Formula 1’s drivers gathered as one to make a visual statement against racism, but Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen both attracted criticism after stating they would not take a knee before lights out in Austria.
Prior to getting into their cars, all of the drivers gathered at the start-finish line at the Red Bull ring, wearing black t-shirts, as they gathered as a collective to express their support for the fight against racism.
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Most of the drivers, including world champion Lewis Hamilton, took a knee as they lined up, while Leclerc and Verstappen, as well as 2007 world champion Raikkonen, Russia’s Daniil Kvyat, Spain’s Carlos Sainz and Italy’s Antonio Giovinazzi, opted instead to simply stand with their colleagues.
Ferrari ace Leclerc posted to Twitter ahead of the opening F1 race of the season to express his support for the fight against racism, but also stated that he would not take a knee ahead of the race.
“I believe that what matters are facts and behaviors in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries,” he tweeted.
“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.”
I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries. 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.
Leclerc’s tweet was followed less than an hour later by a similar message from Red Bull’s No. 1 driver Max Verstappen, with the Dutch racer expressing similar sentiments.
“I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism,” he tweeted.
“But I believe everyone has the right to express themself 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.”
I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themself 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 #WeRaceAsOne#EndRacism
The two drivers’ tweets received immediate criticism from fans on social media, with some accusing the drivers of looking to appease their sponsors, rather than follow their stated sentiments.
One fan told Leclerc, “You refuse to take a knee to show solidarity at a televised GP yet you post a black square on ig and think you did something for BLM… just say you don’t want to lose your sponsors. sad how racial equality is ‘controversial’ for some at everyone replying to this tweet: it is blatantly ignorant to not acknowledge that formula is a white-dominated sport where POC are given little opportunity in. kneeling not only shows support for BLM but also shines the light on the racism within F1. Kneeling is the first step.”
Another posted, “Taking a knee is not being controversial or in any way lined to any political stance, it’s a cry for help, it has nothing to do with right wing or left wing, but it’s understandable if you are sponsored by American companies that oppose this and you are afraid you will lose income.”
Verstappen received similar replies, with one fan stating, “Very ashamed and disappointed Max, if you really cared about racism then why would taking a knee matter to you?”
And another offered, “No surprise, you are a man of immense privilege who has no understanding of the reasons for why this is happening and what it means. Forget the gestures and take a knee in solidarity with your fellow sportsmen and women who are making a stand against something beyond our world.”