After several drivers have already expressed anger and surprise at the new rule of the FIA with which it tries to stop drivers from making political statements, the body explains how the rule should be interpreted, and the possible penalties associated with breaking the rule. Several drivers have previously reported that they do not care about the rule, which they consider ridiculous.
The FIA came under fire after it decided to approve a rule in the International Sporting Code (ISC) stating that drivers must first obtain written permission before they can proclaim ‘political, religious or personal messages’. Many saw this rule as a ban on free speech and the administrative body was therefore subject to a lot of criticism. For example, Lewis Hamilton already indicated that he did not care much about it, and it was teammate George Russell, also director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA), who already called the rule “crazy and unnecessary”.
FIA comes with clarification
After criticism of the FIA has flared up from various sides, the body has decided to come up with a response to create clarity, The Race reports. Under the heading on why the principle exists and what its purpose is, it says: ‘In any international competition, the focus should remain on motorsport and on the performance of teams and drivers. It should not be used as a platform for individual advocacy. This principle is also intended to prevent participants from being placed in a position where they may be forced to take a public position on a particular domestic or international issue when they would rather not do so.’
The guideline states that drivers can express their views on political, religious or personal issues ‘before, during or after’ an event, which could then be done in ‘their own space’. Subsequently, the FIA mentions examples such as social media, interviews with accredited media and FIA press conferences as possibilities that fall under ‘their own space’. In addition, she does mention that the latter example may only be discussed if it is an ‘answer to direct questions from accredited journalists’.
Because drivers are obliged to make the statements in their own space, this means, among other things, that a driver is not allowed to make a statement during, for example, the Drivers Parade or proclaim a message that is of a political, religious or personal nature. Also the moments before and after the race, such as the cool down room, the podium or the group photos at the beginning and end of the season. It is stated that exceptions are not allowed, if the FIA gives permission after application. These requests must be submitted four weeks in advance, unless exceptional circumstances arise. However, it is still unclear whether the design of helmets or symbols on them are also seen as a violation.
Possible penalties for violation of regulations
Should there be a possible violation of the regulations by a driver, it will be determined by the stewards of the relevant Grand Prix whether a statement or expression can be seen as political, religious or personal. The guidelines also have an endless list of possible scenarios that could be prohibited by the new regulations. However, this list is only a guide for the stewards, who themselves still have to ‘carefully assess the specific circumstances of each possible infringement’ when there is a possible infringement.
Examples of political statements that may be considered a violation of the Rules include statements made by “any politically associated or politically sensitive person or persons, living or dead”, as well as references to political parties, national governments, separatist movements, political or military conflicts or ” any specific political act or event’.
With regard to religious expression, the FIA prohibits references to “a religion, a spiritual practice or a related significant figure” or “anything that is critical or hostile to the religious or spiritual beliefs of others”. It is noted that all ‘non-offensive religious gestures, such as pointing to the sky or crossing themselves, are not considered prohibited religious expressions’. Personal expressions are simply defined as any circumstance that can be seen as personal to the driver in question.
The guidelines state that any potential violation of the rules must be reported to the race management, who will then be given the information by the stewards and may apply any penalty set out in Article 12.4.1 of the ISC. This can differ between a reprimand or a fine on the one hand, or a grid penalty or a time penalty on the other. Theoretically, the stewards could even impose a suspension or disqualification if the rules are broken.