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Hamilton is right: it's about action for the future, not giving the past a platform

OPINION: The emergence of racist comments from Nelson Piquet has restarted the discussion about how Formula 1 tackles discrimination. Lewis Hamilton is therefore rightly demanding and providing action to ensure archaic views, which do not belong in modern society, are no longer part of motorsport's future

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG

Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The past few days have been turbulent for Formula 1. The surfacing of Nelson Piquet’s comments directed at Lewis Hamilton given in an interview late last year, in which he used a racial slur, reignited the discussion surrounding racism and the push for diversity in F1, enacting proper change.

The statements made by F1 and the FIA condemned Piquet’s comments, but Hamilton said in his initial response via social media that it was “time for action” to change the “archaic mindsets”, having faced abuse throughout this career.

It meant Thursday’s FIA press conference was always going to have Hamilton face the majority of questions and be at the heart of the discussion. As ever, he spoke on the matter with grace and eloquence, stressing the importance of not giving a platform to “older voices” who are “not representative of who we are as a sport now and where we’re planning to go”.

Just hours before Hamilton spoke, former F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone gave an interview to British morning TV during which he made a number of ludicrous and, frankly, offensive comments, including that he would “take a bullet” for Russian president Vladimir Putin. Hamilton was also asked about recent comments made by Sir Jackie Stewart, who suggested the seven-time world champion should retire from F1.

“The last couple of weeks, I don't think there’s been a day go by where there’s been someone who has not been relevant in our sport for decades, trying to say negative things and starting to bring me down,” Hamilton said. “But I’m still here and still standing strong.”

Hamilton has thanked those, including Vettel, who have spoken out against abuse

Hamilton has thanked those, including Vettel, who have spoken out against abuse

Photo by: FIA Pool

During the press conference, Hamilton gave his thanks to everyone in F1 who has offered their support in recent days, and was clearly quite moved when discussing the support he has received. Sebastian Vettel was spot on when discussing the need to do more to combat racism and abuse, particularly when it came to speaking up and taking action.

“It does take balls to speak up,” Vettel said. “It does take courage, but we shouldn't be afraid of these situations anymore. Because I think we have more allies than we think.”

On Friday morning, a video emerged of another interview with Piquet, in which he used the same racial slur to describe Hamilton, along with a homophobic comment. This goes far beyond someone claiming they made the wrong choice in wording, or blaming a mistranslation: it’s abhorrent and indefensible. Regardless of your generation, there is no place for such abuse anywhere in our sport or society today.

So, there is a need for action. F1 was swift in banning Piquet from the paddock, making clear he will not be welcome at future events. The BRDC is in the process of terminating Piquet’s honorary membership, having already suspended him, and drivers have been clear in their condemnation of his comments.

But it must go beyond that. As Hamilton said: "No more can we be amplifying these voices that are just creating that divide out there.” Piquet’s offensive views aren’t ones that should be engaged with as being something to try and remedy; they should not be given any oxygen. The same applies to Ecclestone. The TV programme, Good Morning Britain, knew exactly what it was going to get by inviting him onto their programme to discuss Putin and the war in Russia. It needs to be held accountable as well.

Abhorrent views, such as Ecclestone's on Putin, should not be given airtime

Abhorrent views, such as Ecclestone's on Putin, should not be given airtime

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Removing this platform is not about gatekeeping or disrespecting those who played a role to build F1 into what it is today; it’s about ensuring we do better for the future. “We need to be looking to the future and giving the younger people a platform that are more representative of today’s time,” Hamilton said. “It’s not just about one individual, it’s not just about one use of that term. It’s the bigger picture.”

The bigger picture is something that Hamilton is dedicating a lot of his time and money to addressing. Through his Mission 44 initiative and the Ignite charity he jointly set up with Mercedes last year, work is being done to improve diversity and representation across motorsport and STEM industries. On Thursday morning, Ignite announced its first diversity grants given to Motorsport UK and the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

The establishment of Ignite was something Hamilton got written into his Mercedes contract ahead of the 2021 season. “When I sat down with Toto [Wolff], I said that I don't want to just be a driver for the team anymore,” Hamilton said. “I feel it's important that we start looking to what we're doing both inside, but also outside of the sport. And so part of the contract was commitment from them and commitment from myself financially to put into Ignite.”

Hamilton has committed £20m of his own money into Mission 44, while Mercedes’ contribution to Ignite stands at over £5m. This weekend, the team has announced an auction of a special edition Toto Wolff watch with its partner, IWC, that will seek to raise well beyond the £50,000 retail price for the watch, the funds of which will go to Ignite.

Wolff shares Hamilton's vision to promote diversity

Wolff shares Hamilton's vision to promote diversity

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

It’s this kind of financial backing that is needed to enact proper change in the sport. Last year, F1 announced plans for a range of scholarships for students to fund their university studies, complete with a living stipend, and offer a pathway through to a career in the industry. Steps like these are massively important and need to be supported by the entire paddock. 

“Each of us can make a contribution,” said Wolff. “We should be role models and saying we are actually really doing something, rather than saying we are working on it, and yes we are against discrimination and we are against racism and all of that. That’s great. But you can afford it. You can do something that’s really meaningful. And it needs one that goes ahead.

“Lewis’s commitment was £20m into Mission 44 - we’re talking serious money. And what we’re doing all jointly here is real money, and hopefully we can trailblaze for the community to do something. Because I’m not aware, apart from Instagram posts, anyone has done anything else.”

F1 as a community has been largely united in its comments and thoughts over the past week, welcoming the paddock ban handed to Piquet and condemning his comments. But what is important now is that we back all of this up with proper action that goes beyond words, working to enact proper, lasting change and shift mindsets away from the past.

Because as we have seen this week, that’s where they need to be left.

Hamilton is trying to create lasting change in motorsport

Hamilton is trying to create lasting change in motorsport

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

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