Before Formula One kicked off its season last week at Austria’s Red Bull Ring, defending champion Lewis Hamilton led all 20 racers to the starting line where an “End Racism” banner flanked them. Every other driver wore an “End Racism” t-shirt while Hamilton wore a shirt that read “Black Lives Matter” on the front and “End Racism” on the back.
One cause. One commitment.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 5, 2020
The plan, it would seem, was for every driver to take a knee and join Hamilton, Formula One’s only Black driver, in solidarity. However, that’s not what happened as six of the drivers decided to remain standing. Afterward, some of those drivers took to social media to explain why they did not join Hamilton and the others in kneeling.
I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries. I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism.
— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) July 5, 2020
I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themself at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes #WeRaceAsOne #EndRacism
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) July 5, 2020
Another driver who stood later explained that he did not kneel for religious reasons.
Russian driver Daniil Kvyat was another of the drivers who did not take the knee and he explained: “I am really against racism and we as a group of drivers decided that a very strong message would be wearing the T-shirts stating ‘End Racism’. I think that kind of message was very strong and it got delivered to everyone.
“Unfortunately, the gesture of going on the knee is against my mentality of my country where you only go on the knees in front of God, your flag and that’s about it.”
Given the power that Formula One has as one of the world’s most-watch sports and the sway these drivers have, the lack of a unified front and the explanations given by drivers who didn’t kneel didn’t provide the racing organization with the unified vision it might have been hoping for. That’s especially glaring when compared to the actions taken by players and drivers in other sports, including NASCAR.
Regardless of what you think they should have done, only F1 could cover the cars and paddock in #WeRaceAsOne hashtags and rainbows then have the grid divided about taking a knee on the grid. pic.twitter.com/hvLUGwtUlO
— Tom Bellingham (@TommyWTF1) July 5, 2020
You had to imagine that all eyes would be on this weekend’s race, the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria. Once again, the drivers gathered before the race in “End Racism” shirts. And once again, most of the drivers knelt while four of the 16 remained standing. Perhaps stung by the negative response to those standing and the lack of unity from the previous race, F1’s cameras quickly cut away to a sky-diver, prompting many viewers to call out what appeared to their attempt at quieting the controversy.
Lewis Hamilton was joined in taking a knee by the majority of his fellow drivers ahead of the Styrian GP, while some again drivers opted to stand.
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) July 12, 2020
Mix of kneels and stands again before the anthem – but only a very brief glimpse of it on the world feed.
— Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1) July 12, 2020
Poor show on @F1 cutting away from the end racism message displayed by drivers.
— James Wharton (@jameswharton) July 12, 2020
Bit awkward of #F1 to not show the End Racism images of the drivers on the grid while Simon Lazenby describes how important it is not to let the message die.
— Laura Leslie (@LauraLeslieF1) July 12, 2020
That's really annoyed me. All the messages being issued from F1, endless displays of 'END RACISM', yet the TV feed doesn't show the drivers doing something relevant. Grrrr.
— Thomas Maher (@thomasmaheronf1) July 12, 2020
Simon Lazenby was spot on speaking on the Sky broadcast just now. If all these other sports and racing series can show unity in their message against racism, how come Formula 1 can't? How come we send a mixed message?
A shame seeing drivers not kneeling again. #AustrianGP
— Danny (@DannyBrennan72) July 12, 2020
Sky Sports’ F1 host Simon Lazenby took a strong stance during the moment regarding the lack of a unified front by drivers, saying those actions are sending a “mixed message.”
“Lewis Hamilton leading the conversation on this and taking a knee again. He said he had no problem with any of the drivers and team members who decided against taking a knee but he did stress he doesn’t want to see this campaign for change die a silent death and the sport can do more.
“It’s a shame that they’ve gone off those pictures after people questioned the apparent lack of unity last week with some kneeling and some not, you’ve got to ask the question would it have been in the best interests in the image of this sport to get it together this week. That’s not a judgment, it’s for you to decide at home.
“The images still don’t seem to fit the message in this the most global of sports. If NASCAR, football, and cricket can get it right, why can’t Formula One? That’s the question. From where I’m standing here, we have seen some taking a knee and some not, it’s just a mixed message.”
While the TV crew might have been able to divert attention away from the messages (good or bad) sent by drivers before the race, Lewis Hamilton made it impossible to be ignored afterward by winning the race comfortably. Hamilton stepped to the winner’s podium, bowed his head, and raised his fist in the air to represent the Black Lives Matter movement he has been championing.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) July 12, 2020
Whether the cutaway was purposeful or due to the pre-planned nature of the skydive is likely irrelevant to the larger issue that Formula One has to deal with right now, which is the perception that its drivers are not all on the same page when it comes to the “End Racism” campaign. Given that Lewis Hamilton is the face of F1, that message isn’t going to go away and neither is he. How they handle things moving forward, and how they project that message (or dance around it) is what everyone is going to be paying attention to. Expect the pre-race kneel before next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest to be as eagerly anticipated as the race itself.