Lewis Hamilton has said that he will consider continuing to take a knee before races this season, and expressed his belief that ‘every driver had the right to their own personal choice’ after six drivers chose to remain standing before the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Of the 20 F1 drivers who competed in Sunday’s season-opening race at the Red Bull Ring, 14 chose to take a knee in protest against racial injustice, with six-time world champion Hamilton among them.
The 35-year-old has been vocal in calling for change in an effort to bring about racial equality, following the killing of George Floyd in the United States.
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Hamilton has said that he has no problem with any drivers who decide against taking a knee, but stressed that he does not want to see the campaign for change to “die a silent death” – and as a result will consider taking a knee before the remaining races this season as a way of using his platform to speak out.
“There has been awareness on the subject over the last few weeks and we don’t need it to die a silent death and see no change,” said Hamilton. “I can be the guinea pig and keep speaking out.
“All of us, myself included, we have to be accountable. This started with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. He sat down for the US national anthem. He sat down and received a backlash.
“It was suggested to him to take a knee. It was a powerful statement but he lost his job and never got it back.”
Hamilton went on to reveal that he actually planned to support Kaepernick three years ago at the United States Grand Prix with a specially-designed helmet, only to U-turn on the decision after allowing himself to be silenced by the influence of others – something that he since regrets.
“I spoke to him before the US Grand Prix and I had a helmet made in red with his number on the top. But I was silenced and told to back down,” he added. “I supported that decision which I regret.
“So it was important for me to make sure I played my part this time and, moving forward, whether there is going to be an opportunity to take the knee, I don’t know.
“I don’t want it to be a case of people feeling forced. I want people to be excited to be a part of the change.
“I want people to think that while they are fortunate not to have experienced racism, they can try to understand what it feels like and that they don’t want people to feel that way and want to be part of change so in the future our kids can lead a better quality of life.”
A meeting on Friday between the GPDA saw a number of drivers express their concern about any political connotations behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and ended with the drivers failing to agree in any universal action ahead of the race.
Hamilton endured a difficult weekend in Austria on the whole, having picked up a three-place grid penalty on the morning of the Grand Prix for a qualifying infringement, and he ended up with a fourth-place finish after receiving a five-second penalty for clashing with Red Bull’s Alex Albon in the closing laps.
Afterwards, he was asked about the pre-race showing of support against racism, and admitted that he wasn’t overly concerned about the six drivers who didn’t take a knee.
“It’s still a really powerful message but whether or not you kneel is not going to change the world,” he said.
“It’s a bigger issue across the world than something as little as that.”
He added: “I never even brought it up. It was brought up by F1 and the GPDA. When we did the drivers’ briefing, Seb (Vettel) and (Romain) Grosjean both brought it up and asked the drivers whether or not they would do it and there were several that said they wouldn’t.
“And I let everyone say what they wanted to say and I opened up to them and I said I will be doing it but you do what you feel is right and I’m really grateful for those who did kneel along with me.
“Everyone had the right to their own personal choice and that was what I felt was right to do.”
Leclerc and Verstappen both issued statements before the race to say they would not be taking a knee, with the Ferrari driver expressing his concern about what the movement means in certain countries, while Red Bull’s Verstappen said that “everyone has the right to express themself at a time and in a way that suits them”.
Hamilton sought to clarify that there is a difference between what Black Lives Matter stands for and the group in the UK on Twitter that used its platform last week to push a political agenda, which carried antisemitic connotations as well as calling for the immediate defunding of the police.
“Certain people are making it more political than it is and then there is UK Black Lives Matter that has spoken some more political issues,” Hamilton explained.
“But the people at rallies and the people out there marching are fighting for one cause and that’s for equality. It is not a political thing for them.
“When I wear the shirt, that is what I am supporting. I am not necessarily supporting the political movement. That is something completely different so it is important to try to keep them separate.”