[Updated] Ferrari is at the centre of a deepening political row in India over its decision to run both cars in the Indian Grand Prix with the flag of the Italian navy, the Marina Militare.
Two Italian sailors, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, have been held in India since February having been arrested in connection with the shooting of two Indian fishermen, who were allegedly mistaken for pirates.
The matter has been drawn out over a row over jurisdiction, according to Italian agency ANSA, “Italy says it should have jurisdiction for the case as the officers were aboard an Italian vessel in international waters, but the Indian authorities do not agree.
“The Italian government also believes that, regardless of who has jurisdiction, the marines should be exempt from prosecution in India as they were military personnel working on an anti-piracy mission.”
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo told Italian network SKY Tg24 that the flag gesture at the Grand Prix, “Is the contribution that can Ferrari can make to this story.” he added on Friday evening, “We only want to make a small contribution, with great respect for the Indian authorities, so that a solution might be found through dialogue,”
Meanwhile Foreign minister Giulio Terzi said that Ferrari’s gesture, “Shows the support of the whole country for our sailors.”
Speaking to reporters today in Rome, Terzi also said the two sailors “Will return home. I’m not able to give a date, but they will come home.”
However a spokesperson in the Indian ministry of external affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, said that the gesture by Ferrari at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix is “using sporting events to promote causes which are not of a sporting nature is not in keeping with the spirit of sports.”
Team boss Stefano Domenicali faced some heated questions in the FIA press conference on Friday in India, but refused to engage; he kept referring journalists to the team’s media office. He did at one point deny that it was in connection with the two sailors.
However, the statement on the Ferrari website confirms that the flag gesture is in support of the two Italian sailors. Its says,
“Greater Noida, 24 October – Scuderia Ferrari will carry the flag of the Italian Navy on the cars driven by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in this weekend’s Indian Grand Prix.
“In doing so, Ferrari pays tribute to one of the outstanding entities of our country, also in the hope that the Indian and Italian authorities will soon find a solution to the situation currently involving two sailors from the Italian Navy.”
It’s clearly an awkward one for Domenicali who doesn’t seem comfortable to deal with something which has been decided many levels above him.
Other than to raise the profile of the cause, which it most certainly has done, it’s hard to see why Ferrari has decided to do it, as it is really a matter for the Italian foreign office, not a car company racing in F1.
The Ferrari communications director says that the statement, if you read it carefully, is not political and therefore does not fall foul of FIA statutes banning teams from making political statements via their presence in F1.
Although many members of the Indian media are quite vexed about this gesture of Ferrari, the wording of the press statement is such that it is hard to drawn any overt political message, even if on the face of it, in the circumstances, it does seem more provocative than anything we have seen before in F1, given that this situation exists and given what has been said about it by Ferrari’s president and by the Foreign Minister.
Ferrari is highlighting something to the world’s media present at the Grand Prix, of which most were ignorant beforehand and the message is being “amplified” as media professionals call it.
It has become a bigger cause as a result and puts pressure on the Indian government.
One can see how the Indians might see that as political, although Ferrari has been clever in the way it has worded its statements on the matter.
Ferrari’s logistics people will also be wary of getting the cars and freight out of the country on Monday, through India’s notoriously complex and difficult customs. It’s a concern given that the cars need to be in Abu Dhabi for a race next weekend.
* On Saturday Domenicali met with the president of the FMSCI (India’s branch of the FIA) Vicky Chandhok, who accepted the Ferrari position and out out a statement aimed at taking the heat out of the situation,
“The FMSCI would like to maintain that the FIA code of motor sport is apolitical and non-religious and the FMSCI will not permit motor sports to be politicised in any manner, ” said Chandhok.
“Stefano Domenicali has confirmed their initiative of carrying their national navy flag does not have, and should not be seen as, having any political implication.