GREATER NOIDA, India (Reuters) - India’s foreign ministry condemned Ferrari on Friday for putting the Italian navy flag on their cars at the Indian Grand Prix in what was seen as a political gesture of support for detained sailors.
Ferrari said it was simply a tribute to “one of the outstanding entities of our country” although they also alluded in a statement to the two Italian navy sailors charged with killing Indian fishermen.
The Formula One team’s hope that “the Indian and Italian authorities will soon find a solution to the situation” did not go down well with the ministry.
“Use of sporting events (like the F1 Grand Prix) to promote a view on a subject which is sub-judice is not in the spirit of sport,” foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin was quoted as saying in Indian media.
The sailors were part of a military security team protecting a cargo ship from pirates when they fired on the boat of the two fishermen off the Indian coast in February.
Italian officials say the sailors, who were released on bail in June in the southern state of Kerala to await trial, mistook the fishermen for pirates.
The case has caused outrage in India and soured relations with Italy. Rome recalled its envoy from New Delhi in May to signal its “strong displeasure” with the Indian government’s handling of the incident.
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone said he had asked the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) to look into the flag incident.
The governing International Automobile Federation has a rule banning political gestures by teams.
“What we would do is, we would look at the national sporting authority here to have a look at that. It’s a local thing,” Ecclestone told reporters. “We are not political...we keep out of these things.”
FMSCI president Vicky Chandhok echoed the same sentiments.
“As the national sporting federation, he (Ecclestone) has asked us to ensure there is no political motive...we’d be more than happy to do that,” Chandhok told reporters after Friday’s second practice session.
“We don’t support any political stand or anything like that.”
Asked if he had raised the issue with Ferrari, Chandhok said: “They already know about it. They don’t want to get into any political controversy. They are one of the most neutral teams in the world.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali faced questions about the gesture in Friday’s news conference at the Buddh International Circuit south of New Delhi.
“If you look behind in the past, we’ve done a lot of initiatives but there’s nothing that I want to get into specific details because this is not really the place where we should do it,” he said.
The questions kept on coming, however, with Domenicali telling reporters to ”look exactly at what is written and the reason why we put that out.
“There is no political intent of discussion in that.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin