Lewis Hamilton provides a vital voice in Formula 1 as its sole black driver.
Regardless of his poles, wins and championships, Hamilton is in the unique position to provide perspective on a sport that runs worldwide.
His recent Instagram postings indicate that he has taken his outspoken nature and directed his attention to the sport itself. While Hamilton has made comments supporting Black Lives Matter and for the toppling of the statue of British slave trader, Edward Colston, his calling out of F1 is a shift.
Hamilton often faces racist comments, both slight and overt. One needs only to visit his Instagram or Twitter accounts and scroll through the responses, and there will be something unfavorable. It’s one thing to call out his driving or something involving his business ventures, but the attacks on him go beyond that.
Thatʻs why his recent posting felt like a person that had snapped, an act of coolness turned off.
I see those of you who are staying silent, some of you the biggest stars yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice. Not a sign from anybody in my industry, which of course, is a white-dominated sport. I’m one of the only people of color there, yet I stand alone. I would have thought by now you would see why this happens and say something about it but you can’t stand alongside us.
There are a number of aspects that are worthy of being addressed. Hamilton is squarely shining a spotlight on how F1 has handled both the current state of the sport but drawing his attention to its past.
He was right. No one in F1 dared speak about the events in the United States or how they might tie to the sport. That Hamilton further remarks that F1 is white-dominated is not a comment that brings revelation, but rather one that notes the privilege for so many in the sport. Not unlike many other sporting enterprises, the hierarchy tends to be dominated by white, usually male, persons.
The last point may be the most difficult to reconcile with. Hamilton is not wrong when he says that there are other persons of color on the grid and in the paddock. Alex Albon is half-Thai. Drivers like Carlos Sainz Jr., Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez would all likely be considered as something other than white in many countries. None of these drivers have made any comments that support Hamilton or the point he is making.
Part of the problem with any sporting enterprise is that the focus is not on the color of peopleʻs skin or the environments where games or races are held. The long history of ignoring how people are treated for the sake of sport spans the globe. Look at any modern Olympics or World Cup tournaments and there is evidence to show that people are ignored by both their country and by the sports that visit. Often this treatment is based on class and race, shoving aside those of lower socioeconomic status and darker skin.
And this is where Hamilton castigated the sport further, writing:
This is not just America, this is the U.K., this is Spain, this is Italy, and all over. The way minorities are treated has to change, how you educate those in your country of equality, racism, classism, and that we are all the same.
Again, Hamilton is condemning F1 for how it has handled the races on its schedules and the people of those countries.
Hereʻs a short look at countries that have shown questionable human rights treatment in the past couple decades.
The Bahrain Grand Prix joined the schedule in 2006 after being announced in 2004. In 2011, Shia and Sunni peoples staged protests against the monarchy and fought for political reform. The protests began civilly, but the government turned them into violent spectacles.
With Damon Hill and Marc Webber leading the way, feeling it questionable to race in a country where the monarchy attacked its own people, F1 canceled the 2011 event. The following yearʻs GP was almost derailed as well.
The Human Rights Watch noted that during the 2012 Grand Prix protests, in which tens of thousands of protesters called for canceling the race, police shot dead one protester.
In the lead up to the 2013 races, security forces conducted a series of home raids and arbitrarily detained opposition protesters in towns close to the Bahrain International Circuit.
The country has long fought dissidents in violent manners, and F1 has attracted more violence in its wake of holding races in the county.
In 2016, as F1 began to hold races in Baku, the sportʻs supremo Bernie Ecclestone said he was confused by human rights groups criticizing the series for coming to the Azerbaijan capital. The country has been long criticized for its corruption, handling of critical persons and treatment of political opposition as power shifted to Ilham Aliyev from his father in 2003.
Ecclestone also offered a tone-deaf statement by saying, “The moment someone tells me what human rights are, then we can have a look at it and see when and where it applies.”
Announced in January 2020 and slated to be on the schedule for 2023, the Saudi Arabia GP will be another race in the Middle East. This locale is another that is fraught with concerns over how the government treats its people.
Per The Guardian, Saudi Arabia has a human rights record described by Amnesty International as “heinous,” and the Human Rights Watch director, Minky Worden, said F1 needed to consider its position.
“There is no evidence that F1 going to a place that seriously represses human rights has improved conditions there,” she said. “On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence F1’s presence has degraded human rights conditions and worsened conditions.”
While none of these countries paint a clear picture of outright racism, they do nothing to counter the notion that F1 needs to do better in showing care for the citizens of the world. Some might argue that every country has its forms of racism – Canada and its treatment of Native Americans; Brazil and its persecution of Blacks; Spain and its numerous divisions; England and the U.S. with non-whites; France with just about anyone who does not speak French; and the list goes on and on. But the outward hostile treatment of different groups, because of their ethnicity, religion or race is something that those in the sport can address.
It would not be too much to ask a sport as rich as F1 to donate to local charities, directing a percentage of race revenue toward these organizations. Offering assistance and developing goodwill can go a long way in calming some of these issues. It helps to bring attention to what is happening, shows that a rich entity can care to bring some relief, and a little bit of positive PR never hurt.
What makes Hamiltonʻs comments so disappointing is how little they have been reverberating in the F1 community, while at the same time gaining a worldwide presence. In fact, F1 as an organization has yet to issue one of the platitude-filled statements like so many other organizations.
Instead, the leaders have been nonchalant, with Ross Brawn merely stating that, “Lewis is a great ambassador for the sport, and I think his comments are very valid,” and that they “support him completely.”
While Brawn did detail how the sport has sought to develop better diversity by working at the grassroots level, his comments are hardly forceful nor provocative.
Hamilton has led the way on the track for the past five years, and it looks like heʻs the one leading again off of it.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.