Lewis Hamilton has insisted that he will not force his fellow F1 drivers to take a knee – after six drivers declined to take a stance ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Other than Hamilton, the drivers wore “End Racism” t-shirts and congregated at the front of the grid, while the Brit sported a ‘Black Lives Matter’ top.
Hamilton – the sport’s first and only black driver – then took a knee, which all but Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen, Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat and Antonio Giovinazzi joined him in doing.
But Hamilton has praised the class of 2020 for backing the anti-racism campaign and explained how he won’t lecture or force them to do anything they don’t feel comfortable doing.
“Nobody should be forced into a scenario where they have to kneel,” Hamilton, 35, said.
“I never requested or demanded for anyone to take a knee. I never brought it up. It was brought up by F1 and the GPDA [Grand Prix Drivers’ Association]. Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean asked the drivers and there were several who said they wouldn’t do it.
“I am really grateful for those who did it along with me. It is a powerful message but whether you kneel or do not kneel, that is not going to change the world. It is a bigger issue than that.”
Ferrari star Leclerc, who later finished second in the race, had earlier explained his reasons behind not taking the symbolic stand with Hamilton.
The Monegasque ace tweeted: “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.”
He was followed by Red Bull’s Verstappen, who added: “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.
“I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes.”
Hamilton finished the race in second, but due to a five-second penalty for crashing with Alex Albon he was demoted to fourth.
The six-time world title holder, who has championed Mercedes to change their livery from silver to black for the season, has insisted he won’t be stopping his fight to end racism.
“There has been awareness on the subject over the last few weeks and we don’t need it to die a silent death and see no change,” said Hamilton. “I can be the guinea pig and keep speaking out.
“All of us, myself included, we have to be accountable. This started with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. He sat down for the US national anthem. He sat down and received a backlash. It was suggested to him to take a knee. It was a powerful statement but he lost his job and never got it back.
“I spoke to him before the  US Grand Prix and I had a helmet made in red with his number on the top. But I was silenced and told to back down. I supported that decision which I regret.
“So it was important for me to make sure I played my part this time and, moving forward, whether there is going to be an opportunity to take the knee, I don’t know.
“I don’t want it to be a case of people feeling forced. I want people to be excited to be a part of the change. I want people to think that while they are fortunate not to have experienced racism, they can try to understand what it feels like and that they don’t want people to feel that way and want to be part of change so in the future our kids can lead a better quality of life.”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas claimed the victory at the belated start to the season with a stunning drive from pole position, while McLaren’s British driver Lando Norris celebrated his first podium with a third-placed finish, thanks to Hamilton’s penalty.