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Lewis Hamilton calls for change; Nelson Piquet apologizes for slur

Lewis Hamilton called for action after Nelson Piquet's comment about him became public. (Hamad Mohammed/AP)
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Lewis Hamilton called for “archaic mindsets” to change after three-time Formula One series champion Nelson Piquet used a racial slur about him. Piquet would later apologize.

Piquet, who won the championship in 1981, 1983 and 1987, used the epithet in a 2021 podcast that became public Monday, and he was instantly criticized by Formula One, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile and Hamilton’s Mercedes team.

“It’s more than language,” Hamilton, the seven-time series champion and Formula One’s only Black driver, tweeted. “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.”

In Portuguese, the winningest driver in Formula One tweeted, “Let’s focus on changing the mind-set.”

Piquet made the comment in Portuguese in November to Motorsport Talk’s Ricardo Oliveira as he discussed a crash from last summer involving Hamilton and Red Bull driver Max Verstappen on the first lap of the 2021 British Grand Prix. The 69-year-old Brazilian called the accident a “joke,” adding that Hamilton was “lucky” only Verstappen crashed.

Piquet said that the word he used does not have a racial connotation.

“What I said was ill thought out, and I make no defense for it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used in Brazilian Portuguese for a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and was never intended to offend,” he said (via ESPN). “I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations.

“I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin color. I apologize wholeheartedly to anyone that was affected, including Lewis, who is an incredible driver, but the translation in some media that is now circulating on social media is not correct. Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect.”

Citing an unnamed source, ESPN reported that Piquet has been indefinitely barred from visiting the Formula One paddock.

Piquet’s daughter Kelly is Verstappen’s partner, and Verstappen and Hamilton dueled for the title last year until a controversial decision in the Abu Dhabi finale gave it to Verstappen. This weekend’s British Grand Prix marks the anniversary of the drivers’ crash.

“Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society,” Formula One said in a statement. “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.”

The Mercedes team’s statement condemned “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 motor sport, and this incident underlines the fundamental importance of continuing to strive for a brighter future.”

FIA, Formula One’s governing body, expressed “solidarity with Lewis Hamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motor sport.”

Piquet has made controversial statements before, questioning the sexuality of the late Ayrton Senna and making offensive comments about Nigel Mansell’s wife. The Guardian reported that Formula One would not allow Piquet access to its races until he apologizes publicly and to Hamilton.

Hamilton has become more outspoken over the past few years about the need in Formula One for greater inclusion and tolerance. His team, known as the Silver Arrows, switched to an all-black car in 2020 in support of Hamilton’s efforts and he, as well as most drivers, took a knee before races starting in 2020 as a “We Race As One” anti-racism gesture. At the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix, he wore a T-shirt that read “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor,” and he created the Hamilton Commission to improve diversity in Formula One.

“This year I’ve not been drawing on past experiences; I’ve been drawing on feeding off this energy of doing this positive work,” he told Sky Sports in October. “I noticed that last year and it was a part of that last year. Getting on the podium so I can give Breonna that voice, it was a super drive for me. So now it’s the work that I’m doing in the background and then I’m turning up and I’m enjoying this job.

“Is it helping me race? I think so, yeah. It’s like my new drive, and I feel like it’s giving me more longevity because it’s a lot of work we have to do. I feel like it also gives my life real purpose. Racing is not a purpose; it’s something you do.”

In February, FIA moved away from the prerace gesture.

“The [knee] gesture was important for the ones that believed that was an important gesture, because we need to respect everyone,” Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali told Sky Sports. “But now is the time to move on and take some other action. The action is the focus on the diversity of our community, and this is the first step.”

Hamilton stated at the time that he didn’t know “whether we need to have that one moment,” adding: “We should be able to do it at any stage, really. I did feel that the overall slogan last year, with all the different things compiled into one, I think we can do more and be more impactful somehow. But I don’t know what that is just yet.”