ABOVE PHOTO: Third-place Mercedes Team Lewis Hamilton, left, of Britain, greets the crowd next to second-place finisher Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, of Spain, at the Canadian Grand Prix auto race Sunday, June 19, 2022, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
By Jerome Pugmire
PARIS — Formula One great Lewis Hamilton said “archaic mindsets” have to change after retired champion Nelson Piquet reportedly used a racial slur against him.
Hamilton’s comments came after F1 and FIA condemned racist language.
“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,” Hamilton tweeted on Tuesday. “There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”
The only Black driver in F1, Hamilton is a seven-time world champion.
He also wrote in Portuguese, “Vamos focar em mudar a mentalidade” (Let’s focus on changing the mindset), and responded to another tweet which used an expletive about Piquet, a 69-year-old Brazilian who won three F1 titles.
Piquet was discussing a crash between Hamilton and Max Verstappen during last year’s British Grand Prix when Piquet used the word “neguinho” — which means “little Black guy” — in November on a YouTube podcast named Enerto.
The word is not necessarily a racist slur in Brazil, but it is an expression that has been increasingly seen as distasteful, and its phrasing can also emphasize that.
Piquet’s comment didn’t go viral at the time, but suddenly did on Monday, although it is unclear why it was so long after the interview.
Piquet is a staunch supporter of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right politician running for re-election in 100 days. Piquet previously drove Bolsonaro around Brasilia, which went viral.
“Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society. Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect,” F1 said in a statement. “His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and something we are committed to at F1.”
Hamilton has campaigned tirelessly to fight racism and has been outspoken on human rights abuses in countries where F1 goes racing.
Motorsport governing body FIA also defended Hamilton.
“The FIA strongly condemns any racist or discriminatory language and behaviour, which have no place in sport or wider society,” the FIA said. “We express our solidarity with @LewisHamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motor sport.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team — known as the Silver Arrows — switched from silver to an all-black car in 2020 to support Hamilton’s efforts to combat racism. Hamilton and most drivers took a knee before races in 2020 and 2021 as an anti-racism gesture. Hamilton also set up The Hamilton Commission to improve F1’s diversity.
“We condemn in the strongest terms any use of racist or discriminatory language of any kind. Lewis has spearheaded our sport’s efforts to combat racism, and he is a true champion of diversity on and off track,” Mercedes said on Twitter. “Together, we share a vision for a diverse and inclusive motorsport, and this incident underlines the fundamental importance of continuing to strive for a brighter future.”
Two years ago, Hamilton criticized “ignorant and uneducated” comments by former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. Hamilton was shocked by Ecclestone’s claim during an interview with broadcaster CNN that “in lots of cases, Black people are more racist” than white people.
Piquet won F1 three times in the 1980s and 23 races. His daughter Kelly Piquet is Verstappen’s girlfriend.
The British GP is this weekend.