FORMULA ONE driver Lewis Hamilton has branded “disappointing” comments made by two of motor sport’s greats, Mario Andretti and Sir Jackie Stewart, regarding efforts to take a stand against racism and lack of diversity.
Andretti, 80, who raced in Formula One in the 1970s — winning the Drivers’ Championship in 1978 — is quoted as telling Chilean newspaper El Mercurio: “I have a lot of respect for Lewis, but why become a militant? He’s always been accepted and he’s earned everyone’s respect.
“I think the whole point of this is pretentious. I feel that way. And it’s creating a problem that doesn’t exist.”
In the same interview, he commented on the recent saga surrounding Nascar driver Bubba Wallace, saying that the furore surrounding the incident became “bigger than it should be”, and that he wished “politics didn’t get mixed up with sport”.
The drama surrounding Wallace was sparked when one of his team-members found what looked very much like a noose in the driver’s garage. An FBI investigation into the incident found the knotted rope to be a garage door pull, and concluded that it had been present in the garage at the Talladega speedway before it had been allocated to Wallace. Like Hamilton, Wallace is the only black driver in his racing discipline.
I have been to many race circuits since before I could walk, and in the garages almost as often, and NEVER seen a noose used as a pull rope. Neither have I seen one used anywhere else, for that matter. More questions must be asked, regardless of when it was fitted. https://t.co/1noLe2OGvI
— Will Dron (@wdron) June 25, 2020
Stewart, who won three F1 drivers’ championships in the late sixties and early seventies, earning the nickname “The Flying Scot”, denied that F1 has a major racism problem. He said on Good Morning Britain last week: “[Hamilton is] quite vocal about these elements. I don’t think there’s as big a problem as there might seem.
“There is no resistance for change if someone is clever and good at what they do. They will be accepted in Formula 1.”
Hamilton responded to both comments on social media, saying on his Instagram story: “This is disappointing but unfortunately a reality that some of the older generation who still have a voice today cannot get out of their own way and acknowledge there is a problem.
Referring to Andretti, he said: “Again, this is plain ignorance but that will not stop me from continuing to push for change. It is never too late to learn and I hope that this man who I’ve always had respect for can take the time to educate himself.”
In a separate post, he branded Stewart’s comments “just disappointing”.
Both Hamilton and his Mercedes team have made efforts to combat racism within the sport.
The reigning world champion has set up the Hamilton Commission, which aims to get more young people from black backgrounds into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, with the ultimate goal of employ them in F1 teams and other engineering roles.
Writing in The Times at the end of June, Hamilton said: “Despite my success in the sport, the institutional barriers that have kept F1 highly exclusive persist. It is not enough to point to me, or to a single new black hire, as a meaningful example of progress. Thousands of people are employed across this industry and that group needs to be more representative of society.”
Mercedes, meanwhile, have adopted a black livery for the first time since the 1930s as a gesture of its commitment to work on internal inequality issues.
Hamilton has also spoken out criticising the amount of time scheduled by F1 broadcasters to allow drivers to take a knee in a gesture against racism. After his dominant win at the Hungarian Grand Prix last weekend, he said: “I think moving forwards we need to speak with Formula One. They’ve got to do a better job. It was such a rush — I was getting out of the car, running over, quickly taking the knee. They need to do more.”
He also criticised Haas driver and Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) director Romain Grosjean, saying: “He doesn’t think it’s important to do [take the knee]. He’s one of them who thinks ‘it was done once, and that’s all we need to do’.”
Six F1 drivers have made the decision not to take the knee, to some criticism. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said that “everyone has the right to express themself at a time and in a way that suits them”, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc said that he thought the gesture could be seen as “controversial in some countries”.
Never been as impressed by @LewisHamilton as much as I am today. Seen him from small chap with a far away look to become a Champion in the proper sense of the word. He’s made F1 realise what its true potential is. Well done LH. God’s Speed. As if you need it! #f1 #LewisHamilton https://t.co/GH0m1pB8ZJ
— Damon Hill (@HillF1) July 3, 2020
In his Times article, Hamilton said: “This is not a new battle for me. I’ve been fighting the stigma of racism throughout my racing career — from kids throwing things at me while karting, to being taunted by fans in black face at a 2007 grand prix, one of my first Formula One races. I’m used to being one of very few people of colour on my teams and, more than that, I’m used to the idea that no one will speak up for me when I face racism, because no one personally feels or understands my experience. Most of the time, they don’t even see it and if they do, they let their fear of saying the wrong thing get in the way.”
F1 has also set up its own equality and diversity taskforce, and the “We race as one” campaign, with CEO Chase Carey saying: “We want to ensure we give people from all backgrounds the best chances to work in Formula 1 regardless of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical abilities.”