Mohammed Ben Sulayem recently appeared to question the activism of former world champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel; the FIA President has attempted to clarify his comments ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan GP; Watch the F1 season continue live on Sky Sports F1 in Baku all weekend long
Last updated: 06/09/22 15:32
Craig Slater says Mohammed Ben Sulayem has clarified controversial comments about activism among F1 drivers
FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has insisted he supports the promotion of “diversity and inclusion” by Formula 1 drivers, following his controversial comments about the activism of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Former rally driver Ben Sulayem, who is leading his first F1 season as FIA president after being elected last December, questioned the merits of Hamilton, fellow former world champion Vettel and Lando Norris using their platforms to comment on non-sporting topics.
In an interview with GrandPrix247 during last month’s Monaco GP, Ben Sulayem described motorsport as “too political” before highlighting Vettel’s promotion of LGBTQ+ rights, Hamilton’s activism on human rights issues and Norris’ attempts to stimulate conversations about mental health and the trio compared the ex-world champions Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, who are “only interested in driving”.
With drivers set to face the media on Friday ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Emirati took to social media on Thursday for the first time since Ben Sulayem’s comments were published to clarify his statements.
“As a driver, I have always believed in sport as a catalyst for social progress,” Ben Sulayem tweeted.
“Therefore, promoting sustainability, diversity and inclusion is one of the key priorities of my mandate. I also appreciate the commitment of all drivers and pioneers to a better future.”
In the interview, published on June 3, Ben Sulayem was asked what not to do with Formula 1.
“Niki Lauda and Alain Prost were all about driving,” he said. “Now Vettel is riding a rainbow bike, Lewis is passionate about human rights and Norris is addressing mental health. Everyone has the right to think. For me, it’s about deciding whether we should constantly impose our beliefs on sport.
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“I come from an Arabic culture. I’m international and Muslim. I don’t impose my faith on other people? No way! Never. If you look at my work in the United Arab Emirates: 16 nationalities! Name me an association, who has so many nationalities.
“In addition, there are over 34 percent women and seven religions. And even more Christians than Muslims. I am proud because it creates credibility and merit.”
“But do I go and present my beliefs? no The rules are there, even now there are problems, for example when it comes to jewellery, I didn’t write that.”
“Unfortunate timing for comments”
Sky sports news’ Craig Slater announced on Thursday that the FIA has insisted its president “in no way” seek to discourage driver activism.
However, Slater said the timing of Ben Sulayem’s comments was “unfortunate” as several teams, including Hamilton’s Mercedes, are currently supporting the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month with features on their car liveries.
“They seem to have come at an unfortunate time, these comments,” Slater said.
“The FIA have told me that the FIA President does not wish in any way to end driver activism.
“They said he was expressing a personal opinion as the regulator of sport. For him, sport should come first in terms of messaging.
“But he also tried to explain that he believes his organization, which he runs, is aligned with these causes, to make the sport more diverse – in terms of a kind of neutrality to ethnicity, a mixture of religions.”
Four-time world champion Vettel has insisted the sport must continue to race in countries with poor records on LGBTQ rights because of its ability to drive change.
Vettel made his comments in an interview with LGBTQ publication Attitude Magazine as the German became the first F1 driver to feature as a titular star.
“In terms of LGBTQ rights, there are some countries that we visit that are tougher than others,” Vettel said. “We could refuse to race there – but then what? If we didn’t race, we would be powerless to make a difference at all.
“But if we race in these countries and stand up for what matters in a polite but firm manner, we can make a positive difference. Values and principles must not stop at borders.”