Lewis Hamilton has launched a veiled attack on President Donald Trump on the eve of the United States Grand Prix – but says he has rowed back on plans to protest during the Star-Spangled Banner.
Hamilton claimed at last month’s Malaysian Grand Prix that he would consider following in the footsteps of NFL players who have knelt during the American national anthem in protest at racial inequality in the country.
The 32-year-old Briton – Formula One’s first and only black champion, who could seal his fourth world title in Austin this weekend – has been vocal in his support of the so-called “take a knee” movement and his distaste for Trump and his administration. Trump has denounced the protests as unpatriotic, calling on NFL franchises to fire or suspend players who do not stand for the National Anthem and urging fans to boycott matches.
“I don’t really plan on allowing all the BS [bulls***] that is surrounding the topic to pull me down in my stride to win this world title,” Hamilton.
“I have worked hard to be where I am today and whilst I do have opinions and feelings towards the whole situation, at the moment I have no plans to do anything.
“Winning here is the most important thing for me in the midst of all that is going on in the country. That is a priority. You know what I am talking about.”
Asked to clarify his final remark, Hamilton looked at a black American journalist sitting in the front row.
“When I was referring to ‘do you know what I mean’ it wasn’t to everyone here, it was to the gentleman at the front,” he said. “I am here to win and that is my focus.”
Hamilton has several links to the United States. He socialises there – on Tuesday night he attended a benefit concert in Brooklyn with a bevy of celebrity friends – while his former long-term girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger was raised there.
“There has been a lot of mention of it – not of the kneeling, but just of the whole situation,” Hamilton added. “I know a lot of people in America so I get to speak to a lot of black people and white people who live here. I get quite a good view of what is happening in the States and opinions from Americans about the movement, which is pretty huge.
“I have posted about the movement because I respect it highly and I find it awesome. I am very much in support of it, but I am here to win and that is at the top of my priorities.”
Hamilton will seal his fourth World Championship if he takes the chequered flag here on Sunday and Sebastian Vettel finishes sixth or lower. Vettel’s year has imploded after he crashed out in Singapore and retired from the Japanese Grand Prix with a mechanical issue.
“I think the talk of winning the championship this weekend is silly,” Hamilton added. “You can’t expect Sebastian to have a difficult weekend again.
“We have got an opportunity to win the championship, but as long as it is done in the next four races that is my focus. I couldn’t care less whether it is here or at the last race as long as it gets done.”