Motorsport’s governing body the FIA says it has “launched an immediate investigation into the unacceptable conduct” of Artem Severiukhin, a Russian karting driver competing under an Italian licence.
Severiukhin, a native of Verkhnyaya Pyshma in the Sverdlovsk Oblast in Russia, claimed victory in the opening round of the 2022 FIA-sanctioned European Karting Championship in Portimao, Portugal.
The racer was then broadcast thumping his chest twice and throwing his right arm forward on the podium in a gesture that carried an obvious resemblance to the so-called Roman salute – a gesture adopted by the Nazi movement.
Severiukhin’s gesture, which he followed with laughter, has now caught the eye of a variety of international media outlets – and the tone of the FIA statement suggests it is quite likely to carry serious repercussions.
“The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile confirms that it has launched an immediate investigation into the unacceptable conduct of Mr Artem Severiukhin that occurred during the podium ceremony [of the Portimao race],” an FIA statement read.
“The FIA will communicate shortly on the further steps that will be taken in this case.”
The Ward Racing team that helped Severiukhin to the Portimao win said it will “proceed with terminating” the contract of the Russian racer.
The team, in a lengthy statement, said it is “deeply in shame of the pilot’s behaviour, which it condemns in the strongest possible terms”.
“Ward Racing would like to apologise to those who were hurt or distressed by the occurrence. It has long been and will remain a priority for Ward Racing to work for a more diverse, inclusive, and respectful racing climate.”
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The Russian Automobile Federation is also said to be looking into the incident, as per state broadcaster Match TV.
Severiukhin raced under a Russian licence in the past but competed in the Portimao European Championship round under an Italian flag – rather than as a neutral athlete.
On Tuesday, Italian motorsport’s governing body ACI Sport said it had immediately withdrawn Severiukhin’s sporting licence and condemned his actions.
Russian and Belarussian licence holders are banned from racing under the flags of the aforementioned two countries due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine in FIA-sanctioned events, but have the option of competing as ‘neutral’, provided they agree to a list of demands and stipulations made by the governing body.
In her channel on the social media messaging service Telegram, RAF press officer Maria Melnikova relayed a statement attributed to Severiukhin.
It read: “I would like to address everyone. About yesterday’s situation on the podium. I won a round of the European championship and was very glad and happy. I am from Russia. I was thanking the team and my family from Russia. If anyone saw a bad gesture in my actions, that is not the case. I was just being thankful. I am Russian, I am from Russia and for my country.”
A video later emerged – also posted by Melnikova – that featured an apology from Severiukhin.
“My name is Artem Severiukhin. I would like to apologise to everybody for what happened yesterday at the European karting championship,” he said.
“While stood on the podium, I made a gesture that many perceive as a Nazi salute. That was not the case. I have never supported Nazism and see it as one of the most abhorrent crimes against humanity.
“I was racing under the Italian license, won the race under the Italian flag, and guys below the podium were showing to me that in Italy in such cases it’s customary to beat your chest, around where the heart is, expressing gratitude. I just wanted to do that gesture.
“How all the rest happened, I cannot explain. I know I’m guilty, know I’m stupid, and am ready to suffer the consequences.
“I ask to be understood in that there was no support for Nazism or fascism, no desire to insult the spectators, the drivers, the fans, the team, and the viewers of the broadcast. Please forgive me.”