Lewis Hamilton has explained why he’ll keep taking the knee before races, saying “it sparks an uncomfortable conversation”, as well detailing the steps he has taken to help alleged Bahraini torture victims.
Since the Black Lives Matter movement came to the fore last year, Hamilton has been particularly vocal in his support, taking a knee as a demonstration against racism and inequality before races as well as wearing t-shirts in support of BLM.
F1 also responded with its #WeRaceAsOne initiative, which focused on tackling inequalities and racism as well as showing solidarity with frontline workers in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Whilst there was no obligation for any to do so, the majority of drivers joined the Mercedes driver in taking a knee pre-race, but several did not.
Protocol has now been changed to give drivers a “moment to show united support for important issues” however they wish to do so before each race. Hamilton says his stance remains unchanged.
“I plan to continue to take the knee, because I think what’s really important is that when young children are watching what we’re doing here in this sport, and when they see us take the knee, they will sit and ask their parents or their teachers: ‘Why are they doing that? What are they taking the knee for?’ – and it sparks an uncomfortable conversation,” he said.
“It means parents have to educate themselves and the kids are getting educated, so I think it’s a fight that’s not won.
“It’s a fight that will continue on for a long time I’m sure, but I think we’re in a good time where conversation is healthy.”
Hamilton also expanded on his view on F1’s relationship with human rights, owing to the fact the grand prix calendar has often visited countries with questionable human rights records.
Bahrain, where the F1 season kicks off this weekend, is one of these countries, and last year Hamilton was sent personally addressed letters by three alledged Bahraini torture victims. In response, the Mercedes driver said he hoped discuss the issue with the Salman, the Crown Prince of Bahrain.
Whilst this has not yet occurred, Hamilton has still put great efforts into meetings and discussions with organisations in Bahrain to address the issue.
“I received those letters last year, which weighed quite heavily on me,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve received letters like that along my travels.
“These last few months I’ve taken the time to try and educate myself, because coming here all these years I wasn’t aware of all of the detail the human rights issues.
“So I’ve spent time speaking to legal human rights experts, organisations like Amnesty, I’ve seen the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and I’ve spoken to Bahrain officials also.
“At the moment, I think the steps that I’ve taken really have been in private and I think that’s the right way to go about it.
“So I don’t really want to say too much that may jeopardise any progress. That’s the position we’re in, but I’m definitely committed to helping in any way I can.”
The reigning world champion said this represents a wider stance for him on F1’s interaction with the places it races.
“As a sport, we do go to a lot of different places we visit lots of different beautiful countries and cultures and naturally there are issues all around the world,” he commented.
“But I don’t think that we should be going to these countries and just ignoring what is happening in those places and arriving, having a great time, and then leave.”
This attitude mirrors the approach in the new Extreme E series, in which Hamilton owns a team.
Although its bent has been primarily environmental, it also seeks to promote equality by having one male and one female driver in each team. The series’ broad mission statement is to highlight areas of environmental fragility by racing there, but for Hamilton, the idea of promoting gender equality at a location such as Saudi Arabia, where the series will visit, might have extra appeal.
The seven-time champion has frequently been lobbied by various human rights groups to take a stand against F1 and/or the locations it goes to, due to the way several countries on the calendar treat their own citizens.
He suggested F1 could theoretically have some influence on the human rights stance of countries it races in, but ultimately stopped short of saying whether FOM should take a position on the matter.
“It’s not in my power to choose where we go and race,” he said.
“I think the powerful position that we are in terms of the responsibility… human rights – I don’t think – should be a political issue. We all deserve equal rights.
“In terms of what, whether it’s Formula 1’s responsibility, I don’t know if that’s for me to say.”