How to make Formula 1 ethically acceptable? – Palatinate
By Sophia Massam
Sport being political, this is not a new phenomenon. International sports championships are often centered around the concept of the nation-state, and when countries compete, politics is inevitable. Yet why has the Formula 1 championship, where the teams have no country roster, become so controversial?
This is partly due to the location. Although F1 teams are not aligned with nations, races are held all over the world. The last three races of the season – Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi – have been a source of division.
Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Circuit and Qatar’s Losail Circuit were new tracks for the 2021 FIA F1 World Championship, despite concerns over human rights violations.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, accused Saudi Arabia of using the Formula 1 spectacle to distract from “Their brutal crackdown on human rights activists and defenders“. Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar impose the death penalty for homosexuality and have all been criticized for numerous human rights violations.
Drivers have taken different political stances towards the human rights of the countries they race in – Sir Lewis Hamilton donned a rainbow helmet for the Jeddah race and spoke to Hungaroring of Hungary’s next vote on anti-LGBT law with compatriot Sebastian Vettel.
Other pilots preferred not to comment. Daniel Ricciardo, who races for McLaren, has been criticized for saying in an interview before the Jeddah race that he did not follow the human rights debate because he did not like “drama and negativity” . Likewise, the human rights charity Amnesty International said the now champion Max Verstappen refused to discuss human rights violations in Saudi Arabia with them.
It can be argued that these athletes are not used for their political opinions and therefore should not have to express them. But, as public figures with enormous clout and influence who earn frankly nauseous amounts of money in countries with appalling human rights records, is it wrong to expect at least one? bland statement written by a beleaguered public relations official who acknowledges him?
The problem is not limited to the ethical record of the countries in which the races take place. Many drivers have sparked controversy regarding their political views or their personal lives. Anger erupted in 2020 after driver Nikita Mazepin posted a video on Instagram that showed him inappropriately groping a woman, which led to #WeSayNoToMazepin on Twitter and asking for her dismissal.
The fact that Mazepin’s billionaire dad, Dmitry Mazepin, is sponsoring his son, Haas’s team, might be a reason popular pressure hasn’t pushed the driver away. This leads to another key issue with F1 – beyond national or personal politics – how unavailable the sport is to those without extreme personal wealth.
In 2016, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff gave his race cost estimates, stating âInternational karting could cost Â£ 1million, a season in F4 Â£ 350,000 and Â£ 650,000 for a season in F3. For F2 an additional 1.5 million pounds. These figures will only increase in 2021.
Concerns over the sport’s inclusiveness prompted former driver Derek Warwick, vice-chairman of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, to warn that rising racing costs could mean Britain will never produce a driver again like Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton is one of the few notable exceptions to the elitism that reigns in F1. Lance Stroll, son of billionaire Canadian businessman Lawrence Stroll, competes in F1 after his father bought an F1 team (Force India, which Stroll renamed Racing Point BWT Mercedes). For drivers trying to advance in F3 and F2 whose parents are not on the rich Forbes list, competing in F1 is an impossible dream.
Sport has made a considerable effort to improve certain aspects. The end of âgirls on the gridâ in 2018 was heralded as a step in the right direction to address the lack of female representation in sport. In Saudi Arabia, female driver Reema Juffali was a guest on the grid.
But the problem remains – F1’s financial priorities trump any ethical concerns, from teams buying fathers so their sons can race, to countries where political dissidents are executed. A mantra has emerged in Formula 1 that ‘money is king ‘ . Clearly that won’t change anytime soon.
Image: Rage77com via Creative Commons