Ferrari says its decision to put Italian naval flags on its cars at this weekend's Indian Grand Prix has nothing to do with politics after it was dragged into a diplomatic row with the host government.
Two Italian navy personnel were held in India in March, and later bailed, following the fatal shooting of two fishermen mistaken for pirates trying to attack an oil tanker the marines were protecting.
The marines, who have been told not to leave India, are still awaiting the outcome of a case that has become a stumbling block in ties between the two countries.
"With all the respect due to the Indian authorities, Ferrari wishes to make it clear that this initiative does not have, nor should it be seen as having, any political implication," the team said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the famed Italian outfit said its cars would carry the flag of the Italian navy as a "tribute to one of the outstanding entities of our country" as well as in the hope of finding a solution to the situation.
The team's decision was applauded by the Italian government.
But an unhappy Indian foreign ministry responded Friday by calling the gesture "not in keeping with the spirit of any sport".
Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone said the sport was "apolitical" and that the organisers did not have anything to do with it.
"I don't understand why they (Ferrari) would do that. Quite strange, quite strange... It's not the sort of style you would expect from Ferrari," Ecclestone told the Economics Times newspaper in comments carried on the eve of the race.
The Italian naval flag is displayed prominently on the nose of the red cars, just above the numbering.