Formula 1

FIA to allow Russian, Belarusian drivers to race under neutral flag

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Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Russian and Belarusian drivers will not be banned from participating in events sanctioned by the FIA in response to their countries’ invasion of Ukraine, though they will not be sporting the national flags or colours either. After a meeting on Tuesday, the FIA announced drivers from Russia and Belarus will be ordered to race using “FIA flags” as their nationalities, and they will be forbidden from having their nations’ respective imagery on their equipment or on the podium during international races.

It has been over five days since Russia began a “special military operation” into Ukraine with support from Belarus, which sparked widespread condemnation. While Ukrainians have taken up arms to defend their country and many countries have imposed sanctions on the aggressor, various sporting bodies moved events from Russia or began looking into restricting Russian and Belarusian athletes. Ukraine’s racing sanctioning body, the Federation Automobile D’Ukraine (FAU), wrote a letter to FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem urging for the organisation to ban Russo-Belarusian symbols, remove races held in those countries, and go as far as to bar drivers with licences from there. The World Motor Sport Council convened on Tuesday to deliberate before coming out with its full verdict.

Under the FIA’s ruling, national teams representing Russia and Belarus are indefinitely disallowed to take part in international events like the FIA Motorsport Games. Pending approval of the World Council for Automobile Mobility and Tourism, Russian and Belarusian FIA members are also ordered to temporarily step down from their posts and will not receive grants from the FIA.

Regarding the fate of the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, the FIA said, “Upon proposal of the F1 Commercial Rights Holder, cancellation of the 2022 Russian F1 Grand Prix for reason of Force Majeure.”

“As you know, the FIA is watching the developments in Ukraine with sadness and shock and I hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to the present situation,” Sulayem stated. “We condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and our thoughts are with all those suffering as a result of the events in Ukraine. I would like to stress that the FIA, together with our promoters, proactively acted on this matter last week and communicated accordingly on the Formula 1, Formula 2, WTCR and the International Drifting Cup. An updated version of the different FIA International Calendars will be presented to the WMSC meeting in Bahrain for approval.

“I want to thank the Council members for their prompt action in deciding these measures in the interests of sport and peace. We stand in solidarity with Leonid Kostyuchenko, the President of the Federation Automobile d’Ukraine (FAU) and the wider FIA family in the country. The measures taken today recognise the authority of the FAU in Ukraine and are also aligned with the recommendations recently made by the International Olympic Committee. We are in active discussions with our members as we continue to extend our compassion and support in their time of need. We sincerely hope for a peaceful resolution to their intolerable hardship.”

On Monday, the IOC Executive Board recommended to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from its events. The invasion began shortly after the conclusion of the Winter Olympics but before the Winter Paralympics, making it what the Board called an “extremely grave violation of the Olympic Truce”; Russia had also broken the truce by invading Georgia in 2008 and beginning the Ukrainian crisis by annexing Crimea in 2014. Punishing athletes for their governments’ behaviour is an unsurprisingly controversial action, and although the Board advised it was necessary to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions”, it was open to simply requiring them to use neutral flags.

Russian Olympians were already competing under the Olympic flag since 2018 due to their country’s doping scandal. Likewise, Russian racing drivers like Formula One’s Nikita Mazepin and WEC’s Daniil Kvyat list the Russian Automobile Federation as their nationality after the scandal led to penalties from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“I really hope for a peaceful solution to this situation in Ukraine, and that we can all live in peace,” read a statement from Kvyat prior to the FIA’s verdict. Kvyat’s WEC team G-Drive Racing is also subject to using the neutral flag. “Hopefully all parties can find a solution by sitting together and through a respectful dialogue. It horrifies me to see two brotherhood nations in a conflict. I don’t want military actions and wars to influence the future of humanity, I want my daughter and all children to enjoy this beautiful world.

“I also would like to highlight and address all sports federations across the world including IOC that sport should remain outside politics and disallowing Russian athletes and teams from participating in world competitions is an unfair solution and goes against what sport teaches us in its principle- the unity and peace. Who else if not us sports people will help to glue nations together in the upcoming times.”

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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