Six drivers refused to kneel with Lewis Hamilton, their fellow Black driver, at the start of this COVID-abridged season. At the most recent race this past weekend, a seventh driver stood. And F1 had the gall to put out a video saying that all drivers are acting as one to end racism.
I shouldn’t spend too much time belaboring one promo video from Formula 1. What do I even expect from a series that raced in apartheid South Africa and was, until recently, lorded over by a ‘Hitler had some good ideas’ guy and his friend who [REDACTED]?
But also, you’d think this would all be pretty easy to figure out. Start hiring people who aren’t the same endless stream of white dudes, make some clear commitments, donations, and tell the world that Black lives matter. That’s not what we get in the vid.
Listen carefully to what’s different about what Lewis says versus what all the drivers who stood say. Lewis makes a clear on-video commitment to action. He says “I won’t stay silent against racial discrimination and inequality.” This is nice! In the context of F1 he is a driver, and in the context of the world, he is a global figure with a huge audience. He has a platform. He can call shit out, and when he does, it can make a difference. It’s his team, Mercedes, that did a diversity audit of its staff, has fired racist staff members in the past, and promises a commission to support hiring diversity.
Immediately after Lewis gets his time on-air, we get Max Verstappen, a rich kid who does not kneel. “I believe everyone should be treated equally.”
Notice how this makes no promise, supports no action. You hear this kind of shit all the time from people in a position of power to do something about workplace discrimination, people who end up doing nothing.
F1 journalist Andre Harrison published a blog today “No, We Don’t Race As One” that gives some context on Verstappen:
If you’ve been listening closely to the limited questioning of the drivers and their stances on the matter, my cynicism was justified. Max Verstappen comfortably sat on his fence. He declared that “racism is complicated”, and that he had a right to “protest how they want”. But yet, has done nothing else publicly to validate that claim, or justify his lack of a message. This opened the door for some of his own countrymen to trend a Twitter hashtag translated into English as “Kneeling Is For Idiots”. Not a shred of acknowledgement from one of their biggest sporting stars. An enabler, pouring gasoline on the fire for more racist abuse on the Internet.
Harrison’s blog details how F1's entire message tries to cover over all of the inaction of its bad actors, and I suggest you read it in full. Verstappen is far from the only driver who has been acting like an idiot but got a pass in this video.
Again, F1 has a chance to turn its drivers around, to work as a series to support Lewis Hamilton, and bring even the dumbest rich kid drivers in the series to their senses. Instead, it let them pretend like they were doing something good when the opposite is true. These visibly empty gestures only make the sport look worse.