Lewis Hamilton distanced himself from fellow Formula 1 drivers who said they felt comfortable to be racing in Saudi Arabia this weekend but did more to dodge the issue than reveal his true thoughts.
The Briton, a seven-times World Champion and Formula 1’s most successful driver, chose his words carefully but left little doubt about his stance.
Attending an official FIA news conference in Jeddah on Thursday, drivers were asked how they felt about returning after last year’s missile strikes by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on an oil facility near the circuit.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll said they trusted organisers to keep them safe, with the latter adding he felt the country was changing. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez said he was happy to be back.
Hamilton, who has spoken out previously on human rights issues, said his view was “more the opposite”.
Asked to clarify, the 38-year-old said his position was “open to interpretation” and added: “I’m looking forward to getting in the car for sure.”
Asked whether that might be the car to the airport, Hamilton added: “No, I’m looking forward to driving the car here. The track is pretty awesome…so that part of my job I’m excited about.”
Hamilton: If I’m not here, Formula 1 will continue on without me
The Mercedes driver last year expressed shock at mass executions, mentioning a letter to him from a youth facing the death penalty.
Asked if he had considered not racing in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton replied: “If I’m not here, Formula 1 will continue on without me.
“I still feel that as a sport going to places with human rights issues such as this one, the sport is duty bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact. I feel like it needs to do more, what that is I don’t have all the answers.”
Human rights charity Reprieve said the mother of Abdullah al-Huwaiti, who faces a death sentence for crimes committed when he was a minor, had written to Hamilton asking him to mention her son while the world was watching.
Reprieve director Maya Foa said there had been at least 13 executions in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks and said in a statement: “Carrying out these executions on the eve of the Jeddah Grand Prix is a brazen display of impunity by the Saudi authorities.
“They are confident that the sport and its commercial partners will stay silent, and that the pageantry of F1 will distract from the bloodshed,” concluded the satetemnt.
Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)