OPINION: why conviction is not enough


How is it that more than two years after Formula 1’s very public demonstration of its desire to increase inclusiveness, we are still talking about Lewis Hamilton who one of the sport’s most successful drivers talks about in racist terms ?

The ‘We Race as One’ campaign and pre-race ‘take a knee’ gesture may have disappeared from standard grid procedure this season, but you would have been hard pressed to miss the global movement to stamp out racism in all its forms of society at large, using sport as a catalyst.


And yet, in the middle of 2022, despite a lot of work going on behind the scenes, on the surface it looks like very little has changed.

Only Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel can claim to have won more Formula 1 world championships than Nelson Piquet. With three titles to his credit, he rubs shoulders with Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Jack Brabham. And while he regularly made headlines for things he said when he raced, the latest headline is one that really can’t be allowed, so slide on.

Piquet used the racist term ‘neguinho’ twice to describe Hamilton during a podcast interview with Brazilian outlet Canal Enerto. While some native speakers suggest it doesn’t have the same connotation as the n-word in English, many others claim it does, and the vast majority say it’s racist, regardless of specificity of a translation.

Context is important, as many of the instances where it wouldn’t have been deemed offensive are private and endearing, and Piquet clearly wasn’t speaking in such terms as he was asked to compare Hamilton’s collision with Max Verstappen. at Silverstone with Senna and Prost in Japan in 1990.

But leaving aside the nuances of the situation, these are actually the answers I want to focus on right now.

Below are statements issued yesterday by Formula 1 and the FIA.

Formula 1: “Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no place in society. Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect. His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and we are committed to F1.”

AIF: “The FIA ​​strongly condemns any racist or discriminatory language and behaviour, which has no place in sport or society at large. We express our solidarity with Lewis Hamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motorsport.

What does this give concretely? Neither made any reference to Piquet (perhaps for legal reasons, given the potential explanations he might try to offer), and in either case their support for Hamilton should have be acquired. So there is little substance when you really look at the content.

Piquet has been banned from the F1 paddock after using a racist term in reference to Lewis Hamilton. Joe Portlock/Motorsport Pictures

I don’t believe Hamilton’s own posts were a direct reaction to those statements, but one post in particular really stood out.

“It’s more than language,” Hamilton wrote. “These archaic mentalities need to change and have no place in our sport. I have been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted all my life. There has been a lot of time to learn. The time has come to act.

He is right. Whatever your stripe, it’s hard not to agree that if we’re serious about eradicating racism, the learning phase cannot be allowed to drift unchallenged.

It’s not that everyone should receive the same answer if found guilty of doing or saying something wrong by the jury of public opinion (yes, there are different degrees of wrong, too annoying as it is to have to consider this), but the most important infractions cannot be left unchecked.

Kyle Larson discovered just that in 2020 when he so casually used the n-word on a game stream, and now Juri Vips can add his name to that list after being dropped by Red Bull this week for the same transgression. .

I like Vips, but that was the correct answer due to the context it’s in. I refer to my earlier comment that you would have found it hard to miss the global movement to eradicate racism in all its forms from society at large, using sport as a catalyst. Such a reaction did not come out of nowhere, and if racist terms are still part of your vocabulary, you are going to have to suffer the consequences.

Education should also play an important role in the future, but it’s not like Vips has been banned from racing or imprisoned. He lost the support of a Formula 1 team and will have to work very hard to have another chance. He has the ability to do so.

And that’s why it was important that there be real consequences for Piquet from those who released statements and who have the power to do so. As symbolic as it may be for a former driver who rarely attends races, a ban from the F1 paddock has been put in place and shows that such language needs to be carefully considered. And by thinking about what a word might mean or how it might be taken – to give the benefit of the doubt if it’s unintentional – then people will learn.

It won’t instantly change the world and probably won’t prevent future incidents, but statements like this week’ss had to be followed by some action. If sport is serious about trying to eradicate racism and racist language and attitudes – whether outdated or current – then condemnation is nott enough.