Lewis Hamilton claims division between his fellow drivers over taking a knee before Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix is further proof of racism in Formula One.
Moments after he was beaten to pole position by team-mate Valtteri Bottas for the season-opening race, Hamilton was asked if the split was evidence of a problem within the sport.
“We know there is an issue,” the Mercedes driver said. “We don’t need an experience like tomorrow to prove that.”
During a tense virtual meeting of all 20 drivers at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring on Friday night, the topic of taking a knee was discussed. But the drivers failed to reach a unanimous conclusion.
It is expected that a number are ready to adopt the gesture. However, it is thought at least a quarter of the grid are uneasy about doing it due to the political outlook of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There was also a feeling of disappointment in some quarters that Hamilton called out drivers who had chosen not to post an anti-racism message on social media. “I know who you are and I see you,” Hamilton wrote last month.
“We spoke a bit in the drivers’ briefing, yep, interesting,” added Hamilton with a heavy hint of sarcasm.
Great job by the team today and this man here. Look at the back of his helmet, this is a sign showing all hands together no matter your colour which I really respect. Let’s hope for a great race tomorrow 🙌🏾#AustrianGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/rgPfU5Tprr
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) July 4, 2020
“I don’t know what we will see tomorrow. Potentially, people will pay their respects in their own way.
“I just described that silence is complicit and there is still silence in some cases. So, I thanked those that have said something on their social media platforms – because they have a great voice – and encouraged the others that have not, to say something.
“It is about helping people understand because there are people who don’t fully understand what is happening, and the reasons behind these protests. I try to continue to guide and influence as many people as I can with it.”
The teams are set to leave their drivers to make up their own minds, while the FIA insists it is not the job of the sporting federation to instruct the drivers on what is essentially a political decision.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 4, 2020
But the divided grid could leave the sport in the embarrassing position of some drivers taking a knee, and others not, in the minutes before the first global sporting event of the Covid-19 era.
All drivers have agreed to wear End Racism t-shirts when they line up for the Austrian national anthem. A banner displaying the same message will also be prominent.
Hamilton, the sport’s sole black driver, has been extremely vocal on the topic of racism in recent weeks. But then, in a seemingly contradictory statement, the 35-year-old refused to confirm whether he would even take a knee.
“I don’t have any plans at the moment,” said Hamilton. “I have not thought that far forward. I am sure over the course of this evening I will.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team are racing in an all-black livery this year to send a defiant message against racism.
It was 'this' close! Just 0.012s split VB and Lewis in Q3 😲 pic.twitter.com/R4cuchAXMY
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) July 4, 2020
They have dominated all weekend here at the delayed season opener – but it was Bottas who upset the odds to beat Hamilton to first place on the grid. The Finn was just 12 hundredths of a second quicker than the Briton.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished third, albeit half-a-second down on the dominant black machines, with young Briton Lando Norris delivering the best performance of his career to qualify fourth for McLaren.
Ferrari headed into the new campaign fearing they would be trailing the big-hitting teams. And their dread was confirmed here when Sebastian Vettel was eliminated from the second phase of qualifying.
The four-time world champion, who will be moved on by the Scuderia at the end of the year, qualified only 11th, 1.2 seconds off the pace. His team-mate Charles Leclerc sneaked through to the top-10 shoot-out but will line up only seventh.