How is it that more than two years after the public display of a willingness to increase inclusion in Formula 1, we are still talking about Lewis Hamilton in racially derogatory terms by one of the most successful drivers in the sport?
The ‘We Race as One’ campaign and pre-race ‘take a knee’ gesture might have disappeared from regular grid procedure this season, but you would have been hard-pressed to miss the global movement to eradicate racism in all its forms. of society in general, using sport as a catalyst.
And yet, in mid-2022, despite a lot of work that has been going on behind the scenes, on the surface it seems that very little has changed.
Only Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel can claim to have won more Formula 1 world championships than Nelson Piquet. With three titles to his name, he sits alongside Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Jack Brabham. And while he regularly made headlines for things he said when he was competing, the latest headline is one that really can’t be allowed to slip.
Piquet used the racially derogatory term “neguinho” twice when describing Hamilton during a podcast interview with Brazilian outlet Canal Enerto. While some native speakers suggest that it does not have the same connotation as the English n-word, many others claim that it does, with the vast majority saying that it is racially derogatory, regardless of how specific a translation exists.
Context matters, given that many of the instances where it might not have been considered offensive are private and endearing, and Piquet was clearly not speaking in those terms, as he was asked to compare Hamilton’s collision with Max Verstappen at Silverstone. with Senna and Prost in Japan in 1990.
But nuances of the situation aside, it’s really the answers I want to focus on now.
Below are the statements issued yesterday by Formula 1 and the FIA.
Formula 1: “Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and is not part of 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 in F1.”
FIA: “The FIA strongly condemns any racist or discriminatory language and behaviour, which has no place in sport or in society in general. We express our solidarity with Lewis Hamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motorsport.”
What does that actually accomplish? Neither made reference to Piquet (perhaps for legal reasons, given the possible explanations he might try to offer), and in both cases his endorsement of Hamilton should have been a given. So there is little of substance when you actually look at the content.
I don’t think Hamilton’s own posts were a direct reaction to those statements, but one message in particular really stood out.
“It is more than a language,” wrote Hamilton. “These archaic mindsets need to change and they have no place in our sport. I have been surrounded by these attitudes and directed all my life. There has been a lot of time to learn. The time for action has come.”
He is right. Whatever his allegiance, it’s hard not to agree that if we really want to eradicate racism, then the learning phase can’t be allowed to roll over unchanged.
It’s not that everyone should be given the same answer if they’re found guilty of doing or saying something wrong by the jury of public opinion (yes, there are various degrees of wrongdoing, annoying as it is to have to consider that), but the more significant offenses cannot be left unchecked.
Kyle Larson found out exactly that in 2020 when he used the n-word so casually on a game stream, and now Juri Vips can add his name to that list after Red Bull dropped him this week for the same transgression.
I like Vips, but it was the correct answer because of the context it’s in. I refer to my earlier comment that you would have had a hard time missing out on the global movement to eradicate racism in all its forms from society at large, using sport as a catalyst. Such a reaction has not come out of nowhere, and if racist terms are still part of your vocabulary, you will have to face the consequences.
Education must also play an important role in the future, but it’s not like Vips will be banned from competing or jailed. He has lost the backing of a Formula 1 team and will have to work very hard to get another chance. He has the opportunity to do it.
And so it was important that there be real consequences for Piquet from those who have issued statements and have the power to do so. Symbolic as it may be for a former driver who rarely attends races, an F1 paddock ban has been put in place and shows that such language needs to be carefully thought through. And by thinking about what a word might mean or how it might be taken, to give the benefit of the doubt if it’s not intentional, people will learn.
It won’t instantly change the world and probably won’t prevent future incidents, but statements like this week‘s needed to be followed by an action of some kind. If sport is serious about trying to eradicate racism and racist language and attitudes, whether outdated or current, then the condemnation is‘Is not sufficient.