Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing

Brown: Let’s go racing and not turn F1 into politics

Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing

McLaren boss Zak Brown has called for Formula 1 to stick to being a sport rather than a platform to promote political and social causes, which has been happening in recent years.

Brown’s statement comes in the wake of the FIA clamping down on F1 drivers making statements about the causes they want to highlight and causes they support.

In 2020, seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton began a trend of highlighting racial discrimination by taking a knee during the national anthems played before each Grand Prix, wearing T-shirts with slogans such as “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

Some F1 drivers showed solidarity with Sir Lewis by kneeling while others did not, even his old rival Sebastian Vettel dug into his conscience to highlight LGBTQ+ issues and environmental matters.

Reacting to the FIA mandate to reduce lobbying and politicking on Grand Prix weekends, Brown said to ESPN: “It’s tricky, right? Because some of the topics are really good, some are controversial, some are polarising.

“I think in general we want to be a sport that is doing good. We just need to find a balance there and not have every start of a race being a new political agenda for someone. I don’t think that’s healthy as it can detract from what everyone has tuned in to, which is they want to watch a grand prix.”

Brown: Everyone is allowed freedom of speech

lewis hamilton breonna taylor

However, the FIA has left a lifeline for drivers desperate to highlight a contentious (aka political) topic which Brown acknowledged: “I’m glad the door is open for drivers and teams to talk to the FIA if there’s an issue they want to discuss. It wasn’t a ‘You can’t do it.’ It was ‘You can’t do it without our permission.’ So at least the door is open.

“Everyone is allowed freedom of speech, but it did get out of control at times with so much messaging going on,” recalled Brown. “Does it detract from the focus of the sport?

“These drivers can do this stuff in their own time, so I think it is within Formula One and the FIA’s right to say here’s the code of conduct we expect for you to follow during a grand prix weekend.

“You’re free to do whatever you want to do Monday through to Friday, so to speak, but obviously it’s at a grand prix weekend the drivers have the most cameras on them.”

During December’s Qatar World Cup, FIFA prohibited players from wearing ‘OneLove’ armbands during the tournament; the event was held in the gas-rich country, against the wishes of many football organizations, former payers and pundits, citing human rights abuses and deaths of workers in stadiums built for the extravaganza.

Politics and sport… Where to draw the line?

no war f1 drivers russia not saudi

F1 has also raced in Qatar, and the sport at the highest level visits several countries with dubious human rights records each year and has done so for decades.

Brown continued: “Politics is tricky by nature. That’s what they’re probably, at a macro level, trying to avoid is let’s not have F1 become a political hotbed for various topics. But it is damned if you do, damned if you don’t, on some of these topics.

“I think that’s what we’re trying to avoid, let’s not turn Formula 1 into a political sport. Let’s just go racing and be respectful of where we’re racing.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all in this world for political parties or political agendas, so I think there’s a good way that every team, driver, can carry their values in a way that’s noncontroversial.

“It’s becoming a hot topic in all these sports. In NFL it was taking a knee, that started there. You’ve got the armbands in Qatar. I think those things can start to deviate away from the sport, and that’s where we need to find the right balance,” ventured the McLaren CEO.

Since 2020, F1 drivers have united by highlighting matters such as calling to “End Racism”, highlighting the war in Syria and also making their feelings known after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.