Inside Line: Should Lewis boycott Spa qualifying?

For those who don’t know, it is no secret to regulars on here that I am a big fan of Lewis Hamilton – the racing driver – and at the same time a supporter of #BlackLivesMatter movement.

As a veteran photojournalist, once at the forefront of documenting the evils of apartheid with my camera, I have stared racism in the eye more than once.

In May, when the George Floyd atrocity in Minneapolis made headlines across the world, I too was enraged and backed Lewis’ knee gesture, ahead of races, to show the anguish we all feel for the unthinkable going on in the United States.

This issue was clearly beyond borders, and Hamilton implored us to wake up on the issue of racism, no matter where. His call woke me up, and support anything that will highlight this cancer in our society, across the globe.

But this week there was another atrocity, matters took another dire turn, this time apparently non-confrontational Jacob Blake was shot in the back at close range by a white police officer in an incident captured on video. The visuals are horrific.

Outraged, sports responded with protests that spilt over into Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the Women’s NBA and tennis, as Japan’s twice Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka pulled out of a tournament after reaching the semi-finals. That’s balls! That’s a statement.

I am in awe and applaud the bravery and commitment shown by these athletes who decided to boycott and/or postpone games scheduled for this week, considering the potential ramifications to their careers, it is a very big deal.

Indeed, Lewis summed up my sentiments when he told reporters at Spa: “I’m really so inspired and proud of the other athletes out there that are utilising the platform they have, using their voice.”

Inspirational, but when asked if he would follow the example of our boycotting comrades, Lewis then drops this stunner: “But that is in America and I don’t know really if me doing it here will particularly have any effect. We’re in Belgium, we’re not in the United States.”

As a supporter of the cause, I need clarification from Lewis: Why was Austria (and the subsequent races in Europe for that matter) fine for us to highlight what he now terms an “American” problem?

My expectation is that, in solidarity, Lewis should lead by example and engage in his own demonstration of abhorrence to what happened to Jacob Blake.

Not necessarily follow the trend of the outright boycott of a race, say Spa-Francorchamps this weekend. Do it his way, make people beyond F1 take note.

In the wake of the World Champion’s glib comments, I would challenge him to boycott qualifying at Spa on Saturday.

Lewis should sit it out for the hour on Saturday afternoon, next to Toto Wolff in the Mercedes garage, both wearing #BlackLivesMatter T-shirts and for good measure drape, a black sheet over the car with BLM emblazoned on it.

That gesture will get more airtime than the guy who wins pole in the absence of #44 in the field. A real statement will be made.

Then, on Sunday, from last on the grid, Lewis should go out and win the race – he probably can do it – or give it his best shot at least. That would be brave. That would be memorable. That would make a statement, win or not.