There were emotional and poignant scenes at the return of the Formula 1 season this weekend as fourteen drivers took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the lead-up to the Austrian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ while all other drivers displayed ‘End Racism’ messages as they prepared to do battle in Spielberg.
However, six of the sport’s biggest names, including Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, remained standing as their peers knelt down on the track in solidarity before Sunday’s race.
Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz and Kimi Raikkonen were the other drivers who refused to kneel, a decision which has caused controversy and received some criticism across social media.
Verstappen, who had to retire when his car broke shortly into the race, defended his right not to kneel but stressed that he was dedicated to the fight to end racism.
‘I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism,’ he tweeted ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.
‘But I believe everyone has the right to express themself [sic] at a time and in a way that suits them.
‘I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes.’
Leclerc played down the significance of ‘formal gestures’ such as taking the knee but insisted he was ‘committed’ to fighting racism.
‘I believe what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures,’ Monegasque driver said.
‘I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism.’
Hamilton – the only black competitor in this year’s championship – said he reminded his fellow drivers that ‘silence is complicit’ in a virtual meeting prior to this weekend’s race.
‘We spoke a bit in the drivers’ briefing, yep, interesting,’ the Mercedes star explained.
‘I don’t know what we will see… Potentially, people will pay their respects in their own way.
‘I just described that silence is complicit and there is still silence in some cases.
‘So, I thanked those that have said something on their social media platforms – because they have a great voice – and encouraged the others that have not, to say something.’
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