Since the season began, Formula 1 drivers have begun each race by uniting in a show of solidarity against racism.
Both groups have stated, quite reasonably, that the ultimate goal of tackling racism matters more than the nature of the gesture. However it has become clear this isn’t the only aspect of F1’s drive against racism which has divided the 20 drivers. Some intended for the ceremony to be a one-off event before the season-opening race. Others expected it would take place at every grand prix.
While Lewis Hamilton has been a driving force behind these pre-race gestures, this is not just his fight. Daniel Ricciardo has been vocal on the subject, and he is among those who lobbying for the ceremony to continue.
“I think it is 100% important to to continue doing it,” said Ricciardo today.
“It was discussed after the first race, will we do it [repeatedly], and some of were unsure. We have to continue doing it, I believe, for at least the remainder of this season, because it’s something that’s obviously ongoing, and it’s not just that we highlight it one week and forget about it. So I 100% think we should.
Sebastian Vettel, who has joined Hamilton in carrying the ‘Black Lives Matter’ slogan on his helmet, also believes there should be room for such a gesture alongside F1’s regular business of racing.
“I think Formula 1 is a worldwide sport and we as individuals are part of that sport,” he said. “I think the main reason for being here is obviously to perform. But I think we cannot ignore what’s happening outside of our racing bubble.”
“This is an ongoing process,” he continued. “I think it needs all of us and that’s not just us in racing,. That would be ignorant. All human beings around the planet to stand up and to try and go against racism, inequality, injustice in any form. And therefore, I think it is right to try and set the right signs to inspire people, because in the end I believe that education is probably the only way out of it.
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“It is insanity if you think that in 2020, with all the knowledge that we have of the past, all the lessons we have learnt of the past, that it’s still something that does exist. It should be out of the question, but it’s not, so therefore, I believe it’s important to stand up when we have the chance to publicly, send a message. But more so even when the cameras are off, when, we are living our everyday lives and setting the right examples and trying to behave in a way that I think is right.”
It isn’t only the attitude of the drivers which has been put in the spotlight. The pre-race ceremony at the Hungarian Grand Prix was a messy affair, and several drivers have blamed the lack of time they were given to arrive at the national anthem performance, which had also been relocated to the pit lane.
“Certainly it was rushed,” said Ricciardo. “Particularly, I felt, at Budapest. We kind of all got there and the ones that were happy to take a knee, it kind of felt like as soon as we got down, then the anthem started and we didn’t want to kneel for the anthem. So it’s like, do we stay, do we get up? It was it was a bit rushed for sure.”
“I don’t think it was down to the drivers, as such, that we were disorganised,” said the Red Bull driver. “I don’t think you could put it on us.
“I think it was just the way that the timing was and even if you just look at how we all have to rush straightaway to get all the cars and run to where we knelt or stood or whatever we did. It’s a more of a collective discussion with Formula 1 and ourselves. I don’t think it’s fair to put it on the drivers.”
Following further discussions between the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, the FIA and Formula 1, a more organised pre-race ceremony is planned for Sunday. “It will look better and it will show that we are a little bit more organised,” said Albon.
This has come about at least partly at Hamilton’s instigation. Shortly after winning the Hungarian Grand Prix he said he would speak to FIA president Jean Todt and Formula 1 chairman and CEO Chase Carey about the matter.
“I had really great conversations with them to understand what they are planning and what they want to do moving forward,” said Hamilton today. “And just to make sure they know that we’re all on the same team here and things like giving us that little bit extra time, for example, at the beginning before the race, so that we can really show how united we are as a sport because other sports have done a better job at consistently doing that. They’ve been really open-minded
“I do think that it needs to continue through the year. And so I believe at the moment that’s what we’re going to continue to do. I think there’s been some push back from some teams maybe, but again, it’s a work in progress to get us all together and I think it’s going in the right direction.”
Romain Grosjean was also on Hamilton’s call sheet after his critical comments about the Haas driver in Hungary. They spoke at length last week, and Grosjean told Hamilton he accepted the need for the ceremonies to continue. However, Grosjean noted, as many as eight drivers did not agree.
Hamilton was full of praise for Grosjean when he was told about the Haas drivers’ words in today’s press conference. “I was already impressed with our conversation that we’d had and his approach to our conversation. He originally reached out to me to talk after the last race so I gave him a call and we had this great conversation.
“I think ultimately it was quite informative for both of us. We learnt that we actually have a lot more in common than we perhaps think. And he is clearly a caring person. So to hear that he said, it’s not easy for for anybody to admit that we were wrong. And that’s a great first step. But the fact is when we got off the phone I knew that were united and we’re going to be working towards the same common goals. So I’m really, really appreciative to Romain.
“That’s really what it is going to take all of us to do, to really kind of open up our minds, don’t put up barriers up, don’t be defensive, be open minded. Acknowledging that there is an issue is obviously sometimes the first step, and then how can we work towards making it better.”
Hamilton had also previously indicated he wanted to speak to the drivers who were unwilling to ‘take a knee’. The practice has become widespread in some other sports, and for all the talk of unity between the F1 drivers, regular images of them adopting difference stances during the ceremony inevitably sends a different message.
Kimi Raikkonen, one of the drivers who has chosen not to kneel, made it clear he did not wish to give his reasons for not doing so when ashed whether Hamilton had spoken to him since the Hungarian Grand Prix.
“I haven’t talked to him, first of all, so far,” said Raikkonen in today’s FIA press conference. “And even if I would, I wouldn’t be here telling you. I think whatever happened between any people, I have zero interest to tell them in the news because that’s nothing to do with the news or any papers. It’s us discussing whatever it’s going to be.”
“Obviously he’s been vocal on certain things and it’s fine I have no issues with that,” Raikkonen added. “I will not even get involved in those discussions because I can feel what is being tried to be done.
“I mean, we are always being complained that what we do or the way we’ve been asked or you don’t do this or you didn’t do that… It’s easy to say but we don’t see what the media is doing. You can always say you don’t kneel or you stand almost like pointing us out. But what is these people doing that they are kind of questioning our positions? I would like to know that. I think not much else to say really.”
Hamilton has said he hopes that by the end of the season all the drivers join in the ‘take a knee’ protest, a view echoed by Grosjean today. Max Verstappen is among those who continues to insist that he won’t.
“No,” he said when asked today if he might change his mind. “Because I explained it before. And the reasons.
“Everybody has their own way of expressing it. But I think at the end of the day, we are all united in fighting racism.”
Hamilton and his allies have scored a victory by ensuring the ceremonies will remain a feature of this year’s races. Using F1 as a platform to regularly promote anti-racism is a more valuable prize than winning over the few drivers who prefer not to take a knee.
Much attention – perhaps too much – has been focused on the question of who does and does not kneel. Now any driver who thought they would only have to make that decision a single time was wrong: F1’s ‘end racism’ ceremony appears to be here to stay.
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