Lewis Hamilton calls F1’s recent controversies a ‘pivotal moment’ for sport

Formula One is embroiled in off-track controversy, so much so that it’s taking the spotlight off the on-track action with a new season underway. On Wednesday, multiple F1 drivers faced questions about the effect this has had on the sport, and Lewis Hamilton spoke clearly about the impact.


“It’s a really, really important time for the sport to show and stick to its values, hold ourselves accountable for our actions, and it’s a really, really pivotal moment for the sport in terms of what we project to the world and how it’s handled.”


The controversies date back to during the season launches. In early February, Red Bull GmbH launched an investigation into the allegations of inappropriate behavior made against team principal Christian Horner. The team principal continues to deny the allegations, and last week, Red Bull GmbH announced that “the grievance has been dismissed” and that “The complainant has a right of appeal. Red Bull is confident that the investigation has been fair, rigorous and impartial.”


But there have been calls for transparency around the paddock, including from Mercedes’ Toto Wolff and McLaren’s Zak Brown. But Horner’s off-track situation was not over. A day after the investigation was closed, an anonymous sender sent unverified text messages to media members and high-ranking F1 figures. The aftermath continued to escalate hours after the Bahrain Grand Prix concluded as Max Verstappen’s father, Jos, said in an interview with the Daily Mail how “the team is in danger of being torn apart” and “he is playing the victim when he is the one causing the problems.”


When asked about Jos’s comments, a Red Bull spokesperson said, “There are no issues here, the team are united and we are focused on racing.”


Meanwhile, another controversy brews. According to BBC Sport, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem is reportedly under investigation by the governing body’s ethics committee for two alleged incidents. One incident is his alleged interference with the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix race result, specifically around overturning a penalty for Fernando Alonso that initially kept him off the podium.



Alonso’s overturned penalty at the 2023 Saudi Arabian GP cost George Russell a podium. (Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images/Sipa USA)

A mechanic touched the car with the rear jack while the Aston Martin driver served a five-second penalty. The stewards felt that “touching the car would amount to ‘working’ on the car,” a decision that dropped Alonso from third place to fourth, behind Mercedes driver George Russell. Aston Martin appealed the decision, and it was overturned, returning Alonso to third.


When The Athletic asked Russell about the news Wednesday, the driver said he hoped for “all of the facts” and “total transparency, really.”


“We’re all racing here. We want a fair and level playing field for us to showcase what we can do,” Russell said. “I can’t really comment further. We were surprised a year ago when the result got overturned, as the legal team at Mercedes thought they did a great job of presenting our case, and initially winning the case, and then losing it thereafter. So, you know, we just want to see transparency and have the opportunity to race on a fair playing field.”


The other allegation facing the FIA president focuses on the Las Vegas Grand Prix. BBC Sport reported this week that Ben Sulayem allegedly told officials not to certify the track. Each circuit needs a grade 1 license; without certification, the race cannot go on. BBC Sport “learned that other officials present at the time have a different recollection of the events from the whistleblower.”


The FIA released a statement on the heels of the reports: “The FIA confirms that the Compliance Officer has received a report detailing potential allegations involving certain members of its governing bodies. The Compliance Department is assessing these concerns, as is common practice in these matters, to ensure that due process is meticulously followed.”


F1 may be gearing up for its second race weekend of the year, but the attention isn’t on whether Verstappen will dominate once again or if another team has a fighting chance. It’s on more significant matters, ones that bleed into everyday life.


“As someone who loves the sport, it’s definitely disappointing to see what’s going on right now, and it definitely doesn’t look good to the outside world, from the outside looking in, and it doesn’t look good looking in,” Hamilton said. “But I hope it’s not a year that it continues to go on with this. It highlights some of the issues we also have in the sport, when we are talking about diversity and inclusion that includes gender, for example, and making people feel comfortable in this environment is key, and that’s clearly not the case.”

Gideon Canice

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