Lewis Hamilton has clarified he did not put pressure on Formula One drivers to kneel at the Austrian Grand Prix, saying everyone is entitled to opt against doing so if they wish, as that gesture alone will not change the world.
Hamilton and 13 of his fellow drivers took the knee ahead of the season-opening race on Sunday. Six rivals declined, although each wore a shirt saying “End Racism.”
Although a Daily Mail report on Saturday night accused Hamilton of forcing his fellow drivers to take the knee, the topic had actually been raised by Grand Prix Drivers’ Association directors Romain Grosjean and Sebastian Vettel during Friday’s drivers meeting. Hamilton himself only decided he would take the knee on Saturday evening, the night before the race.
Hamilton is glad drivers were not told kneeling was compulsory.
When asked about some drivers not kneeling, Hamilton replied: “Honestly, I don’t know the reason for everyone — everyone’s different reasons or opinions.
“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 like to correct, there is a story out there that’s really incorrect.
“I never requested or demanded anybody to take a knee, I never even brought it up. It was brought up by Formula One, 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 that they wouldn’t, and I let everyone just say what they wanted to say.
“I opened up to them and I said, ‘Look, guys, I will be doing it, but you do what you feel is right.’ I’m really, really grateful for those who did it along with me; I think it’s still a really powerful message.
“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 than just something as little as that. … I think everyone had a right to their own personal choice. And for me personally, that is what I felt was right to do. But I didn’t [actually] make a decision until last night.”
Concerns had been raised by some drivers in the build-up to the race about the political message behind the kneeling gesture and its association to the Black Lives Matter organisation. While 19 drivers wore the “End Racism” message, Hamilton opted for a black shirt with “Black Lives Matter” written on it.
Hamilton, who attended a Black Lives Matter rally at London’s Hyde Park last month, said he carried that slogan on his shirt in support of the idea it stands for.
When asked about the distinction between BLM as a movement and a political organisation, he said: “Thanks for the question, I think it’s a valid question.
“You’re right, there are certain people that are speaking about it that are definitely more political than it is. And then there are obviously London Black Lives Matter or UK Black Lives Matter that have spoken on more political issues. But I think the people that are at the rallies, the people that are out there marching, we are fighting for one cause and that’s the equality.
“It’s not a political thing for them necessarily; when I went to London that’s what we were out there doing. When I wear the shirt, when I speak out, that’s what I’m supporting. I’m not supporting necessarily the political movements, that’s something completely different. So I think it’s important to try and keep them separate.”
Hamilton is not sure whether he will take the knee ahead of every race. The six-time world champion is more interested in keeping the conversation of racial equality at the forefront of everything he does this year.
“I don’t know what the plan is moving forward,” he said. “It’s really great that Formula 1, and particular Mercedes, have taken note of the issues we’re facing across the world and deciding to do something about it. I think ultimately everything we do is not going to be enough and we all need to do more. There’s been awareness for a couple of weeks and what we don’t need it to do is die a sudden death, and just disappear and we see no change, so somehow and ultimately I could be the guinea pig there. I will keep speaking out.
“And going back to it, all of us, myself included, everyone has to look at accountability and see what they can do better within their organisation and their own team. Moving forwards, I don’t know if I’ll continue to [take a knee].”