Lewis Hamilton has admitted he does not feel ‘comfortable’ about racing in Saudi Arabia due to the nation’s poor human rights record ahead of this Sunday’s inaugural grand prix.
Same-sex marriage is illegal in the Arab country, and any homosexual act can be punished by flogging or imprisonment, while capital punishment can also be used.
Hamilton has been a public supporter of human rights and debuted a pro-LGBTQ+ helmet adorning a rainbow design in Qatar two weeks ago.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday ahead of the Saudi Grand Prix, Hamilton declared that F1 should help raise awareness for social and cultural issues in such countries.
The seven-time world champion admitted that while he received a warm welcome from the Saudi people, he does not feel comfortable racing in Jeddah.
“I can't pretend to be the most knowledgeable and have the deepest of understanding of someone that has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime,” Hamilton said.
“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say I do, but it's not my choice to be here.
“The sport has taken the choice to be here and whether it's right or wrong, I think whilst we are here, again, I feel it is important to raise awareness.
“For example at the last race [in Qatar] you saw the helmet that I wore, I will wear that again here and in the next race because that is an issue.
“There is changes that needs to be made."
Hamilton’s old rival Sebastian Vettel is also a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and he wore trainers with a rainbow stripe on them in a show of solidarity.
Do you think F1 is wrong for allowing Saudi Arabia to stage a race? Let us know in the comments section.
The pair's stance comes as Amnesty UK's head of campaigns Felix Jakens called on the big names in F1 to speak out about sportswashing and the human rights issues present in Saudi Arabia.
“The Jeddah Grand Prix is yet another key moment in the Saudi authorities’ wider sportswashing effort,” he said.
“It's important that the glamour of F1 is not allowed to divert attention from the plight of Saudi women's rights defenders who risk imprisonment for their work, nor from the struggles of Saudi LGTBI people who live in a country where same-sex relations are illegal and punishable by flogging or imprisonment.
“We're calling on Formula One – the drivers, their teams, senior executives – to be prepared to speak out about human rights in Saudi Arabia, helping to undo some of the intended sportswashing of this event.”
The race has also faced criticism from Human Rights Watch, which has declared that Formula 1 should express its concerns over what it calls ‘a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country's image as a pervasive human rights violator’.
The report issued by HRW stated F1's presence in the country risks ‘bolstering’ the Saudi government's heavily funded and very deliberate attempts to cleanse its image through sporting events – despite a ‘significant increase in repression over the last few years’.
In a statement, Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal said: “It’s good to see people stand for what they believe. But at the same time, we have our culture, our traditions.
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“We understand and for someone with his background and with his culture, I totally understand why he does it.
“I think he should do what he do, whatever he supports, and think that he believes is suitable for him, we respect his opinion.”
The Brit is just eight points behind Max Verstappen in the championship standings ahead of the final two races which are believed to both favour the straight-line speed of Mercedes.
In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes still have an advantage by five points, despite Valtteri Bottas’ retirement in Qatar.
The two championships will therefore be decided in the final two races, with the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 5 followed by the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on December 12.
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