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Lewis Hamilton has revealed what FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem told him at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the pair were spotted having a private chat pre-race. Hamilton vowed this weekend to maintain his activism on Formula One’s issues away from the track after Ben Sulayem questioned the point of drivers speaking out on non-sporting matters.
Asked by Sky Sports F1 post-race what Ben Sulayem said to him, Hamilton declared: “I don’t really remember that far back really. I think he said, ‘Just don’t lose hope.’ I think that’s what he was saying, ‘Don’t give up.’ Or something like that.”
Ben Sulayem was seemingly referencing Mercedes’ performance issues this season. But the FIA president recently described F1 as “too political” and name-dropped Hamilton for his comments on human rights issues as well as Sebastian Vettel and Lando Norris, who have supported the LGBTQ+ community and greater discussion around mental health.
The FIA president, in his first season in the role, claimed drivers in the sport’s previous eras such as Niki Lauda were “only interested in driving”. But Hamilton insisted: “I’m aware that sometimes things I’ve said have been taken out of context, so I want to give that… that maybe has happened? I don’t know.
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“I heard that he clarified things on social media which is positive. That doesn’t stop us from doing what we’re doing. I encourage all of the drivers to be more outspoken in future and speak about things they care about. I’m proud to see what Seb does and to be an ally of his.”
Vettel declared: “The topics that Lewis is continuing to raise, the issues Lando has been talking about, and the stuff that I’ve been mentioning, I feel they are topics that are very important to be addressed and they are bigger than us, bigger than the sport can ever be. So it is important to mention those, to express those and to raise awareness, to make people aware there are lots of things we can improve on.”
Vettel had earlier said in an interview with LGBTQ publication Attitude Magazine that F1 must “politely but firmly stand up for what’s important” in order to have “a positive impact” on countries that do not support LGBTQ rights. He added: “Values and principles can’t stop at borders.”
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Ben Sulayem since clarified his stance on Twitter and wrote: “As a driver, I have always believed in sport as a catalyst of progress in society. That is why promoting sustainability, diversity and inclusion is a key priority of my mandate. In the same way, I value the commitment of all drivers and champions for a better future.”
Sky Sports’ Craig Slater reported, with Ben Sulayem’s interview being released during Pride Month: “They seem to have come at an unfortunate time, these comments. The FIA have told me in no way does the FIA president wish to shut down the activism of drivers.
“They said he was voicing a personal opinion as the regulator of the sport. For him, in terms of messaging, the sport should come first. But he was also trying to explain that his organisation, the one that he leads, he believes is aligned with these causes to make the sport more diverse – in terms of having a kind of neutrality over ethnicity, a mix of religions.”
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