Racing icon Mario Andretti says he dislikes politics getting mixed up with sports and questions the need for Lewis Hamilton to use Formula 1 as a protest platform when he’s “always been accepted.”
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25 was recorded and transmitted around the world, and coming just eight weeks after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in Louisville, KY, outraged citizens in every continent took to the streets in protest, many behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Six-time and reigning F1 champion Hamilton, the only Black driver in top-line open-wheel racing, and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver, have become prominent in their backing of the movement and have found support not only from the governing bodies of their respective series, but also many of their peers and fans.
However, what appeared to be a noose hanging in Wallace’s garage at Talladega in June was investigated by the FBI and discovered to be a garage door-pull, while Hamilton’s urging his rivals to take a knee – emulating NFL star Colin Kaepernick’s protest in 2016 – before the start of Formula 1 races is still causing some controversy.
Speaking to Chilean newspaper El Mercurio last week, Andretti said: “I wish politics didn't get mixed up with sport. There's a time and a place to express your opinions. What happened in NASCAR with Bubba Wallace became bigger than it should be.
“What seemed to be a terrible situation was finally not. It was disproportionate and without reason. That happens when you think about politics before anything else.”
Asked about Hamilton’s efforts to bring attention to the issue, which have included public calls for the FIA to increase racial diversity within the sport, Andretti replied: "It's the same thing. I have a lot of respect for Lewis, but why become a militant? He's always been accepted and he's earned everyone's respect.
“I think the whole point of this is pretentious. I feel that way. And it's creating a problem that doesn't exist.
“Painting the car black [as Mercedes-Benz AMG F1 has done this year, ditching its traditional ‘Silver Arrows’ livery]… I don't know what good it will do.
“I've met drivers from different backgrounds, races, and I've always welcomed them with open arms. In motor racing it doesn't matter what color you are; you have to earn your place with results, and that's the same for everyone.”
On the matter of the dearth of black drivers in racing, Andretti said: “Yes, they are a minority, but it's not that they're not welcome.
“I don't know how to explain it, but there have already been black drivers in Indy, NASCAR and they have always been welcome, I'm even friends with some of them to this day.
“I don't know what's wrong. Yes, maybe there is little diversity, but it's not because they are discriminated against. That's the point.”
Hamilton responded to Andretti's comments via social media.
“This is disappointing but unfortunately a reality that some of the older generation who still have a voice today cannot get out of their own way and acknowledge there is a problem. Again, this is plain ignorance but that will not stop me from continuing to push for change. It is never too late to learn and I hope that this man who I’ve always had respect for can take the time to educate himself.”