FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has hit out at the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel for using their influence to raise awareness of human rights issues and LGBTQ+ discrimination over the last few years. Both drivers are well-known for their off-track activism, with the pair rarely shying away from making their beliefs clear to their peers, the sport’s fans and the nations which they have visited on the F1 calendar.
Hamilton is a keen advocate of racial equality and has spoken out on a handful of important issues related to the topic on a number of previous occasions, while Vettel has taken an interest in environmentalism and has been aiming to shed light on sustainable practices since the start of last season. However, Ben Sulayem firmly believes that F1 drivers should focus solely on the racing at hand and steer clear of forcing their personal beliefs onto other people.
“Niki Lauda and Alain Prost only cared about driving,” the FIA president told GrandPrix247. “Now, Vettel drives a rainbow bicycle, Lewis is passionate about human rights and [Lando] Norris addresses mental health.
“Everybody has the right to think. To me, it is about deciding whether we should impose our beliefs in something over the sport all the time.
“I am from an Arabian culture, I am international and Muslim. I do not impose my beliefs on other people, no way, never.
“If you look at my operation in the UAE [there are] 16 nationalities! Name me one federation that has that many nationalities. On top, there are over 34 per cent women and seven religions, and even more Christians than Muslims.
“I am proud because it creates credibility and merit. But do I go and pose my beliefs? No, the rules are there, even now there are issues when it comes to, for example, jewellery, I didn’t write that.”
It seems unlikely that Ben Sulayem’s comments will do little to deter Vettel and Hamilton, who are seemingly more determined than ever to raise awareness of important issues and keep speaking up about injustices in motorsport and wider society. Ben Sulayem went on to insist that F1 and politics should be kept well apart in order to preserve the integrity of the sport and stop detracting from the on-track action.
“I think some people only see neutrality and governance when it suits them,” he added. “For me, I come from that black or white world and it is very hard to do it.
“When it is governance, it has to be governance, when it is neutrality, it has to be neutrality. We are therefore for one reason and one reason only, and that is sports. Now you have to be political sometimes, but not really be a politician.
“Where do you have the balance? FIA should be careful not to be dragged into politics without forgetting our roots of motorsports.”