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Formula 1

Citing Hamilton's 'role model' status is a troubling FIA move

by Edd Straw
2 min read

For the FIA to want to look into taking stronger action against those crossing tracks without permission is not, in itself, unreasonable. There are legitimate safety concerns and it only requires one misjudgement for this to have disastrous consequences.

However, the way its decision to "revisit" Lewis Hamilton's Qatar Grand Prix punishment has been framed is extraordinary.

Not just because Hamilton was already reprimanded and fined for what happened in Qatar, but because the FIA refers to his “role model status”.

It’s a vague phrase, but one that appears to suggest that rules and punishments might have to be adjusted based on which drivers are or are not considered role models. You could argue it’s all of them in F1 - and it's understood that's what the FIA intended to infer - but given Hamilton’s superstar status the way the message was phrased gave the impression he is being specifically singled out.

That would set a dangerous precedent if so. Is there a list of four or five drivers who are officially considered role models and therefore should be hit harder with punishments? Does that mean if you are Hamilton or Max Verstappen or Fernando Alonso you are held to different standards for on-track conduct? That would raise even more questions about the whole stewarding and penalty process, not to mention the FIA's mindset.

F1 drivers, as a collective, are role models and it would be naive to imagine that the highest-profile drivers aren’t the most powerful in that regard.

But to announce you are “revisiting” an incident expressly because of a driver’s role model status would represent some deeply questionable thinking from the FIA.

The whole handling of this is a strange way for the FIA to frame what is, in itself, a reasonable safety area to look into tightening up.

It might well be that this is simply about reviewing what penalties should be applied in future, which is perfectly reasonable. However, by tying it directly to Hamilton and the statement implying his punishment could be revisited the FIA has far from made that clear.

Punishments perhaps should be harsher across the board for this kind of thing to ensure drivers not just in F1 but at all levels take it seriously.

But this approach draws the focus to Hamilton rather than the wider problem, which is a mistake. And that could have been avoided had the statement been more precise and made clear the FIA considers all F1 drivers role models and that this is about future punishments.

To state explicitly that “role model status” is a factor to justify revisiting an incident relating to conduct on track, even when out of the car, is extremely concerning. And if that wasn't the intention, then more care needed to be taken in how this 'revisit' was announced.

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