Formula One drivers respond to Lewis Hamilton's criticism of 'white-dominated sport'

Oliver Brown
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Several Formula One drivers have issued hasty statements in response to a furious rebuke by Lewis Hamilton, who called out his “white-dominated” sport for its silence amid the escalating protests over the death of George Floyd.

Hamilton excoriated his peers for the failure to speak out on racial injustice in the US, with violent demonstrations across the country urging justice for Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

In an impassioned Instagram post, the six-time world champion wrote: “I see those of you who are staying silent. Some of you are the biggest stars, yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice. Not a sign from anybody in my industry, which, of course, is a white-dominated sport. I’m one of the only people of colour there, yet I stand alone.”

On several occasions, Hamilton has highlighted the continuing lack of diversity of F1, but never with such pointed rage. The force of his intervention prompted Charles Leclerc, the young Monegasque now installed as Ferrari’s No 1 driver, to correct the record immediately.

“To be honest, I felt out of place and uncomfortable sharing my thoughts on social media about the whole situation, and this is why I haven’t expressed myself earlier,” he said. “And I was completely wrong.

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“I still struggle to find the words to describe the atrocity of some videos I've seen on the internet. Racism needs to be met with actions, not silence. Please be actively participating, engaging and encouraging others to spread awareness. It is our responsibility to speak out against injustice.”

Until now, Hamilton has tended to be forthright but careful with his language around racial inequality. At the United States Grand Prix in 2017, he was pressed on whether he would take a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began the gesture to draw attention to black victims of police brutality, but resisted doing so.

Last summer, he was asked if he agreed with Rio Ferdinand’s view that questions over his Britishness had racist undertones, but said: “It is not an area I particularly want to go down.”

This time, the firestorm of anger unleashed by Floyd’s death has stirred Hamilton into action. “I would have thought by now that you would see why this happens and say something about it, but you can’t stand alongside us,” he said, addressing his F1 contemporaries directly. “Just know I know who you are…and I see you…”

In a second post, Hamilton clarified that he was not endorsing the behaviour of those “looting and burning buildings”, but of those protesting peacefully.

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“This is not just America, this is the UK, this is Spain, this is Italy,” he said. “The way minorities are treated has to change, how you educate those in your country about equality, racism, classism. We are not born with racism and hate in our hearts, it is taught by those we look up to.”

Such is Hamilton’s influence in the paddock, the message stung Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who seldom expresses a political viewpoint of any kind, into replying.

“Racism is toxic and needs to be addressed not with violence or silence, but with unity and action,” he said. Britain’s Lando Norris, whom the Australian is to join at McLaren next season, added: “We stand for what’s right. This time I ask you to do something.”