Lewis Hamilton does not feel comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia


JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Lewis Hamilton says he does not feel comfortable racing at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, saying Formula One is “duty bound” to raise awareness about human rights concerns in the country.

Saudi Arabia will host its first F1 race this weekend at a new circuit in the coastal city of Jeddah.

The addition of the race to the sport’s schedule has resulted in accusations of “sportswashing” from human rights groups, which claim the event is being staged to distract attention from abuses of human rights in the country.

Hamilton, who also raised concerns about human rights during race weekends in Bahrain and Qatar earlier this year, said he did not feel comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia.

“As I said at the last race [in Qatar], I feel that the sport and we are duty bound to try to help raise awareness for certain issues that we’ve seen, particularly human rights in these countries that we’re going to,” Hamilton said. “With the upmost respect to everyone that’s here — so far I’ve had a warm welcome from everyone on the ground — I can’t pretend to ever be the most knowledgeable or have the deepest understanding of someone who has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime.

“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say I do.

“But it’s not my choice to be here, the sport has taken the choice to be here. Whether it’s right or wrong, whilst we’re here again, I feel it’s important that we do try to raise awareness.”

Hamilton plans to wear a Progress Pride flag design on his helmet at this weekend’s race to raise awareness about laws against same-sex relationships in Saudi Arabia, which human rights group Amnesty International reports are punishable by flogging and imprisonment.

“I will wear that again here again and the next race [in Abu Dhabi], because that’s an issue,” Hamilton added. “And the law, if anyone wants to take the time to read what the law is for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s pretty terrifying. There’s changes that need to be made.

“Those changes then, for example, women’s rights of being able to drive in 2018, is how they’re policed. Are they really in effect? Why are some of the woman still in prison from driving many, many years ago? There’s a lot of change that needs to happen and I think our sport needs to do more.”

President of Saudi Arabia’s Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal, said he respected Hamilton’s decision to make a stand.

“It’s good to see people stand for what they believe but at the same time we have our culture, our traditions,” he told Sky Sports. “We understand for someone with his background and his background, I totally understand why he does it.

“I think he should do what he do. Whatever he supports and thinks is suitable for him, we respect his opinion.”

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