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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — On this inaugural Miami Grand Prix weekend, where Formula One drivers and teams have gushed over the South Florida vibe and the sport’s explosive growth in the United States, guess which topic got the most conversation in Friday’s news conferences?
A jewelry ban.
Cue the facepalm emoji. The FIA, Formula One’s governing body, seems insistent on enforcing a rule that appears to target a single individual: seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. And Hamilton seems just as intent on pushing back against a policy that is a useless waste of everyone’s breath.
This is what everyone is talking about on the eve of a Super Bowl-like event for F1? This?
“It is a bit unnecessary to blow this topic up,” four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel said. “Probably at this stage it is more of a personal thing, and I feel a particular way targeted to Lewis.”
Look, every F1 driver appreciates the FIA’s focus on safety. No one wants to go out there and be injured (or worse) when the situation could have been avoidable.
But trying to force Hamilton to remove his nose ring and earrings? Hamilton is going to have a lot bigger worries than a nose piercing if his face catches on fire.
“To some degree, it’s personal freedom,” Vettel said. “We’re old enough to make choices outside the car, we should be old enough to make choices inside the car.”
Hamilton clearly felt targeted by the crackdown of the jewelry policy. He made a statement by showing up to Friday’s news conference completely blinged out, with at least three necklaces, eight rings (four on each hand), his normal piercings — oh, and three watches.
“Three different time zones,” Hamilton said, deadpan. “Just in case we get calls from lots of different places.”
Though Hamilton twice said he has no desire to fight with the FIA and wants to be an ally to the sport — and texted new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem as much Friday morning — it’s also clear he has no intention of caving to such a ludicrous policy.
What’s F1 going to do — not let its biggest star race because he has small earrings?
“If they stop me, then so be it,” he said. “We’ve got spare drivers ready and prepped for the weekend. There’s a lot to do in the city anyway, so I’ll be good either way.”
Hamilton said he’s willing to sign a safety waiver if it makes anyone feel better. He’s personally not concerned. The 37-year-old has worn jewelry — piercings, specifically — during races for 16 years without a single issue. And they’re platinum, not magnetic.
Anyway, Hamilton says his nose ring isn’t even the type that goes in and out; it’s not removable. He’s even worn the jewelry for medical MRIs with no problems.
“I feel like it’s almost a step backward,” Hamilton said. “(There are) more important issues and causes we need to be focused on. We’re here in Miami. This is such a small thing. … It seems unnecessary for us to get into this spat.”
The drivers seem to be on his side. The reality of F1 is drivers race at crazy speeds with no guarantee they’ll survive to see the checkered flag. In the first laps of Friday’s first practice session around a course designed in the parking lot of the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, cars were already reaching more than 200 mph.
Pierre Gasly, who drives for AlphaTauri, said he races with a religious item inside the car that is important to him and wouldn’t feel comfortable racing without it. Gasly lost close friend Anthoine Hubert in a 2019 racing crash.
“It’s a little bit personal,” Gasly said. “We should have the freedom to do what feels right for us. At the end of the day, we have the responsibility to go out there and put our life at risk.”
A nose piercing isn’t going to make the difference between life and death. Now, should drivers do something like race with a huge gold chain flapping around? Of course not. That’s the type of thing that should be regulated.
But good leaders find ways to adjust instead of making sweeping bans with no gray area. Pledging a crackdown on issues like this one and drivers’ underwear seems like a bit much.
“It would be good to find a compromise to work together with them,” Sergio Perez said.
Ultimately, F1 is growing in part because it celebrates the humans inside the cars. Their personalities are what draw just as much of a spotlight as the racing at times, and even their daily walk into the paddock area is photographed by dozens of journalists eager to broadcast the drivers’ fashion choices.
Hamilton said his text to the FIA president was along the lines of: “It’s about individuality and being who you are. I don’t want to fight with you guys, ever. This is very, very silly. Let’s have a great weekend.”
Indeed. Any further time spent on this is simply a losing battle on a weekend poised to be a big win for Formula One.
(Photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)