Formula 1 was quick to release a statement, with Mercedes and the FIA following suit. There was categorical opposition to any discriminatory language, they all said, and Lewis Hamilton was offered support in every one of the carefully worded releases.
So carefully worded were they that they completely bypassed naming the person the message was aimed at. Like Voldemort, he seemingly couldn’t be named for fear of reprisal.
For the avoidance of doubt, it was Nelson Piquet’s racist slur against Hamilton that had led to the statements. The three-time world champion used the N-word when discussing the British driver in a podcast with the Estadao publication in November 2021, with footage only emerging over the last 24 hours.
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Piquet had been asked to comment on Hamilton’s manoeuvre at the British Grand Prix last year when Max Verstappen was pushed off the track after the two title rivals had come together on the first lap at Silverstone, and the Brazilian – whose daughter is dating Verstappen – disgraced himself in his response.
“The ****** took the car in the wrong way on the corner,” he said. “It’s because you don’t know the curve. It’s a really high curve. There is no way to pass two cars, and there’s no way you can put the car aside. He did Max dirty.”
The refusal to call out Piquet by name does the authorities, Mercedes themselves and the sport in a wider context no favours. Some bland statement doesn’t arrest the problem, rather it skirts around it. The perpetrators of racist messaging need to be held to account, but seemingly that it is an opinion not shared by those in positions of power within motorsport.
Lewis Hamilton himself has taken to Twitter, publishing a message in Portuguese to “let’s focus on changing the mentality” before later posting “It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”
But if FIA and Formula 1 are not prepared to so much as name Nelson Piquet, what faith can the race-going public have that they will be willing to take the steps needed to arrest the use of such language and behaviours going forward?
The main opposition to sports people taking the knee was dressed up as a claim that “empty gestures” were not what the battle against prejudice really needed, but we seem to have retreated to the point where empty words have taken over.
Nelson Piquet disgraced himself in November. He then later claimed it was just ‘a joke’. But this is no laughing matter, and Formula 1 has done Lewis Hamilton and society in general a disservice by not calling out the former driver in the strongest possible terms.