The FIA has essentially hamstrung any individual activism on the Formula 1 grid.
A report by Autosport has found that the FIA has dismantled independently-led political activism within Formula 1.
International Sporting Code Article 12.2.1.n. states that drivers must obtain the FIA's approval to make any "non-neutral political, religious or personal" statements. This goes for any FIA-governed form of motorsport, not just Formula 1.
"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," the regulation states.
Evidently, the discovery of the new article has already caused some outcry from the motorsports community, and there is a level of hypocrisy in the FIA's latest regulation change that has to be acknowledged. Formula 1, a sport governed by the FIA, opted not to race in Russia last year for an obviously political issue. Not to mention races hosted in countries where fundamental human rights are problematic at best.
It's tough to say what this means not just for activism within Formula 1, like the group's We Race As One hashtag, but on a driver and team level as well.
For example, should the Mercedes team decide to display an AMG One with a special Black Lives Matter (BLM) livery for a Grand Prix next year, much as they did on 2020's Mercedes F1 car, they will presumably need permission from the FIA in writing before doing so.
This level of vagueness presents an issue when teams and drivers have spent the last two years or so championing causes of their choosing at various races.
Sports organizations often do not police their teams and participants to such a degree. However, some do. The NFL lets players choose from a few pre-approved statements on the back of their helmets. But players cannot simply show up with, for example, a helmet that reads "Same Love."
Lewis Hamilton was highly vocal during the 2020 season when he wore t-shirts to raise awareness for equality, the BLM movement, and the alleged unlawful killing of Breonna Taylor by police during a no-knock raid. (We use the word "alleged" as dictated by media law. Only one person has pleaded guilty so far.) The FIA quickly told drivers they were only allowed to wear driving suits done up to the neck for podium appearances and post-race interviews.
This hasn't stopped drivers from trying, though some have been more vocal than others, including Hamilton and the recently-retired Sebastian Vettel. Vettel and his team, Aston Martin, have attempted to raise awareness for numerous causes, including LGBTQ+ rights and climate change. Under the FIA's new article, these examples may be considered inherently "political."
Vettel and Hamilton have constantly been standouts in matters of activism within the sport over the last few years, and we expect the FIA's new rules will draw ire from both. We will update this article with any statements made by Hamilton or others.
The new rules have concerning implications. A governing body with a vested interest in its sporting events running smoothly and without controversy- or a critical eye- can now oversee what drivers say when they have the most significant amount of reach. At the height of his Grand Prix fame, Lewis Hamilton's voice was heard worldwide when he knelt on the grid.
FIA oversight would surely not have allowed for such a display in the middle of one of the greatest moments of tension in recent American history. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (allegedly, again for legal reasons) were and are examples of long-standing political issues surrounding race, policing, and equality across the globe, but especially in America, where Formula 1 has reached new heights of popularity.
To moderate statements from the sport's most public faces- its drivers- will have lasting implications for the FIA and Formula 1. The FIA has not said what penalties, if any, will be levied if someone were to violate Article 12.2.1.n.
We'll voice our opinion in due course, but enjoy the comments section for now.