Six-times Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton expects his fellow drivers to be united against racism at Sunday’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, and that could mean ‘taking-a-knee’ before the start of the race at Red Bull Ring.
There has been plenty of speculation about how the Mercedes driver might signal his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and those campaigning against racial injustice and inequality.
Speaking to reporters via video link at the Red Bull Ring, with a padlocked chain around his neck, the 35-year-old Briton said the drivers had not all spoken to each other but he was sure they would.
Hamilton, the sport’s only Black driver, added that he had not prioritised “a plan to come and kneel at the start line” but “we’ll see on Sunday. I think whatever we do, we’ll try to do it united,” he said.
“I think it’s really important that we remain united or become united in this sport,” said Hamilton, who will be racing in black overalls and a black car with the message “End Racism” on it.
The champion last month criticised those, including “the biggest of stars”, who had stayed silent on the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white U.S. police officer knelt on his neck.
He explained that he had been referring to the industry as a whole, rather than rivals, “Our voices are powerful and if we bring them together collectively we can have a huge impact.
“It’s the first race. Already as a team, we have shown quite a big acknowledgment of where we are in society today and that we are not standing still, we are moving ahead. We will I’m sure as drivers all stand to represent something,” said Hamilton
Sunday’s race will end nearly four months of waiting for the season to start after the scheduled March 15 opener in Australia was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drivers and teams must all wear face masks and operate in “bubbles” in Austria to minimise the risk of spreading the disease, with regular tests.
Hamilton, a vegan who is also outspoken on the environment and animal welfare, made clear he was wearing a cotton mask rather than a single-use disposable one, “I’m wearing a cloth mask right now. I have not worn any of the paper ones because they are ending up in the oceans.”
Regarding #BlackLivesMatter issue, Hamilton lamented, “There are a lot of people that just take a moment to post Blackout Tuesday (on social networks) but they´re not really doing much.
“I´ve definitely not heard anything from any of the other teams, as far as I´m aware. I won´t stop pushing until we really see change. Seeing one person of color added to the paddock is not diversity, so we´ve really got to dig deep.”
One who dug deep was Chase Carey who pledged a million dollars to the cause, Hamilton acknowledged, “It´s positive to see that people are reacting and I do want to see people being more proactive. I think Formula 1 have been great. I´ve spent a lot of time on the phone with them, doing Zoom calls talking about their plans and how we can move forwards, united.”
The issue of F1 drivers taking-a-knee, ahead of the national anthem on race day at Red Bull Ring, to further highlight the matter is being considered.
“We haven´t all spoken, I´m sure we will,” said the reigning F1 World Champion, “It´s not something that´s been at the top of my mind, in that I´ve been asked the question multiple times. It´s not really been a priority for me (to have a plan) to come and kneel at the start line.
“We´ll see Sunday. I think whatever we do we´ll try to do it united. I think it´s really important that we remain united. Or that we become united, I would say, in this sport.
“When this all kicked off it really struck a nerve and a chord, brought a lot of emotion up from my personal experiences. I experienced a lot of racism growing up, both at school and in my local area. Then on the race (driving) scene particularly being that my dad and I were the only people of color there.”
“When I got to Italy, when I got to Belgium – which was one of my first European races – I experienced the same thing. When I was in France… That was definitely a very, very difficult thing. … You don´t understand when you´re young why things are thrown at you, why things have been shouted at you.”
Other drivers on the grid have also taken to the trend, thus Hamilton was not alone in his activism, “People perceived that I was targeting drivers, I really wasn’t. It was targeted at the whole industry. People being silent is something I’ve experienced for such a long time, and now is not the time to be silent. This is a time to help spread the message. We need as many voices as we can to push for change.”
The irony is that Hamilton has excelled in the most costly sport of all and time will tell if he, and this movement that, will gain steam to make accessing the pinnacle fo the sport viable for drivers of disadvantaged communities too.
“It is an expensive sport and I think that’s definitely an underlying factor. The truth is that the opportunity is not the same, not only from the drivers’ point of view but also the engineers. I´ve been working with Mercedes since I was 13. I´ve also been in F1 for 14 years and I´ve hardly seen any change. That upsets me,” concluded Hamilton.