Just when you thought things couldn't get much worse than a deadly virus that killed every engine, another epidemic struck Formula 1 - toxically divisive politics.
Because I'm not 8, I'm old enough to remember when the FIA would insist that sport and politics should always be kept separate - even (and perhaps especially) when Bahrain was ablaze in 2011, for instance. Back then, the sport's governing body supported the cancellation of the troubled Kingdom's race, but only on the grounds of safety, amid burning tyres, tanks on the streets and clouds of tear gas. The complex politics of the situation, so they rightly said, didn't much enter into it - much to the chagrin of those keen to denounce the island Kingdom's alleged brutality.
Sometimes, however, it's much harder to separate the politics of a moment from the cultural zeitgeist - especially one as rampant as the one we're all living through today. Take the Chase Carey-led sport's controversial banning of grid girls, for instance. On the one hand, it appeared to be a simple act of 21st century progress and decency, but on the other, there are critics who would point out that no one really asked the 'girls' in question whether they supported this involuntary neo-suffragette moment. And when they did get asked, the proudly scantily-clad girls made it abundantly clear that all this politically-correct gesture did was rob money from their bank accounts.
The safest conclusion here is that politics, as much as is possible, should be kept away from dinners with extended family and Formula 1. In the latter sphere, it's tempting to want to keep it to tyre compounds, driver contracts, budget caps and Lewis Hamilton's gold chains, even though 'green' technologies have become unavoidable. But it's always true that so many people watch and follow sport (and watch movies and listen to music) to escape from the often depressing nature of 'real life'. They want to get away from politics, not swim in it a little more.
Lewis Hamilton's opinion
But in the year of our Lord 2020, sports people now not only *can* talk about politics, they apparently *must* talk about politics.
How do I know? Lewis Hamilton said so.
"I know who you are and I see you," the reigning six-time world champion said in a social media post accusing his "white" rivals of "staying silent" amid the George Floyd protests and unrest.
I don't need to explain who George Floyd is. We all saw the video, and some of us made it to the end. I, for one, did not, because at a certain point I had seen enough. The man was treated like crap and the perpetrator(s) should be brought to justice. Obviously.
But when I watched that video in the hours immediately after it was filmed by one of the world's 5.24 billion smartphone users, I promise you that I never imagined in my wildest dreams that the outcome would be widespread protests, riots, looting, the deaths of at least 20 more human beings, and calls (that so far are being heeded) for widespread societal and structural change.
So as the police cars burned and other human victims of this troubled moment in western history lay motionless on the streets of major US cities, Hamilton exercised his right to an opinion. I'm not going tell you whether I agree with it or I don't agree with it, because that's actually irrelevant here. To repeat: the Mercedes driver has every right to an opinion. I will always defend his right to speak freely - no exceptions.
However, fuelled by the power and cultural influence of social media, his appeal to those exercising 'silent white guilt' was extremely effective, and had the result of turning his political opinion not just into a headline, but into some sort of objective moral truth. One by one, Hamilton's fellow drivers - exercising their fallow neck muscles, eating corn chips on the couch or racing on a home simulator when the social media 'ping' went off - followed suit. To the man, all of those who heeded the call to end their silence - even non-white ex drivers like Karun Chandhok - indicated that they of course back Hamilton's moral stance.
Liberty Media's opinion
Even Mercedes itself, not to mention Liberty Media's sporting director Ross Brawn, stood with Lewis. Even when the British driver was opining that statues depicting men who hundreds of years ago committed what Hamilton described as "racist" acts should be torn down and thrown into the river, Brawn stood with Lewis "completely" - because his views are "very valid".
So that's all hunky dory then. But here's the problem: What if someone doesn't agree with Lewis?
One man who may not agree is Chase Carey, Formula 1's American CEO. He has kept his personal views quiet as the political situation exploded into a mushroom cloud this year, and - just as I support Hamilton's right to speak - I support Chase's right to stay mum.
Mrs. Carey's opinion
But someone not staying quiet is Chase's wife.
Along with Boris Johnson's handling of the coronavirus crisis, another of Hamilton's political gripes is with Donald Trump. Recently, he put the caption "Yes" along with a black fist together with an image of the Time magazine cover telling the US president it is "Time ... to go".
Mrs Carey, though, is a Trump cheerleader. In 2017, @BeachWendy wished The Don a happy birthday, along with the words 'MAGA' and 'Keep us safe'. Later, she tweeted that the entire White House press corps should be disbanded, and in 2018 chided the NFL for not making players like Colin Kaepernick stand for the national anthem.
Wendy's Tweets in early 2020 encouraged Trump to "stay strong" after the impeachment ordeal and the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, highlighting his "lightening speed". And as recently as a week ago, she crowned him the "best President ever", arguing that the situation in the US with protests and riots was "NONE of his fault".
As I said, I'm a fierce advocate at this point of keeping sport and divisive politics separate - as the old standard always used to be. I'm not saying Hamilton or Mrs Carey shouldn't tweet, I'm just saying that while Hamilton is perfectly entitled to his view, Mrs Carey is perfectly entitled to hers - who cares? We're all here to see fast cars whiz around a track, not drag our horribly polarised political mess into a sport that should unite, not divide us. So when Hamilton tweeted his political fury and essentially shamed his peers, employer and sport into following suit, the correct response by everyone should have been the old standard: "My political views are private." Instead, it's pretty clear where Formula 1's moral heart beats with regards to the events of the past few weeks. It would be a brave and lonely man to break with the mob at this point.
Unfortunately for Chase, whose political views I have absolutely no idea about (and couldn't care less about, either), it seems that the events of the past few days may have put him in a fairly tricky spot. If F1 ambassador Brawn is fully supportive of F1 ambassador Hamilton's political views, where does that leave the moustachioed CEO?
Hopefully, it just doesn't matter and we can get on with things now. Roll on Austria.
The opinions expressed are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of F1-Fansite.com, staff or partners.
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