Lewis Hamilton took a knee before the start of the Austrian Grand Prix, but six drivers including Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen chose not to do so as the sport divided over how to promote racial equality.
Hamilton called out the sport as a whole last month to do more to address racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in the United States, and the six-time world champion has taken a vocal stance to speak up for the Black Lives Matter movement in an effort to bring about change.
But after a meeting on Friday between the 20 F1 drivers failed to reach a unanimous agreement over how drivers could show their support at the season-opening race in Austria this weekend, a decision was taken to leave it up to each individual to make up their own mind.
Hamilton elected to do so by taking a knee before the Austrian national anthem, with the Mercedes driver kneeling at the front of the grid minutes before lights out.
He also wore a T-shirt with ‘End Racism’ written on the back of it, as did each of the other 19 drivers.
However, both Ferrari driver Leclerc and Red Bull star Verstappen decided against doing so, having explained their reasoning before the race.
Carlos Sainz, Danil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen were the other drivers who elected not to take a knee.
“All 20 drivers stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion, supporting Formula 1’s and FIA’s commitment,” Leclerc said on Twitter.
“I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries.
“I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism.”
Verstappen followed Leclerc’s lead and released his own clarification that he will not make any gesture, with the understanding that up to a quarter of the grid expressed their unease with the BLM movement because of recent social media activity.
"I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism,” Verstappen said on Twitter. “But I believe everyone has the right to express themself (sic) at a time and in a way that suits them.
"I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes."
The Black Lives Matter UK Twitter account posted messages earlier in the week surrounding the conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as calling for the immediate defunding of the British police. As a result, a number of supporters have since distanced themselves from the movement due to the political stance taken, with a belief that it detracts from the main issue in attempting to bring about change for racial equality.
Leclerc’s stance comes after Hamilton expressed his belief that the division between the drivers is further proof of racism in F1.
After qualifying finished on Saturday afternoon, Hamilton opened up on the split between drivers over taking a knee and whether it was evidence of a problem within the sport.
“We know there is an issue,” the Mercedes driver said. “We don’t need an experience like tomorrow to prove that.
“We spoke a bit in the drivers’ briefing, yep, interesting,” added Hamilton with a heavy hint of sarcasm.
“I don’t know what we will see tomorrow. Potentially, people will pay their respects in their own way.
“I just described that silence is complicit and there is still silence in some cases. So, I thanked those that have said something on their social media platforms – because they have a great voice – and encouraged the others that have not, to say something.
“It is about helping people understand because there are people who don’t fully understand what is happening, and the reasons behind these protests. I try to continue to guide and influence as many people as I can with it.”