Lewis Hamilton has claimed he was “silenced and told to back down” earlier in his Formula One career over his plans to support former NFL player Colin Kaepernick before the 2017 US Grand Prix.
The six-time world champion was one of 14 who knelt before Sunday’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
After finishing fourth, Hamilton spoke of a chat he had years ago with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick, whose kneeling protests in 2016 became a symbol of the fight against racial injustice.
“He sat down for the national anthem and got a lot of backlash – I thought that was a really powerful statement that he made and he lost his job,” said the Briton.
“I had actually spoken to him a couple of years ago shortly after that for the US Grand Prix and I had a helmet and everything made in red with his number on the top.
“But back then I was kind of silenced, I was told to kind of back down, don’t support it. Which I will say that I regret. So it was important for me to make sure that during this period of time I did my part.”
Hamilton, F1’s first and only black driver, did not reveal who had told him not to kneel.
The Brit wore a different T-shirt to the other 20 drivers on Sunday, his reading ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the front instead of ‘End Racism’.
“Whether that’s continuing to take the knee, I don’t know there’s going to be opportunities to do that. I definitely don’t want to do it on national anthems,” he said.
Hamilton also described “taking a knee” before Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix as an emotional and poignant chapter in his battle to make F1 a more inclusive sport.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, were among six who elected to stand in the moments before Sunday’s race. Both posted messages saying they were committed to the fight for equality.
“Today was an important moment for me and all the people out there who are working for and hoping for change for a more equal and just society,” said Hamilton.
“I may get criticism in the media and elsewhere, but this fight is about equality, not politics or promotion. To me it was an emotional and poignant chapter in the progress of making F1 a more diverse and inclusive sport.
“I want a better future for our generation and the ones after us. There is so much that needs to be done.
“No one is perfect but if we all chip in and do our part, we can see change. I truly believe that.”