Lewis Hamilton indicates discomfort with Formula One’s return to Saudi Arabia


Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton expressed his unease at the sport’s return to Saudi Arabia at a news conference on Thursday.

The Mercedes driver, along with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, were the second group to attend an official FIA press conference as part of Thursday’s media day with a head of the Saudi Arabia Grand Price was interviewed this weekend.

Drivers were asked how they felt about being back in Jeddah after last year’s race was marred by a missile attack on an oil refinery.

Most recently, Hamilton was reluctant to share his thoughts, simply saying: “Not much to add. Quite the opposite of everything they said.”

This comes after Perez said he was “happy to be back,” while Stroll and Ocon expressed “confidence” in the security measures in place, and Magnussen with “there’s a truce between the two parties involved like last year and I think.” that gives some confidence.”

When asked to elaborate on his comments, Hamilton acknowledged they were “open to interpretation.”

The 38-year-old was asked if not racing in Jeddah was an option and he said: “Well, the thing is, if I’m not here, Formula 1 will go on without me. So I just try to learn as much as possible.

“Going to these different places, I still feel that sport as a sport that goes to places with human rights issues like this has an obligation to raise awareness and try to make a positive impact.

“And I feel like it needs to do more. What that is, I don’t have all the answers, but I think we always have to try to do more to raise awareness about things that people are struggling with,” Hamilton said.

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Hamilton of Great Britain drives on the track during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Human rights group Reprieve said in a statement shared with CNN on Friday that F1 “has never seriously addressed human rights”.

“For all the talk of ‘positive values’ and ‘accelerating change, Formula 1 has never taken a serious look at human rights and the way sport is being used by some of the world’s most repressive regimes to whitewash abuses,'” he said Maya, Joint Executive Director of Reprieve Foa.

According to Reprieve, there have been at least 13 executions in Saudi Arabia in the past two weeks.

“Carrying out these executions on the eve of the Jeddah Grand Prix is ​​a brazen display of impunity by the Saudi authorities, who are confident that sport and its trading partners will remain silent and that F1’s pageantry will distract from the bloodshed.

“Drivers are put in the impossible position of wondering how many more will be executed over the four days of qualifying and racing. Sport’s human rights issue has never been so blatant,” added Foa.

CNN has reached out to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Justice and Sports for comment.

Last year, Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in one day, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian, for terrorism and other crimes, including “dissident beliefs,” authorities said, in the largest mass execution in decades.

The number dwarfed the 67 executions reported in the Kingdom throughout 2021 and the 27 in 2020

Critics have slammed the kingdom for ‘sports laundry’, an attempt to bolster its reputation through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia realized a few years ago that you can’t just rely on hard power to be an internationally powerful nation,” Danyel Reiche, visiting scholar and associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar, recently told Qatar CNN.

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“You also have to invest in soft power and the case of Qatar shows that can work quite well,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is following the Qatari approach with sport, but with a lag of about 25 years.

Responding to criticism of Saudi Arabia’s racing, Formula 1 told CNN on Friday: “Formula 1 has worked hard for decades to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social and… cultural benefits.

“Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to transcend borders and cultures, to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries, who commit to respecting human rights in hosting and running their events.

“We are proud of all of our partnerships and look forward to building on them in the years to come,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton said he was looking forward to driving the car in Jeddah.

“The track is pretty awesome. And I’m looking forward to the challenge of finding out if we’re closer this weekend or if we’re further behind. So I’m looking forward to this part of my job,” he added.

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