Motor racing-F1 will never gag any drivers, says Domenicali

LONDON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Formula One will never gag anyone, chief executive Stefano Domenicali has stated in response to a pre-season controversy between the governing FIA and drivers over 'political' statements and freedom of speech.

The Italian, who represents U.S.-based commercial rights holders Liberty Media, told the Guardian newspaper he also expected the sport's Paris-based governing body to clarify its position.

The 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.

The move has been condemned by rights groups and criticised by drivers, who have spoken of their unhappiness and uncertainty.

"F1 will never put a gag on anyone," said Domenicali.

"Everyone wants to talk so to have the platform to say what they want in the right way the better it is. We have a huge opportunity because of the position of our sport which is more and more global, multicultural and multi-valued.

"We are talking about 20 drivers, 10 teams and many sponsors, they have different ideas, different views. I cannot say one is right, one is wrong but it is right, if needed, to give them a platform to discuss their opinions in an open way.

"We will not change that approach as a sport. That should be the line of our sport, to give everyone the chance to speak in the right way, not with aggressive tones or to offend but with respect."

The FIA, whose president is Mohammed Ben Sulayem of the United Arab Emirates, said in December that the update was "in alignment with the political neutrality of sport" as enshrined in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) code of ethics.

The FIA was awarded full recognition status by the IOC in 2013.

"I believe the FIA will clarify what has been stated, in terms of respecting certain places where you cannot do it," said Domenicali.

"I am sure the FIA will share the same view as F1 but they are part of an Olympic federation so there are protocols to which they have to abide." (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)