Formula One’s divisions came to the fore on Sunday as a number of drivers chose not to take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement moments before the season opener in Austria.
Drivers had been divided over whether to take the knee – a gesture to end racial inequality after African-American George Floyd was killed under the knee of a white policeman – in the moments leading up to the race after seven months off due to the coronavirus crisis.
It had been reported that at least a quarter of the grid were thought to have been uneasy about doing it due to the political outlook of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Formula One’s division came to the fore as a number of drivers did not take the knee for Black Lives Matter
Drivers had been hesitant to make the gesture in support of anti racism as a result of the connotations of the movement with other political messages
Six drivers, including Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, chose to stand rather than kneel
The drivers also stood for a minute silence for the victims of Covid-19 before the race
DRIVERS WHO DID NOT KNEEL
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
Daniil Kvyat (Scuderia AlphaTauri)
Kimi Raikkonen (Alpha Romeo)
Antonio Giovinazzi (Alpha Romeo)
And those concerns were fully magnified at Spielberg as six drivers, including Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, opted to remain standing while current world champion Lewis Hamilton knelt in support of the campaign.
Leclerc announced on Sunday morning that he would not be taking a knee before the race.
‘All 20 drivers stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion, supporting Formula 1’s and FIA’s commitment,’ Leclerc said on Twitter.
‘I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries.
‘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.’
The Black Lives Matter UK Twitter account last week posted messages regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as demanding that the British police is defunded. Those messages have seen a number of supporters distance themselves from the movement, with the belief that it detracts from the central issue of seeking to bring racial equality.
Lewis Hamilton has been a vocal supporter of the movement, and took the knee on Sunday
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc opted not to kneel but said he is committed to fighting racism
All drivers, including Leclerc, wore ‘End Racism’ T-shirts in support of anti-racism
AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat also chose to remain stood while his colleagues knelt on Sunday
During a tense virtual meeting of all 20 drivers at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring on Friday night, the topic of taking a knee was discussed. But the drivers failed to reach a unanimous conclusion.
There has also been a growing sense of unrest among some quarters regarding the actions of current Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, with some wishing to resist being strong-armed by the Brit.
In the build up to this weekend’s race, the teams said they would leave their drivers to make up their own minds on whether to take the knee, while the FIA insisted it is not the job of the sporting federation to instruct the drivers on what is essentially a political decision.
All the grid’s cast also donned ‘End Racism’ T-shirts as they lined up for the Austrian national anthem.
Current F1 champion Hamilton has been a vocal leader in talking about the need for the sport to be more diverse
Hamilton criticised the lack of racial diversity in his own sport in a lengthy Instagram post and even hit out at his fellow drivers, which has reportedly upset some quarters
The Brit also became embroiled in a public spat with Bernie Ecclestone (left), 89, over comments made about racial equality
Hamilton has not been afraid to call people out in his bid to ensure equality and inclusivity in the sport. Last month, he called out drivers who had chosen not to post an anti-racism message on social media. ‘I know who you are and I see you,’ he wrote.
‘We spoke a bit in the drivers’ briefing, yep, interesting,’ Hamilton said of Friday’s meeting with a heavy hint of sarcasm.
‘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.’
He also became embroiled in a race row with former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone last week, after the billionaire controversially claimed ‘a lot of black people are more racist than white people’.
The Brit responded: ‘So sad and disappointing to read these comments. Bernie is out of the sport and of a different generation.’
In an exclusive interview with Sportsmail last weekend, Ecclestone, 89, insisted that he does not care if someone is ‘yellow, green, brown or pink’ after being cold-shouldered by his successor as F1 boss, Chase Carey.
Hamilton, a six-time world champion, debuted a new-look black Mercedes designed to carry the fight against racism on the Austrian track this weekend.
Mercedes, who traditionally race in silver, unveiled the new design, called The Black Arrow, on Monday, and it made its debut at Spielberg.
Mercedes also unveiled a black car to carry the fight against racism this season. The car was specially designed by Hamilton and was unveiled at Austria this weekend
Mercedes drivers Hamilton (left) and Valterri Bottas (right) will wear black overalls throughout the season as the team pledged to ensure equality and inclusivity in the team
F1’s governing body has pledged over £900,000 towards improving diversity in motorsport
Sportsmail understands that Hamilton came up with the idea of a black car in discussion with team principal Toto Wolff earlier this month. The scheme was then signed off by the Mercedes board in Stuttgart within 48 hours, and the plans drawn up.
Both Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas will wear black overalls this year. The new livery will remain in place all season.
Meanwhile, Formula One’s governing body has also pledged to donate £900,755 to a foundation for improving diversity in motorsport.
FIA says the funding will support a number of activities to ‘create a more inclusive and diverse culture’ within F1 and other motor sports.
Jean Todt, the FIA president said: ‘We must promote diversity in motor sport, and that is why we decided to give one million euros in contribution to the new dedicated Foundation created by Formula 1.
‘That is a first step, and more will come.’
The British Mercedes driver, 35, was seen at a Black Lives Matter protest in London this month