Two leading Formula 1 figures have hit out at the FIA’s ban on political speech.
Amid a recent spate of political slogans worn on t-shirts and helmets, and outspoken drivers on social and cultural issues including Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, the new FIA president instigated a clampdown.
An FIA spokesman defended the update to the wording in the international sporting code which now bans “the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments”.
The spokesman said that is “in alignment with the political neutrality of sport”.
Some Formula 1 drivers, however, have begun to speak out against the ban – including the normally uncontroversial Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas.
“I personally don’t like politics,” the Finn told the Swedish daily Expressen.
“What I love is racing, but politics is part of today’s society. I think F1 has done a good job of bringing attention to these kinds of issues and many drivers have taken a stand, including Sebastian.
“I don’t understand why they want to control us. I think we should have a say in things if we want to. I’m looking at the big picture, but we’ll see what happens,” the 33-year-old former Mercedes driver added.
Former McLaren driver David Coulthard, said he can understand why the FIA wants to clamp down on the use of the Formula 1 platform for often-divisive politics.
“It’s a bit like an acceptance speech at the Oscars,” he said. “If everyone uses the opportunity to make a political statement, there is no issue that is not important to someone.
“So we either have to mention everything, or maybe it’s better not to say anything at all and concentrate on the sport. As an athlete, you are very lucky to be paid to do things that others would do for nothing,” the Scot added.
Coulthard admits that “freedom of speech” is critical, but he added: “We also have to remember that it is the sporting rules that we are talking about, not some set of political regulations.”
However, Red Bull’s top Austrian F1 executive Dr Helmut Marko sides with Bottas rather than Coulthard.
He said the clampdown on political speech in F1 is “clearly wrong”.
“The drivers are responsible citizens who are in the global public eye and who know what they have to say and how,” the 79-year-old former F1 driver said.
“In general we are in a democratic society and everyone can express their opinion,” Marko added.