Lewis Hamilton reveals he was 'silenced' over Colin Kaepernick gesture before 2017 US GP
Kaepernick popularised taking a knee as a way of protesting against racial inequality while playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016
Last Updated: 06/07/20 8:58am
Lewis Hamilton has revealed he was "silenced and told to back down" after planning to make a gesture in support of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick before the 2017 US Grand Prix.
While playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, Kaepernick sat down and later knelt during the pre-game playing of the American national anthem, in protest at racial inequality in the country.
His gesture polarised opinion in the US, and he was released by the 49ers at the end of the 2016 season. Despite being well regarded as a quarterback, he has not played in the NFL since.
Hamilton - who was among 14 drivers to take a knee before the first race of the 2020 F1 season in Austria on Sunday - said he had planned a similar gesture three years ago, and regrets not following through with it.
"This started with NFL player Colin Kaepernick," Hamilton said. "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."
As well as taking a knee before the race at the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton also wore a T-shirt carrying the message "Black Lives Matter".
Other drivers sported shirts reading "End racism", although six did not take a knee - including Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Hamilton did not criticise his fellow drivers for not joining him in kneeling, and instead explained that he is willing to continue to lead from the front to ensure that the discussion of racial inequality does not "die a silent death".
He said: "Nobody should be forced into a scenario where they have to kneel. 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.
View this post on Instagram
Today was an important moment for me and all the people out there who are working for and hoping for change. For a more equal and just society. I may get criticism in the media and elsewhere, but this fight is about equality, not politics or promotion. To me it was an emotional and poignant chapter in the progress of making F1 a more diverse and inclusive sport. I want a better future for our generation and the ones after us. There is so much that needs to be done. No one is perfect but if we all chip in and do our part, we can see change. I truly believe that. Thank you to my team for their incredible support and hard work this weekend and thank you to all who supported. Let’s keep pushing, guys. See you next week. Love. #EndRacism #BlackLivesMatter
"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.
"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. I can be the guinea pig and keep speaking out. All of us, myself included, we have to be accountable.
"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."