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FIA revisit of Hamilton rule breach is a dangerous game

Hamilton had already been punished for walking across a live race track at the Qatar Grand Prix.

Hamilton crash Qatar
To news overview © XPBimages

The FIA's decision to revisit Lewis Hamilton's Qatar Grand Prix infringement of walking across the track has caused quite a stir.

Seven-time champion Hamilton was handed a €50,000 fine - of which €25,000 was suspended - and a first non-driving reprimand of the season for crossing the live race track following his first corner crash with Mercedes teammate George Russell at the Lusail International Circuit.

In a statement a week after the incident, the FIA confirmed it would look back at the issue due to Hamilton's "role model status". Here's why this sets a dangerous precedent.

Singled out

The wording of the statement released by F1's governing body was deemed "unnecessary" and "clumsy" by pundit and sportscar driver Alex Brundle and it is hard to disagree with that point.

Any suggestion that a driver could be singled out because of who they are is a troubling prospect for the sport moving forward.

For many, the incident was already dealt with by the race stewards in Qatar, with a swift post-race investigation determining Hamilton should be hit with the fine and reprimand.

Safety, of course, is of paramount importance to all involved in the sport but no more so to the FIA, which has done a tremendous job in creating an F1 world which is the safest it has ever been. Extensive research and investigations into previous issues have been key in making such improvements and certainly no one will take aim over this.

Whether the reopening of this case was in some way triggered by a distressing incident in a Karting World Championship race on the same day is unclear, but with Joe Turney now recovering from surgery following severe leg injuries when hit as he attempted to rejoin the race, perhaps the FIA is seeking to underline that being active on a live race track brings consequences.

Benefit of the doubt will suggest that any of the 20 drivers on the F1 grid could have been subjected to this re-investigation and the subsequent 'role model' statement, but there will be plenty who believe that Hamilton has been circled due to his stature.

Whilst that sets a dangerous precedent in itself, the question can now be asked: 'Is there a list of drivers deemed of a higher 'role model status' in the eyes of the governing body?'

Fan optics

One cannot forget the influx of new-wave fans in the past half-decade thanks to the popularisation of the sport initiated by Netflix's Drive to Survive series.

Race attendance is booming with scores of fans - hardcore and casual - dressed up in the latest F1 merchandise to support their drivers.

The world of social media has brought about a certain tribalism to supporting a driver, almost soccer-like, with fans often opposing others in their views when a flashpoint takes place over a weekend, armed with footage from previous races in previous years to back their rhetoric.

It has been no different in the aftermath of the FIA's statement, with fans suggesting Hamilton is being unfairly targeted by the FIA.

It's not the first time such accusations have been made - Sebastian Vettel hit out over the jewellery crackdown last season which he believed was focused on the Mercedes driver in particular.

Some fans have brought up footage of Hamilton and Max Verstappen's collision at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, where the Dutchman walks across the racing line on his way back to the pits in the aftermath of the crash, and have asked where the investigation was then.

There has also been the not-so-unlikely hark back to the controversial 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi, with fans on X [formerly Twitter] questioning why decisions can be re-investigated all of a sudden, despite the above - and other decisions - being classed as closed post-decision, unless an appeal has been lodged.

For a new generation of fan, the sport, be it F1 or the FIA, has to display consistency across drivers, teams and seasons to ensure these optics aren't created.

			© RN365/Michael Potts
	© RN365/Michael Potts

Damage outweighs the positives

It would, however, be superfluous to suggest there is any bias against a driver within the FIA, or that the governing body is out to target a specific individual.

Safety is always at the forefront of its work and if there is a genuine concern, the FIA undoubtedly has to act - there is no questioning that.

But the phraseology used to reveal its decision to reopen Hamilton's case has opened the FIA up to unwanted and unnecessary backlash and ridicule within the fanbase, regardless of what the outcome of the investigation will be.

What doesn't help its cause is the fact Logan Sargeant had crossed the race track to get to the pits following his crash in Japanese Grand Prix qualifying - is he not a role model?

Of course he is - he is supposed to be America's poster boy for F1, the US-born driver the sport has so long craved as it hits the market across the Atlantic.

Time will tell what the FIA will find from reopening the incident review but so far, it feels as though the damage will outweigh whatever positive is found.

F1 2023 Qatar Grand Prix RN365 News dossier

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