Lewis Hamilton’s comments on racial injustice on Sunday night woke Formula 1 up. His use of the words “I stand alone” were particularly strong, even if they are not true.
That’s not a criticism of Hamilton at all. It’s a criticism of so many other people in F1 – myself included – who allow him to feel that way. He is not alone, but if he feels it, it’s because he hasn’t felt enough support from the sport to say anything different.
I’ll admit I’m scared just writing this piece, because as a white British male in F1, I do so from a position of immense privilege in this argument. And it’s an argument that I won’t fully understand every side of as a result, but the #BlackLivesMatter movement calling for change and justice for George Floyd cannot be ignored.
And while I never originally intended to use the sort of platform I’m lucky enough to have as a journalist for anything other than reporting what far more important people than myself want to say, the reaction from other drivers since Hamilton delivered his message inspired me to both say a little, but more importantly praise those who are saying a lot.
Hamilton has been increasingly impressive with the way he has used his platform to transcend F1 and highlight issues both within the sport and beyond. But when he first entered F1 at the age of 22 he wasn’t always like that, as he found his feet, and that’s what makes the reaction of his younger peers worthy of note.
I’m only 31 – I like to think pretty young – but I was afraid to tweet about what is happening for fear of saying “the wrong thing” or giving “the wrong take”. There’s almost a pressure for people to ‘have a voice’, even if they’re not sure exactly what that voice should be saying. Lewis is likely to have felt pressure to take the lead as the only Black driver, but it certainly didn’t stop him. And soon after, came the following admirable quotes from much younger people than me.
“To be completely honest, I felt out of place and uncomfortable sharing my thoughts on social media about the whole situation and this is why I haven’t express myself earlier than today. And I was completely wrong.
“I still struggle to find the words to describe the atrocity of some videos I’ve seen on [the] internet. Racism needs to be met with actions, not silence. Please be actively participating, engaging and encouraging others to spread awareness.
“It is our responsabilities to speak out against injustice. Don’t be silent. I stand #BlackLivesMatters.”
“We all have a voice to speak up for what’s right – and until now I didn’t know how to use mine in this situation. To echo @Charles_Leclerc‘s words, I just felt out of place sharing my thoughts on these atrocities publicly.
“I struggle to comprehend what I’m seeing in the news and on social media right now – and honestly, I still can’t find the words to express how it makes me feel. But ultimately, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to speak out, silence achieves nothing.
“Now more than ever, we need peace and equality in this world. It’s time we all stand together and kick racism out of our societies for good. Use your voice, spread awareness as far as you can. We’re all responsible for ending the injustice. #BlackLivesMatter.”
“I have fans and followers. Support and love. And I have power through this to lead and inspire so many. But we also stand for what’s right. This time I ask you to do something and take action. Click the link and make a difference…#blacklivesmatter http://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#”
“Truthfully, I’ve been quite hesitant having a voice around George Floyd’s death because I felt I wasn’t in the position to talk. I grew up in a very privileged way, shielded away from any form of racism, whether it was at school, in my neighborhood or racing. I never experienced it and so I don’t really know how to put it into words. But I came to realize that that was part of the problem, staying silent wasn’t good enough and everyone should be able to experience how I grew up. With that being said it’s never too late to change and to address what’s wrong, this is about justice and to stand up for racial equality.
“What happened to George Floyd is inexcusable, it’s a final straw for many and it’s our duty to reform and create a better world for all of us. So how can we help? One way is being vocal and spreading awareness, we can also donate, but more than anything, don’t tolerate any form of racism, whether it be at home with your parents, at school with your friends or at work with your colleagues.
“On a side note, you guys most probably know I’m not the most active on social media, in fact I try to stay away from it most of the time, but if there is one thing I’ve seen, it’s how this topic has created conflict and separation between our community. Let’s keep the love, people.”
“These issues that we are facing nowadays in 2020 makes us think that we have gone back in time regardless the suffer and tears of our ancestors. It is crazy to think what is still happening right now, we all have the same blood…
“Regarding our environment, we’re a global sport with workers and fans from all over the world, from various backgrounds, religions, skin colors and conditions. We work together in great harmony to entertain everyone around the globe and spread a message of sportsmanship and unity. I absolutely condemn all type of racism and all type of injustice. Diversity pushes us forward, we embrace it. Hopefully one day everyone will.”
Now, they are not the only drivers to speak up, and there is no guarantee that any of the above saw Hamilton’s post before publishing their own message (it must be said Norris was mentioning the topic on his Twitch stream before Hamilton posted), but all of those comments came after Lewis criticized F1’s silence.
And the response has been enormous. The eldest of those drivers is Sainz at 25. The youngest is Norris at 20. And they were not too afraid to speak up and talk to their audience, whether they felt stronger to do so because of Hamilton’s original message or not.
A lot of these drivers speak to a much younger generation and different demographic than many other drivers – Hamilton included – might, and that’s why their voice is important. But it’s also brave for them to do so, knowing they are likely to receive abuse whatever they say.
This is not about criticizing silence, and is not meant to cast a negative light on any driver who is yet to speak up. People will respond or highlight issues in their own way, and at a time when social media makes it easy to be skeptical of people jumping on the bandwagon – I’m sure I might get accused of that simply for writing this piece – more power to the people who stay silent until they have something really important to say, or find something really important they can do.
F1 is lucky to have Hamilton, someone willing to speak up about topics that really matter, and he is very much in the minority as a Black person in the sport. But he does not stand alone, and he has a new generation of drivers who are showing how willing they are to stand beside him. At this point that only takes the form of words on social media platforms, but Hamilton’s comments are hopefully the spark to instigate real change, and F1 should be grateful to have him.