China’s first and only Formula One race driver Guanyu Zhou added his voice to the sport’s freedom of speech controversy on Tuesday by saying the governing FIA had made a wrong move.
The Paris-based FIA updated its International Sporting Code last December with a clause requiring prior written permission for drivers to make or display “political, religious and personal statements or comments” at races.
Alfa Romeo driver Zhou, in his second year in Formula One, told Reuters at the launch of the Swiss-based team’s 2023 livery that he was “not too much into politics” but “I don’t think it (the FIA approach) is the right way to do it.
“We are human so we can say the stuff we want to but we are not against anyone,” he added.
“We are just saying the truth or trying to be the real person inside and out, so I think we should have the right to say what we want.”
Zhou has yet to race in his home grand prix, with China’s round in Shanghai cancelled again this year for a fourth season in a row due to local COVID-19 measures.
Major events such as last year’s Beijing Winter Olympics have cast a spotlight on China’s human rights record, with Washington labelling as genocide Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
Athletes at the Games were free to express their opinions in press conferences and interviews but not in competition or medal ceremonies.
In Formula One, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has been one of the most outspoken on human rights and also called attention to the rights records of some of the countries that host races.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, a former team mate of Hamilton at Mercedes, said the FIA move would “be a big talking point in Bahrain” ahead of the season opening race on March 5.
Zhou scored only six of his team’s 55 points last season but he expected to do much better this time, having learned all the tracks.
“Last year I think I lost 10 or more points due to the reliability issues,” he said. “In general I really felt happy with the progress I made.
“This year I don’t need to do anything different, it just comes automatically with the time you spend in Formula One and the learning experience. So everything will come, for sure we’ll be much closer.
“If we can have a very strong car then I’m sure both of us can do very strong points.”