In Focus

F1 British Grand Prix: racism overshadows the racing

Lewis Hamilton suffers racist abuse online after his controversial win at Silverstone

The 2021 Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone had everything: a historic first sprint race, a full house of 140,000 fans, and an opening lap collision between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, the two main championship rivals. 

It was a “dramatic” afternoon in the F1 title battle, said Sky Sports’s Matt Morlidge, as Red Bull ace Verstappen crashed out and Mercedes star Hamilton went on to win an “extraordinary” eighth career British GP despite being given a ten-second penalty by stewards. 

Verstappen, who went to hospital after his high-speed crash, accused Hamilton of being “disrespectful” and “unsportsmanlike” as the British driver celebrated the win in front of the capacity crowd.  

The “seismic moment” will become “a defining part of the sport’s history” and “the fallout from all this will be felt for a long time”, said the BBC’s Andrew Benson. 

But while the headlines today should have been all about the racing, the focus has shifted away from the track after it emerged that Hamilton was racially abused online following his victory. 

There were racist messages including “monkey emojis” and other slurs in the replies to a Mercedes post on Instagram celebrating Hamilton’s win at Silverstone, Sky Sports reports.

F1 rallies in support of Hamilton

Formula 1, the sport’s governing body the FIA and the Mercedes team issued a joint statement condemning the online racist abuse. “These people have no place in our sport and we urge that those responsible should be held accountable for their actions,” the statement said. “Formula 1, the FIA, the drivers and the teams are working to build a more diverse and inclusive sport, and such unacceptable instances of online abuse must be highlighted and eliminated.”

Verstappen’s team Red Bull Racing also came out in support of Hamilton. “While we may be fierce rivals on-track, we are all united against racism,” Red Bull said. “We condemn racist abuse of any kind towards our team, our competitors and our fans. As a team we are disgusted and saddened to witness the racist abuse Lewis endured yesterday on social media after the collision with Max. There is never any excuse for it, there is certainly no place for it in our sport and those responsible should be held accountable.”

‘A conversation around acceptance’

The racist abuse of Hamilton comes just a week after three black England footballers - Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka - were targeted on social media following the Three Lions’s defeat on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2020 final. 

Seven-time F1 world champion Hamilton has “consistently been outspoken against racial inequality throughout his career” and is a “high-profile voice in the fight against racism”, Sky Sports reports. 

He came out in support of the England players after they were subjected to a torrent of abuse and said “it shows how much work needs to be done” in society to end racism. 

“I so badly wanted that win like all of you but for me it was for much more than winning the [Euros], it was a much bigger picture,” he wrote on Instagram. “However, the disgusting behaviour by the few, shows how much work that still needs to be done. I hope that this opens a conversation around acceptance. We must work towards a society that doesn’t require black players to prove their value or place in society only through victory.”

‘Not a new battle for me’

In June 2020 the British driver set up The Hamilton Commission to increase representation of black people in UK motorsport. Last week it published its first report into the issue and included ten recommendations for change.

“This is not a new battle for me,” Hamilton wrote in an op-ed for The Sunday Times last year. “I’ve been fighting the stigma of racism throughout my racing career - from kids throwing things at me while karting, to being taunted by fans in black face at a 2007 grand prix, one of my first Formula 1 races.

“I’m used to being one of very few people of colour on my teams and, more than that, I’m used to the idea that no one will speak up for me when I face racism, because no one personally feels or understands my experience. Winning championships is great, but I want to be remembered for my work creating a more equal society through education. That’s what drives me.”

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