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FIA issues F1 driver expressions clampdown clarification

The FIA has clarified its clampdown on political and personal statements to Formula 1 drivers, making clear what will and will not be tolerated at grand prix events.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

In a document distributed to the teams on Friday, titled, ‘Guidance on the Principle of Neutrality (Article 12.2.1.n of the ISC)’ the governing body has explained how an update to its long-standing International Sporting Code published late in 2022 will work in practice regarding drivers making personal statements on various issues and topics.

In the document, a copy of which has been seen by Autosport, the FIA insists drivers are free to express their own beliefs – but only at specific times and in certain circumstances, which generally cover time of sporting competition (on-track action, the podium and driver parade).

But it reiterates they must still seek permission to discussion certain topics.

The FIA says the drivers are free to “express their views on any political, religious or personal matter before, during and after the International Competition, in their own space, and outside the scope of the International Competition”, such as on social media and during media interviews – including the FIA press conferences.

But the clarification of Article 12.2.1.n goes on to state that in addition to not making particular statements during the drivers parade, national anthem ceremonies, pre- and post-season driver group photographs and podium (so including visual gestures, such as wearing a certain item of clothing) “participants are not permitted to make political, religious and/or personal statements in violation of the general principle of neutrality during [the] FIA press conferences (except in response to direct questions from accredited journalists).”

The FIA has also issued guidance on what constitutes “political”, “religious” or “personal” expressions, as concerning Article 12.2.1.n.

This states a rule breach will have been considered to have occurred if: “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 for National Competitions within their jurisdiction”.

F1 races stewards will determine if a rule breach has occurred on a case-by-case basis.

The FIA clarification states that an example of a political statement breaching the rules would be a driver not asking permission to discuss “if they make any unapproved statements or comments” regarding “Any local, regional, or national government or any of its departments, offices or functions”.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

The governing body states that an example of a rule breach regarding unapproved statements concerning religions would be “anything critical of or hostile to others’ religious or spiritual beliefs”.

It has clarified that “private, non-proselytising religious gestures, such as pointing to the sky or crossing oneself, shall not be considered prohibited religious statements.”

The ‘personal’ example where permission must be sought by a driver means “any circumstance personal to the participant.

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Competitors must not use events as a platform to share personal statements of any kind in violation of the general principle of neutrality”, which concerns Article 2 of the FIA Statutes (in effect since 8 May 1970) and is – per the FIA – the principal concern of the efforts made to clarify what drivers can and cannot say at F1 events.

The FIA’s guidance states that drivers seeking permission to make a statement that would otherwise contravene Article 12.2.1.n must do so “at least four weeks before the event concerned” and says “Late requests will only be considered by the FIA on an exceptional basis”, with any permissions granted covering just one F1 event.

Autosport understands that a grey area exists regarding driver helmets – naturally very visible during on-track action and can be compared to the various European nations that wished the captains of their men’s football teams to wear a rainbow ‘OneLove’ armband in the recent World Cup in Qatar.

This was stopped by FIFA, which said sporing sanctions such as a yellow card would be issued if this went ahead.

Autosport has asked if, for example, Lewis Hamilton wished to again wear a rainbow livery helmet in the returning Qatar Grand Prix in 2023 and it is understood that he would be advised to seek permission to do so or risk being in breach of Article 12.2.1.n if he did not.

Regarding the guidance being issued to the teams, an FIA spokesperson said: “A Guidance Note has been issued to Participants in International Competitions that sets out the scope of the updates made to the FIA International Sporting Code in December.

“The updates cement the FIA’s longstanding commitment to protecting motor sport’s neutrality, and will particularly ensure neutrality during key moments across all motor sport competitions, such as podiums, national anthems and official activities ‘on the field of play’ – it does not impose any additional restrictions on individuals expressing their views outside of these times.

“The Guidance Note does not alter Article 12.2.1.n of the FIA International Sporting Code.

“It was necessary to provide a separate guidance document to facilitate the implementation of the principles of neutrality across the many different motor sport disciplines.”

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