‘No excuse’ for F1 hosts over human rights progress

Jon Wilde
Stefano Domenicali and Ross Brawn join dignitaries in standing for the Qatar national anthem. Lusail November 2021.

Stefano Domenicali and Ross Brawn join dignitaries in standing for the national anthem at the Qatar Grand Prix. Lusail November 2021.

Stefano Domenicali believes countries have “no excuse” not to improve their human rights records when they become a part of Formula 1.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which have come under the microscope over human rights, are each hosting a grand prix for the first time in 2021 and have been given long-term contracts to remain on the calendar.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are the most outspoken drivers regarding such matters, with the German having replied “no” when asked if he was looking forward to the next race in Saudi Arabia – an answer which was clearly not from a sporting perspective, even though he was reluctant to elaborate on this occasion.

It has been claimed F1 is contributing to the concept of ‘sportswashing’ in which hosting high-profile events is utilised to try and enhance a country’s global image and deflect criticism from outside.

Domenicali, the F1 CEO, recently said “shutting off” countries could actually slow the pace of cultural change, and he thinks putting them in the “spotlight” means the expected progress is impossible to avoid.

Lewis Hamilton leads comfortably in Qatar. November 2021.

“There’s no reason to hide and as soon as these countries choose to be under the spotlight Formula 1 is bringing, there is no excuse. They have taken the route of a change,” Domenicali told Sky F1.

“As always in life, you cannot pretend that millennial cultural habits can be changed from day to night. It would be illogical and not rational.

“But I think through Formula 1, through sport, they will have the intensity to make sure the progress will be done in a faster time, in a faster way, than normally it would take to do these changes. That’s why we are here with no fear and to make sure things are done in a proper way.

“They are taking an impressive and factual commitment with us and I would say in a couple of years in the future, someone will recognise the important role Formula 1 has given to this important change of our society.”


Domenicali added that drivers are free to express themselves and that Formula 1’s ‘We Race As One’ initiative is an appropriate “platform” to represent the push for equality in all areas of life.

“We have a platform where the drivers can say what they believe is right,” said the 56-year-old Italian.

“There is nothing new we are adding because that’s a very current message – through our platform ‘We Race As One’ we talk about diversity, sustainability, inclusivity and that’s why I would say that is really current with this approach, but always with respect to everyone.”