Lewis Hamilton has questioned the FIA’s appointment of Vitaly Petrov as a race steward for this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix. Petrov, who was the first Russian driver to compete in Formula One, has been critical of Hamilton’s strident anti-racism stance and his commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Petrov raced in F1 between 2010 and 2012 for Renault, Lotus and Caterham. After Hamilton wore a T-shirt bearing the words “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” at the Tuscan GP, Petrov was scathing. “For me, this T-shirt, on top of calling for everyone to kneel, was too much,” he said. “But to call on that in Formula One itself … I think half of the spectators didn’t even know what the shirt was about until it was explained to them.
“Let’s say a driver admits to being gay. Will they come out with a rainbow flag and urge everyone to become gay as well? I think the FIA will no longer allow such behaviours.”
The FIA and F1 have made public commitments to increasing diversity in the sport, initiating a programme to pursue equality in race, gender and sexuality under the “We race as one” initiative. Nonetheless Petrov, 36, who made only 57 F1 race starts, has been chosen to make his debut as a steward to judge on potential infringements at the Portimão meeting.
Hamilton, who has set up his own foundation to investigate how to improve diversity in the sport, was shocked the FIA had chosen Petrov. “We should be definitely including people here who are with the times, understanding of the times we are living in and sensitive to the matters surrounding us,” he said. “I don’t quite understand what their goal is or why he is here because it’s not like they don’t have plenty of other good options.”
The FIA responded to Hamilton’s comments, stating their reasoning behind appointing Petrov. “The FIA appoints driver stewards with the relevant Formula 1 experience and expertise to carry out this function at the highest level, and who have expressed an interest to the FIA in being a driver steward,” a statement from the organisation read. “The Federation does not discriminate in this process based upon views expressed outside of their function as an FIA Steward, provided that any such expression does not contravene the FIA’s regulations and Code of Ethics.”
F1 has not raced at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve before – Portugal last hosted a grand prix in 1996 at Estoril, near Lisbon. Hamilton goes into the meeting in a commanding position: having won at the last round at the Nürburgring he leads his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 69 points with six races remaining.
The Haas team announced in Portugal they will drop both their drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, for next season. The team have yet to reveal who will replace them but Mick Schumacher, who is part of the Ferrari academy, is being linked to one of the seats. The team principal, Günther Steiner, admitted they would have to consider drivers with financial backing, when asked what he was looking for.
“Money and talent. I mean, talent always needs to be there, not only money,” he said. “So talent is very important, or more important, but some people have got sponsorship they bring with them. So we are looking at all the options out there.”
Grosjean confirmed the team had made the decision because both drivers required to be paid and did not bring the substantial backing the team required. “I said to Günther when he called me that I was expecting one of us, and he said: ‘No, for financial reasons, I need both of you out.’”
Schumacher would likely be backed by Ferrari, while Nikita Mazepin, the Russian F2 driver, is also considered a strong contender. His billionaire father owns a chemicals company and would offer solid monetary backing.
Grosjean has been with the team since they entered F1 in 2016 and Magnussen joined in 2017. Neither has revealed any future plans as yet.
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