Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has given an extraordinary interview regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and motorsport’s push for increased diversity, claiming that he would be “really unhappy” if Lewis Hamilton took past instances of racist abuse seriously and that ‘in lots of cases black people are more racist than white people are.
Speaking to CNN Sport, Ecclestone expressed his view that no one in F1 has taken systemic racism seriously because they are “too busy trying to win races”, and said that while Hamilton’s new commission into diversity within motorsport will help to get people thinking, it will not do “anything bad or good” for the sport.
“I don’t think it’s going to do anything bad or good for Formula One,” Ecclestone told CNN of The Hamilton Commission, which the six-time world champion launched this week after taking an active role in fighting racial inequality - a stance that has become more prominent since the killing of George Floyd last month.
“It’ll just make people think which is more important. I think that’s the same for everybody. People ought to think a little bit and think: ‘Well, what the hell. Somebody’s not the same as white people and black people should think the same thing about white people.’
“In lots of cases, black people are more racist than what white people are.”
Ecclestone was immediately pushed on what he meant by that, given the long-term fight for racial equality that has taken place other the last two centuries, and he referenced the recent decisions to remove a number of statues of figures with strong links to the slave trade, which came about in the UK after the Bristol monument of Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown into the harbour earlier this month.
“Things over the years I’ve noticed and there’s no need for it,” the 89-year-old added. “Against injustice for anyone, whatever colour they are, it’s important to do something about that for a start.
“I don’t think you’re going to easily change people’s attitude. I think they need to start being taught at school. So, they grow up not having to think about these things. I think it’s completely stupid taking all these statues down. They should’ve left them there. Take the kids from school to look and say why they’re there and what the people did and how wrong it was what they did.”
Ecclestone also issued a controversial response to a question about Hamilton’s own experiences of racism throughout his career. The 35-year-old Mercedes driver spoke last week of how he had things thrown at him by other kids during his days in karting, and also how an incident at the 2008 F1 test in Barcelona - when fans dressed up in blackface and aimed monkey chants at him with ‘Lewis Hamilton’s family’ written on their T-shirts - had an impact on him.
Ecclestone was criticised at the time in his role as F1 chief executive for not doing enough to rid the sport of racism, with Hamilton remaining the only black world champion in history and still the only high-profile black driver currently in the sport.
Asked if he discussed the incident with Hamilton, Ecclestone said: “Never. (I) never needed to. I’m surprised that he has believed that people … well he knows people have been against him because he’s said they have. (But) I’m surprised that it concerns him even.
“I didn’t know he had (been subjected to racism through the years). If he has – I’m surprised.
I’m really unhappy if he took it seriously. I never thought he did. I didn’t think it affected him.
“I think I did (discuss it) behind the scenes a little bit. What else could you really do?”
Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport saw Ecclestone replaced as CEO in 2017 by American Chase Carey, and while the former Brabham team owner has remained a familiar face around the paddock, he no longer has much of a say on the direction the sport has been heading in.
He did acknowledge the powerful stance that Hamilton has taken against racial injustice, but stressed that he believes the sport does not have a problem even though the second-most successful F1 driver in history called on it to do more to combat racism.
“Lewis is a little bit special. First, he’s very, very, very talented as a driver and he seems to be now extremely talented when he’s standing up and making speeches. This last campaign he’s doing for the black people is wonderful. He’s doing a great job and it’s people like that – easily recognisable – that people listen to.
“I don’t think anyone bothered about it before. They’re too busy trying to win races or find sponsors or something. Really other things that are of little if any interest.”
Asked if F1 is a racist sport, Ecclestone replied: “No – Not at all. I get so upset about it because I don’t know why people are (racist). So, it’s difficult for me to sort of think that people can be and are and I don’t know what the reason is.”