the FIA for saying that gay people shouldn’t be excluded from society” would probably qualify as the sort of headline that creates negative PR for your organisation.

    1. Ahah, indeed, would be interesting to see something like this happen, to see what the fia would do, I’m not a fan of the fia at all, so negative pr\uproars are things I don’t really mind when it comes to them.

    2. @petebaldwin The FIA doesn’t seem to have worried about negative PR for enforcing the less stringent regulations last year, so no reason to believe they’ll avoid such errors this time.

  9. It seems like many people here are concerned that clampdown on driver sharing political and social opinions is an attempt to suppress their voice or sensor them. I don’t think that’s the intention at all. This is being done in consideration of the viewers. The viewers have a right to watch a sporting event and not have political and social views drove down their throats. There have been periods of time in American sports were it was impossible to watch an event without hearing about BLM or kneeling for the national anthem for example. It’s not that those things are important but I should have a right to not be subjected to that stuff everywhere I turn. If you want to express your beliefs or make statements there are many many many platforms. I commend the FIA for doing this.

    1. Yeah, any cause should be inoffensive, and is best when it is automatically ignored because it is barely noticeable!

      That’s not really how successfully protesting an issue works. At least, if a cause wants attention, it might now seek a way to provoke a FIA response (see the post by @petebaldwin above yours), which possibly explains why people in the sport, like Toto Wolff here, want to emphasize it won’t be a harsh response.

      1. I would suggest that ‘successful protesting’ is when you create and inspire a willingness for change and action, rather than an outcome of division and derision….

        1. They generally go together, in my experience.

  10. In the interests of equality I must assume that all team principals and drivers have equal access to and time with “Ben” and that their interests carry equal weight. But I never seem to see it reported.

    1. @davedai Because it doesn’t happen?

  11. If I’m watching or reading, I’m usually happy to listen to almost anything these guys consider important enough to raise and put their name to, particularly as contrasted to some of the guff the broadcast filler is comprised of.
    I find the entitled librarian squeaks of definitive nobodies in forums more intrusive than anything any F1 personality has ever said, worn or otherwise espoused.

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