Formula One’s governing FIA has said drivers will be allowed to make political statements only in “exceptional” circumstances after seeking to clarify its contentious new law.
The sporting federation recently updated its rules to prevent “political, religious or personal” remarks being made without prior approval.
However, the FIA has attracted a fierce backlash from a number of drivers – with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton this week insisting he will not be silenced, and Lando Norris accusing F1’s rulers of treating drivers like school children.
But in a move to clarify the law – which has threatened to cast a shadow over the new season – the FIA has responded with a three-page document sent to the grid’s 10 teams on Friday.
However, drivers will face sanctions if they oppose the law while on track – such as during the national anthem before a race or on the podium.
But, in an apparent move to appease growing unrest, the FIA said that in “exceptional” circumstances it “may authorise a participant to make a statement at an international competition that would otherwise be prohibited” with a request submitted four weeks in advance of an event.
It adds that the driver must “provide reason(s) why such permission should be granted”, and that each request will be judged on a “case-by-case basis”.
An FIA spokesperson said: “A guidance note has been issued to participants in international competitions that sets out the scope of the updates made to the FIA International Sporting Code in December.
“The updates cement the FIA’s longstanding commitment to protecting motor sport’s neutrality, and will particularly ensure neutrality during key moments across all motor sport competitions, such as podiums, national anthems and official activities ‘on the field of play’ – it does not impose any additional restrictions on individuals expressing their views outside of these times.
“The guidance note does not alter article 12.2.1.n of the FIA International Sporting Code.
“It was necessary to provide a separate guidance document to facilitate the implementation of the principles of neutrality across the many different motor sport disciplines.”
Hamilton and the recently-retired Sebastian Vettel have spoken out on issues such as racism, diversity and the environment in recent seasons.
Asked about the FIA’s updated ruling at Mercedes’ launch on Wednesday, Hamilton, 38, said: “It doesn’t surprise me.
“But nothing will stop me from speaking on the things that I am passionate about and the issues that there are.
“I feel the sport does have a responsibility to speak out on things and raise awareness on certain topics, particularly as we travel to all these places, so nothing changes for me.”