On Sept. 14, 2020, a rumor surfaced that the FIA would punish Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton for wearing a shirt that read “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” While the FIA denied the claim, Hamilton still believes that a new series of guidelines regarding appropriate dress will be released during this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.
But he’s not going to let that stop him.
In a press conference ahead of the GP, he said, “I don’t know what they’re going to do this weekend, but lots of rules have been written for me over the years. That hasn’t stopped me.”
Racing drivers and series around the world have taken a more active stance toward the social justice movement this year, with F1 implementing its “We Race As One” equality program and encouraging drivers to wear an “end racism” shirt during pre-race festivities.
But Hamilton has taken it a step forward. While messages of inclusivity are great, many of F1's plans aren’t really plans at all—they’re more a series of appropriate-sounding words grouped together to convey a message of inclusivity without any action behind it. Hamilton, however, has not minced words in holding the F1 paddock accountable for its subtle displays of racism.
His Breonna Taylor t-shirt, donned in support of the Black woman who was shot and killed by police in her own home in America, is another aspect of Hamilton’s pointed actions. The phrase had become a rallying cry for activists seeking racial justice, and Hamilton donned it as a way to reach a wider, global audience.
Hamilton went on to note that he would be willing to work with the FIA in a much closer capacity regarding displays of equality in the future. From the press conference:
[I will] try to work with Formula 1 and the FIA to make sure the messaging is right. Could it be better? Of course. It could always be better, but that’s part of the learning curve.
I think this is a learning process for everyone because people have been happy with the norm here of how life and society has operated, but ultimately the world and the younger generation particularly are more conscious that things aren’t equal and change is needed.
It does take conversations with people and things like Mugello happening for people to spark a conversation that perhaps would never have taken place if it didn’t happen.
F1 and the FIA often note themselves as apolitical organizations, despite the fact that organizing events around the world necessitates a certain amount of political posturing. And, as many have noted before, claiming to be apolitical is, in itself, a political stance—and that’s nothing new in racing. Drivers competing for Germany’s state-funded racing program in the late 1930s often claimed to be apolitical, despite the fact that the success of, say, Mercedes depended largely on the Nazi party, a political organization. In the modern era, the FIA’s decisions to race in countries noted for human rights abuses is a similar political act.
What Hamilton is able to negotiate with the FIA remains to be seen, but his commitment to social change makes for a marked change in F1's history.