Lewis Hamilton is a six-times F1 world champion, with 90 wins and 95 pole positions to his name. He also is a five-seasons strong fashion designer, an all-electric racing team owner, an artist and a business entrepreneur. Among other things. In fairness, it would take the day to list all the lines of the Briton’s resume. However, when interviewed ahead of a GP earlier in the season, Hamilton stated that all those achievements made very little sense, if any sense at all, if he wasn’t able to utilise them to promote his call for a more equal, diverse and inclusive world.
In this regard, Hamilton has been particularly vocal about the death of George Floyd, which brought back to light the inequality in the way black people and people of colour are treated, especially when it comes to police brutality. George Floyd’s death, along with other victims have revived the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which demands equality and fairness for black and colored people.
Following the surge of protests around the globe regarding the racial issue, some global sports did not hesitate to show an united front in addressing the matter. Football, Basketball, American Football, Cricket, Tennis, Baseball and even… NASCAR. They sent a joint message to vigorously condemn racism and discrimination in any shape or form, and the participants stood hands-in-hands to convey the message. Yet, Formula One was yet to be heard.
Early June, noticing the silence of his sport, Hamilton used his social media account to state: “I see those of you who are staying silent, some of you the biggest of stars, yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice. Not a sign from anybody in my industry which of course is a white dominated sport. I’m one of the only people of colour there, yet I stand alone. I would have thought by now you would see why this happens and say something about it but you can’t stand alongside us. Just know I know who you are and I see you…”.
That callout from the British champion created a shock wave, which prompted several of his fellow racing drivers – Leclerc, Ricciardo, Albon, Russel, Latifi, Giovinazzi – to post something in support of the cause. Following the racing drivers’ lead, the Formula One management launched the #WeRaceAsOne initiative to fight challenges of global inequality. That initiative is (was) aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities – The condemnation of racism and inequality. Allegedly.
F1, in the perspective of the said initiative, recorded a video footage of drivers condemning racism and discrimination, with a Hamilton claiming he "won’t stay silent”. The management of the sport seemingly reluctantly agreed to arrange a moment for the drivers to show their anti-racism stance before the race. Apart from the F1 management, Mercedes AMG F1, Lewis’ team showed him an undivided support, by adopting an all-black livery for the entirety of the 2020 season. They also said in response to those who accused their driver of bringing politics into the sport: "We're not bringing politics into F1; these are human rights issues that we're trying to highlight and raise awareness of". The rest of the industry is yet to be heard.
For Hamilton, race build-ups and podiums celebrations became then the occasion to convey his message. The Briton would often wear pre-race, a “black lives matter” T-shirt, point a finger on his black lives matter helmet when getting out of his car, or raise his fist in reference to the movement. But on Sunday, Hamilton shifted another gear. He wore a T-shirt saying “ARREST THE COPS WHO KILLED BREONNA TAYLOR” before the race, AND also on the podium.
Following this gesture from the F1 champion, several major motorsports media reported Monday that the FIA are investigating Hamilton for "wearing a T-shirt with a message about the shooting of Breonna Taylor both before and after his win at the Tuscan GP". According to reports, a spokesman for the FIA said the matter [wearing a T-shirt highlighting police brutality] was "under active consideration". The said spokesman added that the FIA was a non-political organisation and was considering whether Hamilton's T-shirt broke its statutes.
Ultimately, it has been reported that the world champion will not face an investigation over the Breonna Taylor T-shirt gate after all. The FIA was considering whether the matter contravened its rules but the spokesman told BBC Sport an investigation had been ruled out. The FIA will, however, seek to clarify its guidelines as to what is permitted for drivers pre-race and on the podium.
According to the governing body, that review had to do with the article 1.2 of its statutes, which says: "The FIA shall refrain from manifesting discrimination on account of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.". In addition, The FIA is also a signatory of the Olympic charter, which forbids any "kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda".
If the investigation has been ruled out, there are however, a lot of questions that remain. The first one being, the #WeRaceAsOne initiative was aimed at condemning racism and inequality, but so was Hamilton’s T-shirt. Was he not aligned with the values that the initiative is prone? If so, what was the need of the review? Furthermore, other global sports, which are also signatories of this Olympic charter, have allowed their champions to demonstrate their stance in favor of a movement that promotes equality and fights racism. We can think about Basketball in the USA for instance, or Tennis, with Naomi OSAKA. Is fighting racism or promoting equality considered by the governing body as racial propaganda?
In the end, Hamilton used his social media platform to reaffirm, if needed, his commitment to what he believes is right: “ [I] want you to know that I won’t stop, I won’t let up, I won’t give up on using this platform to shed light on what I believe is right."
“This is a journey for all of us to come together and challenge the world on every level of injustice, not only racial”.