Hamilton calls out rival F1 teams for being silent on racism

SPIELBERG, Austria — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton called out rival teams on Thursday for not doing enough to combat racism, and said the sport still needs to push for more diversity.

Hamilton has spoken widely about racism in recent weeks following the killing of George Floyd — a handcuffed and unarmed Black man — by a police officer in Minneapolis in May.

And Hamilton’s Mercedes team will be competing in an all-black car — instead of the usual silver — as a statement against racism when the season starts on Sunday in Austria.

But Hamilton, the only Black driver in F1, said he’d like to hear more from other teams — and criticized some sports figures for only jumping on social media bandwagons instead of pushing for real change.

“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,” Hamilton said. “I won’t stop pushing until we really see change. Seeing one person of colour added to the paddock is not diversity, so we’ve really got to dig deep.”

Hamilton attended a Black Lives Matter march in London recently and is setting up a commission to increase diversity in motorsport.

F1 launched an initiative aimed at tackling racism and encouraging more diversity within the series, with F1 chairman Chase Carey pledged $1 million of his money toward a fund.

“It’s positive to see that people are reacting and I do want to see people being more proactive,” Hamilton said. “I think Formula One 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.”

F1 drivers are discussing whether to take the knee together on the grid before Sunday’s race in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as soccer players have been doing.

“We haven’t all spoken, I’m sure we will. 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,” Hamilton said. “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.”

After Floyd’s death, Hamilton spoke of his “anger, sadness and disbelief.”

Wounds from the racism he has endured resurfaced.

“When this all kicked off it really struck a nerve and a chord, brought a lot of emotion up from my personal experiences,” he said. “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 colour there.”

Things were not better elsewhere in Europe.

“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 (as well),” Hamilton said. “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.”

Hamilton previously criticized F1 for staying silent on racism, prompting a flurry of support on Twitter from fellow drivers such as Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo.

“People perceived that I was targeting drivers, I really wasn’t. It was targeted at the whole industry,” Hamilton said. “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.”

Hamilton hopes his commission finds the root cause of why he’s still the only Black F1 driver.

“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,” he said. “I’ve been working with Mercedes since I was 13. I’ve also been in Formula One for 14 years and I’ve hardly seen any change. That upsets me.”

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