Lewis Hamilton says he never requested any F1 driver to take a knee before Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, but said he was “grateful” for those who indulged in the gesture.
All 20 drivers showed their support F1’s ‘End Racism’ campaign by wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words and standing at the head of the grid before Sunday’s race.
The majority of the field then took a knee for a moment, with six drivers – Max Verstappen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc and Kimi Raikkonen refraining from the gesture.
Before Sunday’s anti-racism gesture, Hamilton’s suggestion that drivers should take a knee was criticized on social media, with the six-time world champion accused of pressuring his colleagues to follow the Briton’s lead.
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But Formula 1’s only black driver made clear after Sunday’s race that he had no issue with any of his colleagues declining to kneel.
“I honestly don’t know everyone’s different reasons or opinions,” he said.
“I am aware of some opinions from some of the drivers, but that’s more of a private thing and I wouldn’t like to share it, but I think ultimately nobody should be forced into a scenario where they have to kneel.
“And I really would just like to correct – there is a story I think, at least one out here that’s really incorrect.
“I never requested or demanded anybody to take the knee. I never even brought it up. It was brought up by F1, and it was brought up by the GPDA.
“When we did the drivers’ briefing, Seb and Grosjean both brought it up, and asked the drivers whether or not they would do it, and there were obviously several that said they wouldn’t.
“And I let everyone say what they wanted to say, and I just opened up to them and said, ‘Look, guys, just so you know, I will be doing it, but you do what you feel is right.’
“And I’m really, really grateful for those who did kneel along with me.
“I think it’s still a really powerful message, but ultimately whether or not you kneel or do not kneel, that’s not going to change the world.
“And it’s a much, much bigger issue across the world. I think everyone had a right to their own personal choice.
“And for me personally, that was what I felt was right to do, but I didn’t make the decision until last night.”
The act of kneeling has been a key element of the global movement against racism and was started by NFL player Colin Kaepernick in August 2016 when the San Francisco 49ers quarterback used the gesture to raise awareness of police brutality against African Americans.
Interestingly, Hamilton revealed that he had wanted to pay tribute to Kaepernick in the past and take a knee on the grid, but was “silenced” at the time by the powers to be.
“I’d actually spoken to him a couple years ago, I had a helmet and everything made in red with his number on the top,” Hamilton recalled.
“But back then, I was kind of silenced. I was told to kind of back down, don’t support it, which actually I will say that I regret.
“So it was important for me to make sure that during this period of time, I did my part, and I think moving forward I need to try and continue.
“Whether that’s continue to take the knee, I don’t know if there’s going to be opportunities to do that.
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“But definitely don’t do that on national anthems.”
Indeed, in order to avoid drivers being accused of disrespecting host country Austria, the field conducted its pre-race gesture of support separately from the national anthem.
“I think it’s really, really great that F1 and particularly Mercedes have taken note of the issue that we’re facing across the world, and decided to do something about it,” added Hamilton.
“Ultimately everything we do is not going to be enough, and we all need to do more.
“And I think that there’s been awareness for a few weeks, and what we don’t need is for it to die a sudden death and just disappear and see no change.”
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