This weekend is Formula 1's British Grand Prix, which means it's the anniversary of the FIA having to ask fans to stop racially abusing Lewis Hamilton. Depressingly, it's being marked by the FIA repeating that, except the person racially abusing Lewis Hamilton is three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet.
Video resurfaced Monday of Piquet being interviewed for a Brazilian YouTube channel, unearthed by the Folha de Sao Paulo. In it, Piquet talks about the crash between Hamilton and Max Verstappen at last year's British Grand Prix, saying that Hamilton refused to back out and caused the incident, adding that Ayrton Senna would never have done that, even when fighting with rival Alain Prost. Piquet repeatedly refers to Hamilton not by name but as "neguinho," which is a Brazilian Portuguese word that literally translates to English as "little black." Depending on the usage, it can either be patronizingly derogatory (and still extremely racist) or equivalent to the n-word.
Brazilians I've spoken to differed slightly on exactly how it should be translated but regardless, all of them agreed it was racist and intended to be that way. It might not be the worst slur possible but it still definitely is one.
Fans picked up on the video and after building pressure to comment, Mercedes said on Tuesday, "We condemn in the strongest terms any use of racist or discriminatory language of any kind.
“Lewis has spearheaded our sport’s efforts to combat racism, and he is a true champion of diversity on and off track. Together, we share a vision for a diverse and inclusive motorsport, and this incident underlines the fundamental importance of continuing to strive for a brighter future."
The FIA and Formula 1 management issued identical statements similar to Mercedes' by saying, "Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society. Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect. His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and something we are committed to at F1.”
Hamilton, who is an honorary citizen of Brazil, responded to the video on Tuesday. He said in a social media post, "It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action."
Hamilton also tweeted "Vamos focar em mudar a mentalidade," which translates from Portuguese to "Let's focus on changing the mindset."
One amplifying factor to this is that although Nelson Piquet last won a world championship in 1987, which is so long ago even I can't remember it, he is somewhat still relevant to the championship. The context in which he used the racial slur against Lewis Hamilton was in talking about that Silverstone crash last year, with Max Verstappen, whose partner Kelly is Piquet's daughter.
No one picks their dad, so that's not an accusation against either Verstappen or his partner, but it is an exacerbation of what's already a very nasty incident and some of the context of why people are so keen to see the Red Bull team issue a statement in support of Mercedes and Hamilton. According to media reports, however, it won't.
Last year the Hamilton Commission, funded by Lewis, published a report on how endemic racism is within the F1 paddock and how discriminatory language and slurs are regularly used. This is yet another rage-inducing example of how racing as one is going to take a lot more than a rainbow sticker.
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