SILVERSTONE – Lewis Hamilton said Thursday that Formula One should ignore “old voices” and reject racism as it focuses on becoming more inclusive, even as reigning world champion Max Verstappen said his “father-in-law” should not be banned from the F1 paddock.
Hamilton, the seven-time F1 champion and only Black driver, was reacting to comments made last year by three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet referring to Hamilton by a racial term. The word in question was brought to attention this week. Piquet is the father of Verstappen's girlfriend, Kelly Piquet.
Former longtime F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone defended Piquet on Thursday, said he was surprised Hamilton hadn't “brushed it aside," and expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
“I don’t know why we are continuing to give these older voices a platform because they’re speaking upon our sport and we’re looking to go somewhere completely different. And it’s not representative, I think, of who we are as a sport now and where we’re planning to go,” Hamilton said, without mentioning either Piquet or Ecclestone by name.
“These old voices, whether subconsciously or consciously, do not agree that people like me, for example, should be in a sport like this, do not agree women should be here," Hamilton said. “Discrimination is not something we should be projecting or promoting.”
In an apparent response to Ecclestone's comments, Hamilton added: “No one should have to brush off racism, and it shouldn't be for me to brush it off."
Verstappen said that Piquet had been wrong to use a word he described as “very, very offensive” but doesn't consider him to be racist. He added Piquet's lifetime paddock access given to former F1 champions should not be revoked.
“Let it be a lesson for the future not to use that word because it’s very, very offensive, and especially nowadays, you know, it gets more and more traction,” he said. “But I spend a lot of time with Nelson, I think, more than the average person in general. And he’s definitely not a racist, and he’s actually a really nice and relaxed guy.
"I’m pretty sure that, also the statement he released, you can see the word in two ways, but I think it’s still better not to use it.”
Verstappen said he had not confronted Piquet. “It’s not up to me to talk to my father-in-law like I think any of you do. We’re not going to call and say, ‘Hey, man, that’s not correct.’ I think he knows that himself.”
Hamilton did not immediately respond to Verstappen's remarks.
Hamilton said he wanted F1 to do more to widen the diversity and inclusivity of the sport. Hamilton is working with his Mercedes team to fund projects to promote more female participation in auto racing and engineering scholarships for Black students with a focus on auto racing. They announced the first grants Thursday.
Piquet was suspended Thursday from his honorary membership of the British Racing Drivers' Club, which owns and runs the Silverstone track used for this week's Grand Prix.
The BRDC said Piquet's use of “racially offensive language to describe a fellow BRDC member is unacceptable and represents conduct that is wholly inappropriate for an Honorary Member of the BRDC, notwithstanding his subsequent apology." The BRDC added that its board was expected to cancel Piquet's membership at a forthcoming meeting.
Piquet on Wednesday apologized to Hamilton but said the term, while “ill thought out”, was not meant to be offensive.
Piquet used the term three times while discussing a crash between Hamilton and Verstappen during last year’s British Grand Prix.
Even without Piquet's comments, this week's return to Silverstone would have had a heightened focus on the often-bitter rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen last year. Verstappen crashed into the wall and was taken to a hospital for observations, while Hamilton went on to win despite a penalty.
Hamilton faced racist abuse on social media following the race; Verstappen complained it was classless for Hamilton to celebrate a win while Verstappen was being evaluated at the hospital.
There has been widespread condemnation of Piquet's remarks from F1 management, governing body the FIA and from most of the drivers.
Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo said Thursday that he experienced “quite a lot of negativity, racist comments, which never should happen” on social media around the time he signed his contract to become the first driver from China in F1.
“Lewis, in a way, is trying to help the world going forward, and it’s not just for us, it’s for the younger generation, to set a better example for them," Zhou added.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team issued a statement Tuesday saying “the team do not condone any form of racism.” It made no mention of Piquet and focused on the Red Bull decision to fire Formula Two driver Jüri Vips from a test and reserve driver role for using a racial slur during an online gaming stream. Vips has kept his seat with his F2 team Hitech.
Ecclestone, who has been criticized before by Hamilton for comments on racism and diversity in F1, said Piquet's closeness with Verstappen might explain his comments and that Piquet would “never go out of his way to say anything bad”.
“Knowing Nelson as I know him, as his daughter is the girlfriend of Max Verstappen, probably after seeing the accident ... he probably exploded then and sort of carried that forward,” said Ecclestone in comments on British TV breakfast show “Good Morning Britain.”
Ecclestone, who controlled F1 for decades before stepping aside in 2017, also defended Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine. The 91-year-old said he would “take a bullet” for the Russian president.
“The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to (the) position of the modern values of our sport," F1 said in a statement.
Hamilton wondered why Ecclestone was even put on television: “Someone that ultimately believes in the war, the displacement of millions of people and the killing of thousands of people? That’s beyond me, and I can’t believe that’s what I heard today.”
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