The FIA – motorsport’s governing body – is investigating after a 15-year-old Russian karting champion appeared to make a Nazi salute on a podium.
Artem Severiukhin seemed to perform the offensive gesture after winning the first round of the European Championship in Portugal on Sunday.
According to PA, he has apologised but denied his gesture was a Nazi salute.
“I have never supported Nazism and consider it one of the most terrible crimes against humanity,” he said.
The FIA announced it had launched an immediate investigation into Severiukhin’s “unacceptable conduct” on Monday.
Severiukhin was competing under the Italian flag because of the sanctions put on Russian athletes following their country’s invasion of Ukraine.
His team has terminated his contract after he made the apparent gesture during the Italian national anthem, after twice thumping his chest.
“I know it’s my fault, I know I’m stupid, and I’m ready to be punished,” he said.
“But please understand that I did not support Nazism or fascism with this gesture.”
Ward Racing – a privately owned Swedish team – said it condemned Severiukhin’s behaviour in the “strongest possible terms”, adding: “Ward Racing is deeply in shame of the pilot’s behaviour.
“The actions of Artem Severiukhin during the award ceremony on April 10, 2022 were exclusively individual and do not represent the views and values of Ward Racing in any manner.
“On the contrary, Ward Racing stands with the international community condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and expresses its solidarity with the people suffering because of this unprovoked and horrific attack.”
It added: “Ward Racing sees no possibility for continued cooperation with Artem Severiukhin and will proceed with terminating his racing contract.”