Human Rights Concerns Have F1 Champ Lewis Hamilton Uncomfortable Racing in Saudi Arabia

·5 min read
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
  • Lewis Hamilton on Thursday said that concerns about human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia make him uncomfortable racing there this weekend.

  • Hamilton has put Formula 1 on notice in the past, including ahead of the opening race of the season in Bahrain. He was also vocal two weeks ago in Qatar.

  • Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel also had plenty to say as the sport prepares for its first race in Jeddah.

Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton says that even though he's received a warm welcome in Saudi Arabia this week, it's not his choice to race there.

As F1's resident activist on climate and human rights concerns, Hamilton on Thursday was quick to say that concerns about human rights conditions surrounding this week's stop at the sport's newest host venue make him uncomfortable.

Hamilton's comments were an extension of comments made at Qatar two weeks ago.

"As I said at the last race, that I felt that the sport and we are duty bound to try to help raise awareness for certain issues that we’ve seen, particularly human rights, in these countries that we’re going to," Hamilton said during press availability in Jeddah. "With the upmost respect to everyone that’s here, so far I’ve had a warm welcome from everyone on the ground, I can’t pretend to ever to be the most knowledgeable or have the deepest understanding of someone who has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime.

"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say I do. But it’s not my choice to be here, the sport has taken the choice to be here. Whether it’s right or wrong, whilst we’re here again, I feel it’s important that we do try to raise awareness."

Hamilton has put Formula 1 on notice in the past, including ahead of the opening race of the season in Bahrain. He was also vocal two weeks ago in Qatar.

Photo credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC - Getty Images
Photo credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC - Getty Images

“We’re aware there are issues in these places that we’re going to,” Hamilton said ahead of the race in Qatar. “But of course (Qatar) seems to be deemed as one of the worst in this part of the world. As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues. These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue.”

As for Saudi Arabia, Hamilton will again sport a rainbow-themed helmet in support of the LGBTQ+ community and the fears many members of that community have in that country.

"In the last race for example, you saw the helmet that I wore," Hamilton said. "I will wear that again here again and the next race, because that’s an issue. And the law—if anyone wants to take the time to read what the law is for the LGBTQ+ community—it’s pretty terrifying. There’s changes that need to be made.

"Those changes then, for example, women’s rights of being able to drive in 2018, is how they’re policed. Are they really in effect? Why are some of the woman still in prison from driving many, many years ago? There’s a lot of change that needs to happen and I think our sport needs to do more."

Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel was also asked about the human rights issues facing many people in Saudi Arabia as the racing series prepares for its first race in Jeddah. Vettel hosted a karting event for women there this week.

"Obviously there’s been a lot of talk and thought heading into the race here, the first time we race in Saudi Arabia, a lot of questions that have been asked and I’ve asked myself, so was thinking of what I can do and other than I think in general we have so much attention or focus on negative examples when it comes to shortcomings of certain countries in regard to maybe human rights and other things," Vettel said. "I really try and think of the positives so I set out my own karting event today under the hashtag Race For Women, and yeah we had i think a group of 7-8 girls and women on the track, and yeah set up a nice event only for them, and I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and on track to do something together to grow their confidence.

Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images
Photo credit: Pool - Getty Images

"Obviously in Saudi Arabia, women have only been allowed since 2017 to drive a car so some of them had a license others they did not, some of them were huge f1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with F1 or racing before today, so was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and a great event, everyone was extremely happy and I was extremely inspired by their story and background, their positivity about the change in the country.

"It’s true if we look from a western or European lens there’s still lots of things that should be improved and have to be addressed but it’s also true that some things are changing and for those people they make a huge difference. In the end, it’s very difficult for us coming to a country where we spend maybe only a couple of days and trying to be a perfect judge by not knowing the background exactly and the people inside out, but this way for me it was important to get to know some of these women and it was a very inspiring day and a great way to kick off the weekend.

"And that’s the main thing, focusing on the positive."

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