Writings

It really is that simple

As a teen in the 1980s, I heard words like “fag, queer, twink,” and worse from my peers. At home, my grandmother quietly instilled the virtues and values of respect, fairness, and equality. She was well-known for living the idea of not judging people until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Those life lessons have been on my mind this week as the president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for Formula 1, has made some incredibly disparaging remarks toward Formula 1 drivers, and awareness to issues such as mental health, human rights, and the LGBT community.

Formula 1 is the only sport I follow. While it is not perfect, the sport has made great strides in the past few years to address a number of issues, including inequality, around the world. Not only are its stars involved, the greater community is as well.

On Tuesday, an interview with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was released by Grand Prix 247. The Reddit F1 community was rightfully pissed at one response from Sulayem.

This is a good way to alienate fans. Fortunately, fans are gathering together against Sulayem and his comments.

Speaking about human rights, equality, and mental health are all good things. The rainbow flag is a way to show love and compassion for a group of people who are still oppressed globally, including in Sulayem’s country where they can be murdered simply for existing.

Sebastian Vettel is a four-time world champion. Lewis Hamilton is a seven-time world champion. Lando Norris has been in F1 for three years. F1 drivers are sharing their views to show their support toward others. They aren’t trying to take anyone’s rights away from others.

Sulayem should also learn Formula 1 history. Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, and many other drivers in the sport, cared about more than just driving.

Niki Lauda and safety go hand-in-hand. Lauda even drove his car into the pits once, retiring from the title-deciding race and literally giving away the championship, because he thought the race was too dangerous and he had already lost too many friends to the sport.

Alain Prost, has been outspoken in and out of the cockpit about safety. In 2015, he told MotorSport, “Formula 1 can never feel it has to done enough to improve safety” as the sport was coming to terms with Jules Bianchi’s death.

James Hunt spoke out against Apartheid, as did others of the time.

Ayrton Senna was outspoken about safety. He was a devout Christian, who spoke about his faith often. He wore a cross and often said he could see to “see god” when he was driving. He angered other drivers because he believed god protected him, which made him take risks, endangering other drivers who did not believe as he did. Senna also spoke out against Apartheid, but raced in South Africa due to obligations to his team, much like the drivers do today as they race in the Middle East.

The French teams boycotted the 1985 South African Grand Prix. Alan Jones “got the flu” before the race. Sponsors, including Marlboro, pulled their advertising and branding. The Brazilian government told their countrymen not to race, but the drivers felt an obligation due to contracts to their teams.

At the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, nearby oil refineries were bombed. The smoke could be seen from the track. The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association voted not to drive, but were forced to as rumors abounded they and their crews might have trouble leaving the country.

Soon after this race, Sulayem’s FIA began a campaign against drivers about the jewelry and underwear, yes underwear, drivers wore. Technically, both are listed in the F1 rules and regulations as safety issues. In protest, Lewis refused to take off his jewelry. Seb wore his underwear on the outside of his racing overalls. While Seb was the most vocal, other drivers agreed it seemed like the FIA was targeting Lewis. The issue still has not been resolved. The fact that Sulayem chose Pride Month to start talking against basic human rights is telling.

The F1 subreddit has changed its logo for the weekend to Seb riding a rainbow bike. Seb showed up in Baku this morning riding his bike.

If Lewis swapped his regular scooter a rainbow scooter, they could ride around the paddock together. Lando Norris is not the only driver who speaks up about mental health. Norris speaks openly about his struggles with depression. He and his team, McLaren, are partnered with Mind, an organization which provides advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

No one has an issue with any of this, except, it seems, Sulayem. Talking about human rights, equality, and mental health is not imposing your beliefs on anyone else. Drivers speak in opposition to the things pertinent to their times. It’s not imposing their beliefs. It’s using their platforms to raise awareness to issues they think are important.

So, why do I bring all of this up? Unless you live under a rock, you know June is Pride month around the world. Attitude, a British magazine, has released its July/August issue with a front cover profile of Sebatian Vettel. The article is fantastic and I encourage you to read it. You can also watch the interview with Seb below.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team released this video clip about the next three races on Wednesday.

Lewis Hamilton replied on his Instagram account, showing his support.

Mercedes have also said Lewis and his teammate, George Russell, will “wear the Pride Star on their helmets for these races, across the month of June, adding their voices to the global celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.”

When asked if he had any pushback within F1, Vettel responded with the following:

Some Formula One people are quite conservative, but that’s surely the case in all big businesses? Formula One is a sport, yes, but it’s also a business. When I’ve spoken out in favour of LGBTQ equality and inclusivity, I may have raised a few eyebrows, but I haven’t had what you could call pushback. Maybe behind my back, but if I’m honest, I couldn’t care less.

Vettel has often said it’s not his job as an athlete to change the law or set policies, but he can, and does, raise awareness toward injustice and offers his support to those who need it, hoping those who do set policies will effect the change. His and Hamilton’s support of of the LGBTQ+ community is clear and unwavering.

We can learn from Vettel. Equality for all is not a belief, it’s just what’s right. And it really is that simple.

I would encourage everyone to watch this weekend’s race in Baku, Azerbaijan. For those of you in the USA, you can watch it ESPN. The schedule for the race, in Mountain Time, is as follows:

Practice 1 – Friday, June 10 – 4:55 AM – ESPN2
Practice 2 – Friday, June 10 – 7:55 AM – ESPN2
F1 Show – Friday, June 10 – 9:15 AM – ESPN3

Practice 3 – Saturday, June 11 – 6:55 AM – ESPNU
Qualifying – Saturday, June 11 – 7:55 AM – ESPN2

Grand Prix Sunday – Sunday, June 12 – 3:30 AM – ESPN
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Race – Sunday, June 12 – 4:55 AM – ESPN
Checkered Flag – Sunday, June 12 – 7 AM – ESPN3
Race (re-air) – Sunday, June 12 – 5 PM – ESPNEWS

UPDATE:

After spending five hours working on this, I thought I was finished and posted the story. Yeah, I should have known. F1 teams and drivers were not going to let this go.

Alpine F1 Team are promoting Pride month in a variety of ways, including featuring LGBTQ+ rainbow branding on both cars throughout the month of June and are partnering with Racing Pride to “promote LGBTQ+ inclusion through motorsport, to understand the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community within the sport, to combat prejudice and make Alpine a safe and welcoming workplace.”

Also, Mohammed Ben Sulayem is doing so much backpedaling this morning, he might need to borrow Seb’s bike.

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2 Comments

  1. AJ

    Mohammed Ben Sulayem will have to wait his turn, as I signed up to ride the rainbow bike next. 😇

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