Lewis Hamilton insisted on Sunday his fight against racism is “about equality and not politics or promotion” after six drivers refused to join the Formula One world champion in taking a knee before the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
Hamilton, the only black driver in the sport, wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, while other drivers, who all lined up with him at the front of the grid, sported black tops saying “End racism”.
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However, six of the 20 drivers remained standing during the protest before the Austrian national anthem.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Max Verstappen had confirmed a split among drivers when they said they would not take a knee.
They were joined by Carlos Sainz of McLaren, Danil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri, Antonio Giovinazzi and his Alfa Romeo team-mate, former world champion Kimi Raikkonen.
“Today was an important day for me and all the people out there who are working for and hoping for change, for a more equal and just society,” Hamilton wrote on Instagram after the race in which he finished fourth.
“I may get criticism in the media and elsewhere, but this fight is about equality, not politics or promotion.
“To me it was an emotional and poignant chapter in the progress of making F1 a more diverse and inclusive sport.”
It's understood that Hamilton had irritated some of his rivals by suggesting they “lacked understanding” of the issues.
Hamilton had explained his views to his fellow drivers before the race, claiming that silence is “generally complicit”.
“No-one is perfect but if we all chip in and do our part, we can see change. I truly believe that,” the 35-year-old added in his Instagram post.
LeClerc and Verstappen explain decision to stand
In a statement on Twitter before the race, Leclerc said: “All 20 drivers stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion, supporting F1's and FIA's commitment.
“I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries.
“I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism.”
All 20 drivers stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion, supporting Formula 1’s and FIA’s commitment.— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) July 5, 2020
I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries. I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism.— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) July 5, 2020
Verstappen tweeted: “I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism.
“But I believe everyone has the right to express themselves at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes.”
I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themself at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes #WeRaceAsOne #EndRacism— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) July 5, 2020
Daniel Ricciardo defends standing rivals
Aussie Daniel Ricciardo - who was among the 14 drivers who did take a knee - tried to explained why so many of his rivals may not have felt comfortable with doing the same.
“The chat [on Friday] with the drivers was essentially saying all of us are 100 per cent on board with supporting it and ending racism. None of us our anti this, so we all support this,” Ricciardo said.
“I just think there was a little bit of difficulty with some drivers and their nationality, and what something like taking a knee would represent.
“Obviously the reasons why we would do it is purely to support Black Lives Matter. It is for nothing political or anything else... We all understood that we will do what we feel comfortable with.
“But no one is going to be judged or criticised if they don't stand there in a certain way or take a knee.”
However CBS Sports editor Igor Melo said some drivers not kneeling was a “bad look”.
The two future stars of F1 stood up. Bad look https://t.co/5lNq7QBi5Q— Igor Mello (@SuperIgor) July 5, 2020
And he wasn’t alone.
Respect: Daniel Ricciardo; Romain Grosjean; Kevin Magnussen; Valtteri Bottas; seb Vettel and others for taking the knee alongside Lewis Hamilton. We see you. Solidarity means a lot in the fight against racism and, let's be frank, #f1 is one of the most racist sports around. #blm— Sathnam Sanghera (@Sathnam) July 5, 2020
In a manifest where all you have to do in order to show respect is kneeling, I can’t understand why some F1 drivers would not follow through. Probably too young to understand the real issues? #F1 #EndRacism— João Paulo Oliveira (@JPdeOliveira) July 5, 2020
So, two-thirds of the drivers kneeling, the others standing? That's not a united front. #F1— Joe Krishnan (@joekrishnan) July 5, 2020
The fact that only 14/20 @F1 drivers took a knee is a disgrace.— Neil Abraham (@NeilPtp) July 5, 2020
@F1 what a disgrace that not all drivers took a knee , shouldn't it be all take a knee or not take one as it shows alot about some drivers that half do it and half don't— sports_tog (@sportstog1) July 5, 2020
The Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) had issued a statement on Saturday claiming the drivers were united in opposing racism, but supporting each individual in being free to choose how to express their positions.
Jean Todt, president of Formula One's ruling body, FIA, told reporters at Spielberg, however, sport should be wary of allowing itself to be used by political influences.
“Sometimes there is a tendency to use it as a weapon and we have to be very careful of that, but I admire people who have conviction and do as much as they can,” he said.
The debate over taking a knee came as FIA pledged to give one million euros ($1.62m) to the sport's new 'We Race As One' diversity foundation.
with Yahoo Sports staff and AAP