Lewis Hamilton responds to Bernie Ecclestone and Nelson Piquet: 'Why are we giving older voices a platform?'

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain arrives at the Silverstone race track in Silverstone - AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain arrives at the Silverstone race track in Silverstone - AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Lewis Hamilton has called for the “old voices” of Formula One to be silenced “if they have nothing positive to contribute”. After being racially abused by Nelson Piquet – an incident that Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s former ringmaster, insisted he should just “brush aside” – the seven-time world champion argued it was time to censor several of F1’s most prominent establishment figures.

“I don’t know why we are continuing to give these older voices a platform,” said Hamilton, having been described as a neguinho, literally translated as “little black man” from Portuguese, in a podcast by Piquet in Brazil. While the 69-year-old apologised for his racist slur, claiming that the word had been misunderstood, Hamilton was incensed.

“We are looking to go somewhere different, and they are not representative of who we are now in the sport,” he said. “If we are looking to grow our audiences and give younger people a platform that is more representative of today’s times, then it is not just about one individual or the use of that term, but the bigger picture.”

On a dramatic day at Silverstone, Piquet received a lifetime ban from the F1 paddock for his remark, while being stripped of his honorary membership of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. But the decision to freeze him out was strongly opposed by Max Verstappen, Hamilton’s arch-rival and the championship leader, who is dating Piquet’s eldest daughter, Kelly.

“I’ve spent a bit of time with Nelson, more than the average guy, and he’s definitely not a racist,” Verstappen said, claiming that Piquet’s comment, while clearly the “wrong word”, had been “blown out of all proportion”.

“When you ban people, it’s not helping what you’re trying to enforce. You’re trying to educate people, so it’s better to have a chat. When you have a fight and you insult someone, you have a chat, you apologise. With this it’s exactly the same. Things can be forgotten. As long as you learn from your mistake and the word that you used, I don’t think you should be banned from the paddock – especially not a three-time world champion.” On whether he would discuss the issue with Piquet, he replied: “It’s not up to me to talk to my father-in-law.”

Red Bull's Max Verstappen - REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
Red Bull's Max Verstappen - REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Ecclestone, 91, was also the subject of withering criticism from Hamilton, after an astonishing Good Morning Britain interview in which he not only defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but declared he would “take a bullet” for Vladimir Putin, whom he called a “first-class person”.

“There needs to be accountability – I don’t know what their [GMB’s] goal was, whether it was to create a divide,” Hamilton said. “We don’t need to hear any more of it, to hear from someone who believes in the war, the displacement of millions of people and the killing of thousands. Supporting that person [Putin] is just beyond me. I cannot believe I heard that.

“This is going to set us back decades, and we have yet to see the real brunt of the pain. Why? We do not need to be supporting that but looking into the future. If they don’t have anything positive to contribute, don’t give them any space.”

Separately, Ecclestone, who ran F1 for four decades before relinquishing day-to-day control in 2017, sought to downplay Piquet’s attack on Hamilton, saying: “I’m surprised Lewis hasn’t just brushed it aside or, better than that, replied. But now Nelson has apologised, so everyone should be happy.”

Except Hamilton was anything but satisfied, leaving no doubt as to his anger with Ecclestone and Piquet for their barbs. Last week, he was also told by Sir Jackie Stewart, 83, that he should consider retirement and a career in the fashion industry rather than continue a moment longer in F1, despite having been just one lap away from an eighth championship last December.

“These older voices, subconsciously or consciously, do not agree people like me should be in this sport,” he said. “I don’t think, in the last couple of weeks, that a day has gone by where some of the older people who are not in our sport – or who have not been relevant in our sport for decades – have tried to say negative things and bring me down.

“But I am still here, still standing strong, trying to do my work and pushing diversity. It has been two years since many of us took the knee in Austria, we are still faced with challenges. I have been on the receiving end of racism and archaic narratives for a long time.”

F1 has not issued Ecclestone with the same permanent ban it has given Piquet but tried strenuously at Silverstone to distance itself from him ahead of Sunday’s British Grand Prix. “The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to the modern values of our sport,” it said.