The past few days have been turbulent for F1. Nelson Pique’s comments aimed at Lewis Hamilton given in an interview at the end of last year, in which he used a racial slur, renewed the debate around racism and the drive for diversity in Formula 1, making the necessary changes.
Statements issued by F1 and the FIA condemned Piquet’s comments, but Hamilton, in his initial response via social media, said it was ‘Time to act’ to change ‘archaic thinking’facing violence throughout this career.
That meant Hamilton was always going to face most of the questions and be at the center of the discussion at Thursday’s FIA press conference. As always, he spoke on the matter with grace and eloquence, stressing the importance of not giving the podium to “older voices” who “do not represent who we are now in the sport and where we plan to go.”
Just hours before Hamilton spoke, former Formula 1 leaseholder Bernie Ecclestone gave an interview on British morning television in which he made a series of ridiculous and frankly offensive comments, including saying he would “take a bullet” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hamilton was also asked about recent comments from Sir Jackie Stewart, who suggested the seven-time world champion should retire from Formula One.
“I don’t think there’s been a single day in the last couple of weeks that somebody who hasn’t been relevant in our sport for decades has tried to say negative things and started knocking me down,” Hamilton said. “But I’m still here and I’m still standing.”
Hamilton thanked those, including Vettel, who spoke out against the abuse
Photo: FIA Pool
During the press conference, Hamilton thanked everyone in Formula 1 who had offered their support in recent days and was visibly moved when discussing the support he had received. Sebastian Vettel was spot on when discussing the need to do more to tackle racism and abuse, especially when it came to speaking up and taking action.
“It takes balls to express yourself,” Vettel said. “It takes courage, but we should no longer fear such situations. Because I think we have more allies than we think.’
On Friday morning, video emerged of another interview with Pique in which he used the same racial slur to describe Hamilton, along with a homophobic comment. This goes far beyond someone claiming to have made a bad choice of wording or blaming a bad translation: it’s disgusting and unjustified. Regardless of your generation, there is no place for such abuse in our sport and society today.
So, you need to act. Formula 1 quickly removed Piquet from the paddock, making it clear that he is not expected at future events. The The BRDC is in the process of terminating Pique’s honorary membershiphaving already suspended him, and drivers have clearly condemned his comments.
But it should go beyond that. As Hamilton put it, “We can no longer amplify these voices which simply create this division.” Pique’s offensive views are not ones that should be dealt with as something to try to fix; they don’t need to be given any oxygen. The same goes for Ecclestone. Good morning, Britainknew exactly what they were going to get by inviting him on their program to discuss Putin and the war in Russia. It is also necessary to be responsible.
Disgusting views like Ecclestone’s on Putin should not be given air time
Photo: Zak Mauger / Images of motor sports
Removing this platform is not gatekeeping or disrespecting those who played a role in making F1 what it is today; it’s about us doing better in the future. “We have to look to the future and give young people a platform that is more representative of today,” Hamilton said. “It’s not just about one person, it’s not just about one use of the term. It’s the bigger picture.”
The bigger picture is what Hamilton devotes a lot of time and money to. Through his Mission 44 initiative and the charity he co-founded, Ignite Mercedes in the past year, work has been underway to increase diversity and representation in motorsports and the STEM industry. On Thursday morning, Ignite announced its first diversification grants awarded by Motorsport UK and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The creation of Ignite was something Hamilton wrote into his contract with Mercedes ahead of the 2021 season. “When I sat down with Toto [Wolff]I said I don’t want to be just a team driver anymore,” said Hamilton. “I think it’s important that we start looking at what we do both inside and outside of the sport. And so part of the contract was a commitment on their part and my commitment financially to invest in Ignite.”
Hamilton has put £20m of its own money into Mission 44, while Mercedes’ contribution to Ignite is more than £5m. This weekend, the team announced an auction of a special edition Toto Wolff watch with its partner, IWC, which will aim to raise well over the £50,000 retail price per watch, with proceeds going to Ignite.
Wolfe shares Hamilton’s vision for promoting diversity
Photo: Carl Bingham / Images of motor sports
This is the kind of financial support that is necessary for proper changes in sports. Last year, F1 announced plans for a range of scholarships for students to fund their university studies, complete with a living stipend, and offer a pathway to a career in the industry. Such steps are very important and should be supported by the entire unit.
“Each of us can contribute,” Wolfe said. “We have to be a role model and say we’re actually doing something, not saying we’re working on it, and yes, we’re against discrimination, we’re against racism and all that. It’s wonderful. But you can afford it. You can do something really meaningful. And he needs one that goes forward.
“Lewis put £20m into Mission 44 – we’re talking serious money. And what we’re doing together is real money, and hopefully we can pave the way for the community to do something. Because I don’t know if anyone else was doing anything other than Instagram posts.”
F1 as a community has been largely united in its comments and thoughts over the past week, welcoming the pit ban handed down to Piquet and condemning his comments. But what matters now is that we back it all up with the right actions that go beyond words, working to make the right, lasting changes and move away from the mindset of the past.
Because as we’ve seen this week, that’s where they should be left.
Hamilton is trying to create lasting change in motorsport
Photo: Steve Etherington / Images of motor sports