Six F1 drivers choose not to kneel at Austrian GP

Valtteri Bottas kneeled holding the winners’ trophy at Formula One’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, where the podium trio held up a black T-shirt with “End Racism” written on it.

That message was said before the race, too, when all drivers wore the T-shirt on the grid.

“End Racism. One cause. One commitment,” the F1 said in a statement.

“As individuals, we choose our own way to support the cause. As a group of drivers and a wider F1 family, we are united in its goal.”

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and some of the F1 drivers take a knee on the grid in support of the Black Lives Matter movement (Getty)

World champion Lewis Hamilton, the only black driver in F1, had Black Lives Matter on the front and End Racism on the back of his.

But six drivers did not join Hamilton and 13 others in taking the knee pre-race: Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc – who finished in second place.

Leclerc explained his decision not to kneel, saying: “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.”

Hamilton, who knelt alongside Sebastian Vettel, at one point bowed his head pensively while Kvyat pointed to the anti-racism message on his T-shirt.

Hamilton has spoken widely about racism in recent weeks following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd – a handcuffed and unarmed Black man – after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes in May.

Hamilton attended a Black Lives Matter march in London and is setting up a commission to increase diversity in motorsport.

He said after the Austrian Grand Prix what the kneeling gesture meant to him.

Some of the F1 drivers take a knee on the grid in support of the Black Lives Matter movement (Getty)

“Today was an important moment for me and all the people out there who are working for and hoping for change. For a more equal and just society. I may get criticism in the media and elsewhere, but this fight is about equality, not politics or promotion,” he said.

“To me it was an emotional and poignant chapter in the progress of making F1 a more diverse and inclusive sport. I want a better future for our generation and the ones after us. There is so much that needs to be done.

“No one is perfect but if we all chip in and do our part, we can see change. I truly believe that. Thank you to my team for their incredible support and hard work this weekend and thank you to all who supported.”

Aussie F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo was among those drivers who was vocal in his support of the kneeling statement, but urged fans and media not to criticise those who chose not to kneel.

“I’ve certainly been supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Ricciardo said.

“I’ve read a lot and tried to learn more about it. It’s something which has certainly caught my interest and something I 100 percent want to support.

“The chat with the drivers was essentially this: All of us are 100 percent on board with supporting it and ending racism. None of us are ‘anti’ this. So we all support that.

“I think there was just a little bit of perhaps difficulty with some drivers and their nationality and what perhaps something like taking a knee would represent.

“Obviously the reasons why we will do is purely to support Black Lives Matter, it’s nothing political or anything else. But there is a little bit of a fine line, I think, with some drivers and their nationalities and how it’s perceived.

“But we heard all of them, we heard everyone’s opinion, and we’re not going to try to do anything against or put anyone in jeopardy. We’ve all understood that we’ll do what we feel comfortable with.

“No one’s going to be judged or criticised if they don’t stand there in a certain way or take a knee. But I think the intention is for us to support it and we’ll probably show that as a unit. And then if a few of us choose to do something extra, then that’ll be the case.”

Football players on fields in England and Germany have taken the knee together simultaneously before games in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and F1 drivers discussed what they should do during a drivers’ briefing on Friday evening.

Verstappen explained his choice not to kneel on social media.

“I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themselves at a time and in a way that suits them,” the Dutch driver said.

“I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes.”

Hamilton called out other F1 teams on Thursday for not doing enough to combat racism and said the sport still needs to push for more diversity. Mercedes is competing in an all-black car instead of the usual silver, while Hamilton and Bottas have “End Racism” written on the car’s halo.

Hamilton praised some drivers for speaking out against racism, but he still feels others need to do more and he raised that in their briefing.

“Silence is generally complicit. There still is some silence in some cases,” he said on Saturday.

“But I think it is part of a dialogue of people trying to understand, because there are still some people who don’t fully understand what is happening and what is the reason for these protests and I continue to try to be that guide and try to influence as many people as I can with it.”

Some figures in the F1 world were not impressed by those that chose not to kneel in solidarity with Hamilton and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Motorsport’s governing body FIA is donating one million euros ($1.12 million) to improve diversity in motorsport.

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