Formula 1 stars Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Lando Norris have hit back after the FIA president said there was “no way” he could impose his beliefs on others.
Mohammed bin Sulayem, who replaced longtime chairman Jean Todt before this season, named the trio in reference to their public statements.
Seven-time champion Hamilton has been a regular supporter of human rights and diversity during his career, with him and Mercedes team-mate George Russel choosing to put rainbow logos on their cars this month to support the LGBTQ community.
Four-time Aston Martin champion Vettel recently appeared on British political show Question Time as he aired his concerns over climate change, and has since graced the cover of Attitude, Britain’s biggest-selling gay magazine. Europe.
Elsewhere, British McLaren star Norris has been a regular proponent of better mental health, speaking about his own struggles, with his team now sponsored by charity Mind.
Bin Sulayem was asked about drivers using their influence and said that while everyone has a “right to think”, there is no question of him imposing his beliefs on others.
Referring to former world champions, he said: “Niki Lauda and Alain Prost were only interested in driving. Now Vettel rides a rainbow bike, Lewis is passionate about human rights and Norris deals with mental health. Everyone has the right to think.
“For me, it’s about deciding whether we should impose our beliefs in something above sport all the time. I’m from Arab culture, I’m international and Muslim. I don’t impose my beliefs on others, No way.
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Vettel was asked about the comments before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and said: “Everything that Lewis talks about, Lando talks about, I try to talk about, are very important topics and I think they are much more important than any sport can ever be.
Hamilton agreed and even suggested drivers had more freedom last year before Ben Sulayem arrived.
“Nothing changes for me,” he said. “I continue to do what I do with or without support.
“I think Formula 1 created space for us to do what we wanted to do last year and we don’t necessarily have that space this year but that’s not stopping us.”
He later added, “I encourage all riders to be more outspoken and use their rig.”
Norris, who is more than a decade younger than his two rivals, also said he hopes the drivers will still have the support they need to express their views.
He said: “As drivers we’re obviously here to drive, that’s our main job, but we have a platform that we can influence and we can change the world in a tiny way.
“It’s an amazing thing to think about that, we can have that influence and we can bring about that change on people and hopefully still good change, and the more support we can have on those things the more we can progress, the better.”
Dubai-born Ben Sulayem later took to Twitter to clarify his comments in response to the backlash.
He writes: “As a pilot, I have always believed in sport as a catalyst for progress in society.
“That’s why promoting sustainability, diversity and inclusion is a key priority of my tenure. In the same way, I appreciate the commitment of all drivers and champions for a better future.
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