With former F1 driver Vitaly Petrov announced as this weekend’s Formula One race steward, many people are speaking out. Both Lewis Hamilton and LGBTQ+ group Racing Pride have protested the decision, citing Petrov’s recent criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQ+ community, and F1's We Race As One campaign which is designed to bring together disparate communities.
Petrov let loose in a recent interview with Russian sport website Championat. Regarding the kneeling ceremony before races that is intended to show solidarity with the Black community, Petrov said the following:
Honestly, I don’t understand the kneeling ceremony. According to our traditions, people kneel only on two occasions – in a temple, before God, and when you propose to your future wife.
With this gesture, they are trying to draw attention to the fight against racism. Russia has a different mentality, and we don’t have such a problem that Hamilton talks about.
There should be respect for every person, but I think that then it is necessary to think over everything more globally, to create some kind of organization for funding.
He added that he did not believe Hamilton’s Breonna Taylor t-shirt made sense, as “half the audience did not understand at all what this shirt was about until it was explained.”
Then he wondered what F1 would demand of its drivers should a driver come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community:
And what if one of the drivers confesses to being gay and will go out with a rainbow flag and urge everyone to become gay? There can be a lot of examples.
It is a bit of a misunderstanding regarding F1's current goals, which are more about showing solidarity than forcing everyone to become something they’re not. Many drivers, for example, do not kneel ahead of F1 races. Despite using a rainbow as its logo, the We Race As One campaign is less about LGBTQ+ rights than it is “aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities: the fight against COVID-19 and the condemnation of racism and inequality.”
Lewis Hamilton, who has been increasingly vocal about issues of social equality, was the first driver to speak out about his confusion over Petrov being selected as steward:
I would say it’s a surprise to see they would be hiring someone that has those beliefs, and is so vocal about things that we’re trying to fight against. So you should take it up with them really, there’s nothing I can particularly do about it.
But we should definitely be including people here who are with the times, who are understanding of the times that we are living in, and sensitive to the matters that are surrounding us.
I don’t really understand what their goal is or why particularly he’s here. It’s not like they don’t have any other good options.
Racing Pride is a charity for LGBTQ+ racers that is designed to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity in motorsport through highlighting achievements, aiding participation, and providing opportunities for members of the community. In addition, it serves as a rallying point for LGBTQ+ racers who previously felt excluded or uncomfortable in the motorsport world to come together and be themselves.
The organization has released an official statement condemning Petrov’s appointment as race steward. It reads, in part, as follows:
Racing Pride wishes to express its concern at the appointment of Vitaly Petrov as an FIA Driver Steward for this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix in light of his recent, widely reported public comments relating to the #WeRaceAsOne initiative, which were both racist and homophobic in nature.
Not only do these comments display ignorance relating to inclusion in sport, but we also believe that such comments from an FIA official are incompatible with Article 1.2 of the FIA’s Code of Ethics, which states that ‘participants to the FIA activities’ shall not be discriminated against on the basis of factors including ‘race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin’.
It is essential that those who are appointed to positions of authority within the sport, especially, are sensitive to, and educated in, pertinent issues and correct terminology relating to diverse communities.
Journalist Chris Stevens made a great point, noting, “Imagine as an LGBTQ+ individual you were to be judged by someone you knew held views against your sexuality.”
While F1 has been accused of performative activism—highlighting social justice while also racing in countries noted for human rights violations, for example—it’s still not a particularly good look to be signing someone on who is questioning the very foundation of your recent initiatives and changes.