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Just weeks after the FIA announced plans to ban unapproved political statements from drivers, McLaren CEO Zak Brown says it was a good call.
Drivers became far more outspoken on political issues in recent years which lead to the FIA edict. Race weekends sometimes featured drivers’ speaking out about issues in the host country, something that was sure to be a headache for FIA brass.
It’s a touchy subject as drivers — like anyone — should be able to speak their minds. Still, the sports’ governing body needs to maintain its relationships, not just with drives, but also with promoters and host nations.
ESPN spoke to McLaren CEO Zak Brown — an American at the helm of an iconic British team — about the issue.
“It’s tricky, right? Because some of the topics are really good, some are controversial, some are polarising.”
Two of the most notable drivers to speak out on issues were Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Both were strong critics of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in places like Hungary and the Middle East. Meanwhile, Hamilton wore a shirt drawing attention to the death of Breonna Taylor, while Vettel was known to call nations out for environmental issues.
“I think in general we want to be a sport that is doing good. We just need to find a balance there and not have every start of a race being a new political agenda for someone. I don’t think that’s healthy as it can detract from what everyone has tuned in to, which is they want to watch a Grand Prix.”
Brown Seems To Be In Touch With Most Sports Fans Take On The Issue
Brown clearly gets the mind of the average race fan — or sports fan for that matter. They tune into a Grand Prix He also noted that the FIA’s regulations don’t ban, political statements, they just don’t want to be caught off guard by them.
“I’m glad the door is open for drivers and teams to talk to the FIA if there’s an issue they want to discuss. It wasn’t a ‘You can’t do it.’ It was ‘You can’t do it without our permission.’ So at least the door is open,” he said.
“Everyone is allowed freedom of speech. It did get out of control at times with so much messaging going on … does it detract from the focus of the sport? These drivers can do this stuff in their own time, so I think it is within Formula One and the FIA’s right to say here’s the code of conduct we expect for you to follow during a Grand Prix weekend.
“You’re free to do whatever you want to do Monday through to Friday, so to speak, but obviously it’s at a Grand Prix weekend the drivers have the most cameras on them.”
Brown noticed that this is far from an F1 topic of discussion, and is something that is affecting most major sports.
“It’s becoming a hot topic in all these sports. In NFL it was taking a knee, that started there. You’ve got the armbands in Qatar. I think those things can start to deviate away from sport, and that’s where we need to find the right balance.”
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle