‘I was silenced over Kaepernick’: Hamilton reveals regret over protest

Giles Richards
Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton has revealed his regret at not making a more public stand against racism after he was warned off doing so several years ago.

On Sunday at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, Formula One became the first international sporting event where participants took a knee, although six of the drivers chose not to. Hamilton endured a difficult afternoon at the Red Bull Ring, finishing fourth after being demoted from second place following a collision with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon, with his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas winning the race.

Related: Valtteri Bottas wins F1 Austrian Grand Prix after Hamilton suffers penalty

But while Hamilton refused to criticise the decision of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Kimi Räikkönen, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz and Antonio Giovinazzi, the six-times champion admitted that he had been inspired to speak out against racism when the former NFL player Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in protest in 2016.

“I thought that was a very powerful statement,” said Hamilton. “Then he lost his job and he was a great athlete. I spoke to him a couple of years ago shortly after that for the US GP. I had a helmet made in red for his top with his number on but back then I was kind of silenced. I was told to back down and ‘Don’t support it,’ which I regret. So it is important for me that during this time I did my part.”

Hamilton had expressed his disappointment on Saturday that some drivers had not spoken out to condemn racism. As had been planned, however, all on the grid wore “End Racism” T-shirts, except Hamilton, who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt. There was no consensus on who chose to take the knee and Hamilton revealed that he had not requested any driver to do so and that he respected their decisions.

“I said: ‘I will be doing it but you do what you feel is right,’” he said. “I am really grateful for those who did kneel along with me. I think it is a powerful message, but it won’t change the world. It’s a much, much bigger issue across the world, everyone had the right to their own choice and for me it felt right to do.”

The 35-year-old did not specify whether he would do so once more at the race next weekend – also in Austria – but was unequivocal that he would maintain his vigorous support for equality.

“Everything we do is not enough, we all need to do more,” he said. “There has been awareness for a few weeks and what we don’t need is for it to die a silent death and disappear.”