The FIA's new strict clampdown on wearing jewelry during races is turning into a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and affects the most bejeweled driver of them all - Lewis Hamilton.
So far, both Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton, the top two most successful F1 drivers on the current grid, have voiced their objections to the directive. Both have raised the argument that a driver should be treated as an adult and have the freedom of what he should or should not wear.
After further deliberations, however, Hamilton did comply with the directive in the Miami GP but received an exemption for his nose studs that he could not remove by himself. While the seven-time world champion was given 3 weeks to get the studs removed, he has come out saying publicly that he will not do so even after the exemption period is over.
Should the Mercedes driver not comply with the directive even after those 3 weeks, F1 might be on its way to a rather ugly power battle between the biggest star in the sport and its governing body.
A little background on what happened
The directive prohibiting jewelry during racing was introduced in 2005, two years before Lewis Hamilton made his debut, but was never enforced strictly by the FIA. With two new race directors this season, however, there seems to be a renewed emphasis on it. Niels Wittich, one of the new race directors, first informed the drivers in Australia this season that they should adhere to these directives.
Now, the directives not only specifically targeted jewelry, but there was an emphasis on using FIA-homologated gloves, balaclavas, and even underwear as well. At the Miami GP, drivers were informed that there would be an added level of scrutiny before the race. If the drivers were found to not adhere to said directives, they could incur punishments to the tune of $250,000 or more.
Where does Lewis Hamilton come into the picture?
Lewis Hamilton, known for his flashy lifestyle, was not impressed with the directive and made it a point to showcase his displeasure. The Mercedes driver turned up at the drivers' conference at the Miami GP wearing multiple watches and rings and all kinds of jewelry that he could put on.
Hamilton claimed not to be in favor of such a directive and asked for talks with the FIA president. Concurrently, he even alluded that should push come to shove, he will not race and Mercedes will simply bring in a replacement driver.
After the drivers' press conference, it did appear that peace was finally restored between Lewis Hamilton and the FIA as it was announced that Mercedes had passed the pre-race scrutiny. It was even revealed that the Briton was given a 3-week exemption in which he could get his nose studs surgically removed. Other than that, Hamilton got rid of every other piece of jewelry while racing.
Why is this going to turn into a huge problem?
At this stage, the Lewis Hamilton-FIA impasse could take a dangerous turn. The seven-time world champion has publicly stated his intention to not comply with the FIA directives. The FIA, on the other hand, is expecting Hamilton to remove the nose studs by the end of the exemption period.
The motorsport governing body has been reasonable so far, giving drivers enough time by announcing it before the Australian GP. It was even more generous with Hamilton when it gave him a 3-week exemption. Now, if the Mercedes driver shows blatant disregard for the directive and turns up to the race with every intention of not complying, then it will leave the FIA in a very tight spot. What is the FIA going to do in that case? Will it levy a fine on him? Or will the most successful driver in the history of F1, opt not to race altogether?
In principle, if Hamilton fails to comply with the directives, that certainly means that a punishment will be in order. Taking action against the sport's biggest star, however, risks a backlash from the F1 community as a whole. It would be interesting to see what course of action the FIA takes at that stage.
Lewis Hamilton might have a lot of explaining to do
In this stand taken by Lewis Hamilton against the directive, there is one word that ends the entire debate — safety. Removal of jewelry may be an inconvenience for many drivers. At the end of the day, however, if measures are brought in to improve safety in the sport, then they need to be universally accepted. Especially after the visuals of Romain Grosjean walking away from a blazing inferno in the 2020 F1 Sakhir GP is still fresh in our minds.
The question, though, is the grounds on which Hamilton is fighting. At the end of the day, the FIA is not being disrespectful to him or his cause, or even coming down on the grid with an iron fist. It has not stopped the 37-year-old from wearing whatever he wants in the paddock or even on the grid. It is only when he is about to race that he needs to get rid of the jewelry as it is a deterrent to the safety standards that the FIA wants to maintain.
It is almost silly for the most successful F1 driver ever to take a stand against a decision taken to improve driver safety. This is only going to turn into a power battle if Lewis Hamilton does not comply. The Briton is only digging his heels in the sand for something that's not truly symbolic of anything at the moment.
If both the parties don't resolve it before the exemption period is done, we might be close to witnessing a rather ugly public power battle between the sporting authority and F1's most successful driver ever.