Max Verstappen has defended Nelson Piquet over the former world champion’s use of a racial slur against Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen, the world champion, admitted Piquet’s words were not correct but insisted the 69-year-old Brazilian is not a racist. Hamilton, meanwhile, has demanded Formula One and its teams take action against racism and to promote diversity, saying “older voices” are holding the sport back.
Piquet is the father of Verstappen’s partner, Kelly, and has been roundly condemned for his use of a racist epithet earlier this week. He has since apologised and insisted the phrase he used was mistranslated, but speaking before this weekend’s British Grand Prix, Verstappen conceded Piquet was at fault.
“The wording that was used was not correct,” he said. “Let it be a lesson for the future not to use that word.” The Dutchman added: “I’ve spent a lot of time with Nelson. More than the average person in general and he’s definitely not a racist.”
However Hamilton has called out his sport for merely paying lip service toward change. “It’s all well to stand on the grid and talk about inclusivity but they are just empty words without putting action in,” he said.
The seven-times champion has backed his words with deeds. On Thursday Hamilton and Mercedes’ Ignite Partnership announced its first grants as part of their joint commitment to improving diversity in the sport. Between them they have committed $6.2m to the fund and Hamilton has donated £20m to his Mission44 project to promote diversity.
Yet he was frustrated at the lack of action by other F1 teams. In the report his Hamilton Commission made into improving inclusivity in racing it recommended an F1 charter to provide funding to implement diversity as well as providing access with apprenticeships and to support activity by black community groups. The charter had been agreed but remained unsigned.
Hamilton has also recently been criticised by the former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and the three-times world champion Jackie Stewart as well as Piquet’s slur, and is clearly frustrated at what he felt were unwarranted attacks from largely irrelevant figures. “Whether they consciously or subconsciously do not agree that people like me should be in a sport like this, discrimination is not something we should be projecting and promoting,” he said. “I don’t know why we are giving the older voices a platform.
“I have been on the receiving end of racism and criticism, negativity and archaic narratives for a long time and undertones of discrimination, so there is nothing new for me.”
“We are looking to go somewhere different and they are not representative of who we are now in the sport,” he added. “If we are looking to grow our audiences and give the younger people a platform that is more representative of today’s times. It is not just about one individual or the use of that term but the bigger picture.”
Hamilton’s part in the British GP had been under some doubt because of his ongoing standoff with the FIA in regards to his desire to continue wearing a nose piercing in his car, which is against rules the sports’s governing body is now strictly enforcing. Hamilton could have faced a ban but appears to have come to some form of compromise with the FIA, although neither party have explained where they stand in regards to the rules.
“I will be racing this weekend,” the 37-year-old said. “I will be working with the FIA, the matter is not massively important. I will work with [FIA president] Mohammed bin Sulayem and his team so we can progress forward.”
The British Racing Drivers’ Club, which owns Silverstone and runs the British GP, has suspended Piquet as a member, citing a zero-tolerance policy toward racism. The club has stated it expects to formally terminate his membership at a board meeting to be held within seven days, describing his actions as “unacceptable and represents conduct that is wholly inappropriate for an honorary member of the BRDC”.