Austrian Grand Prix: 14 drivers take a knee before season opener

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
Lewis Hamilton takes a knee
All drivers wore black T-shirts, with Lewis Hamilton's displaying 'Black Lives Matter'

Fourteen drivers took a knee before the Formula 1 season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Max Verstappen said they would not before the race, but both emphasised their support for the fight against racism.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz and Kimi Raikkonen were the other drivers to remain standing.

Lewis Hamilton wore a T-shirt with the words 'Black Lives Matter'.

All other drivers wore similar black T-shirts that displayed the words 'End Racism'. Many team staff and personnel also took a knee.

"End racism. One cause. One commitment," Formula 1 said.

"As individuals, we choose our own way to support the cause. As a group of drivers and a wider F1 family, we are united in its goal."

Leclerc and Verstappen were the first two drivers to state their position on a topic that has caused controversy among the F1 drivers.

Leclerc said his decision was based on the fact that taking the knee "could be seen as controversial in some countries", but did not elaborate on that point.

He added: "I believe what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures.

"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."

Verstappen said: "I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themselves 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."

The drivers issued a collective statement through the Grand Prix Drivers' Association on Saturday saying they "stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion and supporting F1's commitment to these.

"Together the drivers will all show their public support for this cause on Sunday ahead of the race, recognising and respecting that each individual has the freedom to show their support for ending racism in their own way and will be free to choose how to do this."

But some are uncomfortable with taking the knee, a gesture that originated in the NFL in the US to call attention to issues surrounding racial equality and police brutality.

Hamilton said on Saturday that the reluctance was due to a lack of understanding of the issue of racism.

The Mercedes driver said he had made his point to the drivers at a meeting on Friday.

"I just described the scenario that silence is really generally complicit. There is some silence in some cases," said Hamilton, F1's only black driver.

"But I think it is part of a dialogue of people trying to understand because there are still some people who don't fully understand what is happening and what is the reason for these protests and I continue to try to be that guider and try to influence as many people as I can with it."

Charles Leclerc Twitter
Leclerc tweeted his statement before the first race in Austria
Max Verstappen Twitter
Red Bull's Max Verstappen has also tweeted that he will not take a knee before the grand prix

Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, who along with Leclerc was one of the drivers to speak out against racism on social media last month, said: "I've certainly been supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. I've read a lot and tried to learn more about it. It's something which has certainly caught my interest and something I 100% want to support.

"The chat with the drivers was essentially this: all of us are 100% on board with supporting it and ending racism. None of us are 'anti' this. So we all support that.

"I think there was just a little bit of perhaps difficulty with some drivers and their nationality and what perhaps something like taking a knee would represent.

"Obviously the reasons why we will do it is purely to support Black Lives Matter; it's nothing political or anything else. But there is a little bit of a fine line, I think, with some drivers and their nationalities and how it's perceived."

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