George Russell would like to think FIA freedom of speech ban is ‘some kind of misunderstanding’

Michelle Foster
George Russell explains while standing with a towel around his neck. Saudi Arabia March 2022

Mercedes driver George Russell explains while standing with a towel around his neck. Saudi Arabia March 2022

While GPDA director George Russell would like to think the FIA’s decision to ban the drivers from making political statements is “some kind of misunderstanding”, he admits he’s “not too sure”.

Motorsport’s governing body earned the ire of the Formula 1 drivers when they announced late last year that “the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments” that violate their “general principle of neutrality” will be banned as of 2023.

The drivers face a hefty fine or even a race ban if they buck the ban, but already Lewis Hamilton has said he’ll do just that. And he’s not the only one.

One by one the drivers have voiced their displeasure with the ban, Valtteri Bottas accusing the FIA of trying to “control” them while Lando Norris says if they don’t have opinions, they’ll become “robots”.

But with F1 chief Stefano Domenicali making it clear he won’t enforce the FIA’s rules, Formula 1 and the FIA are once again on a collision course.

Russell hopes that can be avoided through pre-season talks.

“I’m not too sure why the FIA have taken a stance like this,” the Mercedes driver told the media including PlanetF1.com at the launch of the W14.

“I think it’s totally unnecessary in the sport and in the world we live in at the moment.

“Naturally, we are obviously seeking clarification, and I trust it will be resolved.

“I’d like to think it’s been some kind of misunderstanding but that I’m not too sure.

“There’s not really a lot more I can say from that to be honest.

“Just seek clarification, see where we will stand, but we’re not going to limit our views or our thoughts because of some silly regulation.

“We’re all here to have free speech, and share whatever views we may have.”

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Those talks will come at a time when FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has stepped back from a hands on role in Formula 1.

The Emirati informed the teams of his decision earlier this year after months of growing tension between himself and Formula 1 bosses.

Russell says he hasn’t spoken with Ben Sulayem yet this season but has been in contact with F1 race director Niels Wittich.

“I haven’t spoken to Mohammed this month or since he announced his, let’s say, step back from F1,” said the driver.

“But I have been in contact with Niels on the more sporting and racing perspective and we’ve got a really strong dialogue of which all the views of the drivers are being shared and put forward.

“He’s put questions towards us, just to try and shape the future and help improve what is already a really great sport.

“But in terms of the dialogue direct with Mohammed, I guess we’ll have to have a conversation at some point on what is the right way to go about this.”

Freedom of speech isn’t the only conversation the drivers need to have with the FIA

Although a lot of the headlines doing the rounds in Formula 1 are about the freedom of speech ban, there are other issues the drivers also need clarity on.

One of those is penalty points.

Pierre Gasly is knocking on the door of a one race ban with the new Alpine signing sitting on 10 points. That’s just two away from a ban even though the bulk of the driver’s points are not for dangerous driving but rather things like track limits and not adhering to the 10-car length rule behind a Safety Car.

The drivers want the FIA to revise the list of what penalty points should be awarded for, most believing they should only be handed out for dangerous driving.

And as happens every season, they also want clarification regarding the rules of engagement as once again last year’s championship saw different penalties for similar situations.

The news that Wittich will be this year’s only race director at least means there should be some continuity.