By Carol M. Creasey
Back in 2021, the rules regarding the safety car were not followed at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, allowing Max Verstappen to basically be handed a world championship.
At the time Mercedes lodged a protest with the stewards, and a meeting was called. They had the opportunity to overturn the result, but instead they closed ranks and refused to act in any way, other than to review what had happened.
Immediately following that controversial race, Jean Todt’s tenure at the helm of the FIA ended and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the newly appointed president of the FIA, was tasked with carrying out an investigation into the matter. The result of this inquiry was a report in which it was declared that it was simply “human error”, no fault was attributed to anyone, although Michael Masi, the race director, was relieved of his position. It was later revealed that he was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which is preventing him from talking about the incident.
In most other sports, when wrongdoing has been confirmed, the results are altered to favour the true winner, but again the FIA did nothing, which caused many fans to speculate that it appeared that the FIA had wanted a different winner after seven years of Mercedes dominance, and that maybe they didn’t want anyone to beat the record set by Michael Schumacher.
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After the incident Lewis acted with class and dignity, and although he returned with all guns blazing in 2022, it wasn’t long before Mercedes realised they did not have a car capable of winning a championship, even in the hands of the GOAT. This is where Lewis stepped up, working consistently with the team to get it right for 2023. Meanwhile Ben Sulayem and the FIA decided to enforce a rule which dates back to 2005, but has never been enforced previously, preventing drivers from wearing jewellery, on safety grounds.
Sebastian Vettel declared that the FIA were deliberately targeting Lewis Hamilton, who is known for wearing piercings, but his words were ignored, and then the FIA warned the Briton if he didn’t comply, he would be banned from competing. Lewis eventually did comply, even to the point of having his nose stud professionally removed, but unfortunately after continuing to put it in and out, he picked up an infection. His doctor said wearing the stud would help it heal up quicker, but even though he had a doctor’s letter to prove that, the FIA fined his team €25,000. Many people commented how petty this move was, especially as the drivers who were married were still allowed to wear their wedding rings.
So now we have reached 2023, and the FIA decided to put in place a new rule which prevents drivers from making ‘political and personal statements’ during race weekends. It is well known that Lewis has used his platform to highlight numerous issues in order to help others, and has been the most vocal driver on the grid to do so. Naturally, this again led fans and observers to question whether this new rule was aimed directly at ‘gagging’ Lewis Hamilton.
So far the Briton gave no comments about it, but as a knight of the realm, he has friends in high places. In a letter sent to Ben Sulayem, member of the House of Lords, Lord Paul Scriven, wrote that it was clear to him that “this policy targets Sir Lewis Hamilton, your most outspoken driver, whose comments on countries with abysmal rights records, particularly Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, would have undoubtedly not been well received by these corrupt and abusive regimes”.
It is encouraging to see Sir Lewis getting support from high places in Great Britain, but will any of this resonate with Ben Sulayem and the FIA, or do they think everything they say and do can never be questioned?
Unfortunately ever since Abu Dhabi 2021 the reputation of the FIA has been questioned, and they do not appear to care about this, which makes many people think they are an outdated organization and not fit for purpose anymore. As for Ben Sulayem, his reputation has been damaged by his own remarks and behaviour, and many are questioning why he is still holding such a post.
Ultimately, whether Lewis is being targeted on purpose or not, none of this will thwart him, as he has suffered bias all his life. In fact, it will only make him stronger.
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