Lewis Hamilton will compete at the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend after speculation he could withdraw in protest at the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the US.
Hamilton is the only black driver in Formula One and has been forthright in urging the sport to adopt an anti-racist stance and in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, despite widespread boycotts in US sports over the Wisconsin shooting, the British driver has chosen to take part in the race believing his withdrawal would have little effect on the situation in the US.
During their briefing on Friday the drivers will have a discussion on what action they might take but, speaking before the Belgian GP, Hamilton had decided that despite his huge global appeal his withdrawal would not be effective.
“So many people are standing with the players and pushing for change it’s a shame that’s what’s needed over there in order to get a reaction,” he said. “But that is in America and I don’t know if me doing anything here will particularly have any effect. We are in Belgium not in the United States.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody about it but I am really proud of so many of them out there. I stand unified with them trying to do what I can over here. I don’t know how us not doing the race, it [racism] will still go on is the thing. I will try to speak to F1 to see what else we can do to continue to raise awareness.”
In the wake of the shooting of Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 40 miles from Milwaukee, a number of sporting events were called off and the Black tennis player Naomi Osaka withdrew from her semi-final in the Western & Southern Open in protest. Thursday’s matches at the tournament, taking place in New York as the precursor to the US Open, were suspended.
Osaka had tweeted that she felt as a Black woman compelled to pull out of the tournament to put a focus on police shooting Black people. She was supported by other players on the WTA tour. Hamilton reposted her withdrawal message on Instagram with the words “I am so proud of you”. She has since agreed to play in Friday’s rearranged matches.
On Wednesday the Milwaukee Bucks had boycotted their play-off game against the Orlando Magic and subsequently all that evening’s NBA and WNBA games were called off although the NBA play-offs are expected to resume. With athletes demanding racial justice three Major League Baseball games and five of six Major League Soccer games were also called off.
Every event in F1 counts towards the title and choosing not to race would have had an impact on Hamilton’s attempt to secure his seventh world championship. He has won four of the six races so far and enjoys a comfortable lead. He is 37 points in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and 43 clear of his teammate Valtteri Bottas. However either driver could have closed the gap with a 25-point swing if Hamilton had not taken part and they won this weekend.
Hamilton has vigorously committed to the anti-racist cause since the killing of George Floyd. He has led F1 in committing to anti-racism statements and gestures before races, taking the knee alongside the majority of fellow drivers at all the meetings thus far. He has repeatedly called for the sport, its teams and drivers to embrace anti-racism. In July after he won the Styrian GP Hamilton gave the Black power salute on the podium and made a clear statement of the seriousness of his commitment afterwards.
“Racism is going to be here for longer than our time here,” he said. “A lot of work needs to go on in F1, the FIA need to be part of it, the drivers need to be a part of it. We are going to be fighting and pushing for it all year. For me this is going to be a lifelong thing.”
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, a prominent supporter of anti-racism, confirmed he believed the sport should act collectively in response to the shooting.
“Until there is a change you keep banging on the door until it falls down,” he said. “When is it enough? You shake your head in disbelief how it can keep going on, it still blows my mind. If there is something we can do of course we will. Let’s try to do something but we have to have that discussion.”