Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time Formula One world champion, has distanced himself from fellow drivers who feel comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia this weekend. Attending a press conference in Jeddah, drivers were asked about returning following last year’s missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on an oil facility near the circuit. While drivers Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll said they felt safe and trusted organisers to keep them protected, Red Bull‘s Sergio Perez expressed his happiness in being back. Hamilton, who has spoken out previously on human rights issues, took a different stance from the others.
Although Hamilton chose his words carefully, there were little doubts about his position. When asked about his thoughts on racing in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton’s view was “more the opposite” than his peers. When pressed further, Hamilton said that his position was open to interpretation. When asked if he would consider not racing in Saudi Arabia, Hamilton replied, “If I’m not here, Formula One will continue on without me.
“I still feel that as a sport going to places with human rights issues such as this one, the sport is duty bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact. I feel like it needs to do more, what that is I don’t have all the answers.”
Hamilton has previously expressed shock at mass executions in Saudi Arabia and mentioned a letter that he had received from a youth facing the death penalty. Human rights charity Reprieve has stated that there have been at least 13 executions in Saudi Arabia over the last two weeks. Despite being critical of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Hamilton has remained committed to racing there, stressing the importance of the sport raising awareness and leaving a positive impact.
“Carrying out these executions on the eve of the Jeddah Grand Prix is a brazen display of impunity by the Saudi authorities, confident that the sport and its commercial partners will stay silent, and that the pageantry of F1 will distract from the bloodshed,” said Maya Foa, Reprieve director, in a statement. Saudi Arabia has been accused of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.