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Formula 1

FIA responds to criticism over Petrov’s appointment

by Glenn Freeman
3 min read

The FIA says it does not “discriminate” in its process of choosing stewards for views they make outside their official roles, in response to criticism over Vitaly Petrov’s Portuguese Grand Prix appointment.

Ex-Formula 1 driver Petrov is making his grand prix stewarding debut at Algarve, a few weeks after sparking controversy for comments made about Lewis Hamilton’s human rights activism and decision to wear a T-shirt at the Tuscan Grand Prix demanding action over the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Petrov criticised Hamilton’s anti-racism push and methods and compared it to a driver coming out as gay and forcing others to be gay as well.

This led to Racing Pride, a UK-based motorsport equal rights initiative, to condemn Petrov’s appointment as a Portuguese GP steward on Friday, while Hamilton has also expressed “surprise” and confusion over Petrov’s role.

However, the FIA has said in a statement: “The FIA appoints driver stewards with the relevant Formula 1 experience and expertise to carry out this function at the highest level, and who have expressed an interest to the FIA in being a driver steward.

“The Federation does not discriminate in this process based upon views expressed outside of their function as an FIA Steward, provided that any such expression does not contravene the FIA’s regulations and Code of Ethics.”

The FIA’s code of ethics must be adhered to by all officials and members and states there “shall be no discrimination between participants to the FIA activities on the basis of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability”.

It is therefore implied that the FIA does not believe Petrov’s comments constitute discrimination based on race or sexual orientation, which Racing Pride had stated.


Scott Mitchell

The FIA’s response to criticism of Petrov’s role as a steward is unlikely to go down well with those who felt his appointment showed a lack of good judgement.

F1 and the FIA has made its #WeRaceAsOne initiative a key part of the 2020 season, triggered initially by the rise in anti-racism protesting around the world earlier this year.

Petrov’s comments, made in Russia, were made directly in response to Hamilton’s actions at an F1 event, actions that were in line with what F1 and the FIA want to promote.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Portuguese Grand Prix Practice Day Portimao, Portugal

But those actions also drew the FIA’s attention and while Hamilton was not investigated, let alone punished, the FIA issued a clarification before the next race to prevent a repeat. This led some to feel the governing body was not handling a sensitive matter very well, especially given the wider context.

And having a steward who has openly shown ignorance towards the issue – to the point of heavily suggesting, if not declaring outright, that racism is not something that exists in Russia – further undermines the show of equality.

For what it’s worth, not discriminating against stewards for their personal views is an obvious and understandable position for the governing body to take. The FIA can’t know what each of its officials believe on a personal level – unless it’s a case like Petrov, who has spoken publicly and attracted a lot of attention.

What he said is evidently not considered a contravention of the FIA’s code of ethics – even though his comments were clearly offensive and divisive.

But while explicit or implicit discrimination may be the difference between Petrov breaching an FIA code or not, it doesn’t make a difference to whether what he said was wrong.

It’s therefore odd that the FIA felt it wise to appoint Petrov in an official role. Defending the decision will likely only lead to more scrutiny.

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