Formula 1 says former championship boss Bernie Ecclestone’s comments in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and suggesting Lewis Hamilton should have ‘brushed off’ a racially abusive comment from Nelson Piquet, are in “stark contrast to modern values”.
Ecclestone made the remarks in an interview with ITV programme Good Morning Britain, in which he was asked about the uproar over three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet – who drove for Ecclestone’s Brabham team for seven seasons – referring to Hamilton using a racial slur, a comment for which the current F1 management intends to ban Piquet from the paddock.
Ecclestone suggested it was “not the sort of thing Nelson would say meaning something bad” and that “lots of things he says which might upset us or might feel a little bit offensive…. to him it’s nothing. It’s just part of conversation”.
The 91-year-old expressed surprise that Hamilton “hasn’t just brushed it aside. Or, better than that, replied”, equating Piquet’s racial remark to comments made about people who are “little bit overweight, or undersized like me”.
Hamilton did not address Piquet’s remarks directly, but did issue a statement criticising “archaic mindsets” that “have no place in our sport”, a sentiment strongly backed by other current F1 drivers on their social media accounts.
F1 acted swiftly in the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, cancelling the 2022 Russian Grand Prix and subsequently severing all ties with the country for the foreseeable future.
Ecclestone was asked in the interview whether he still regarded Putin as a friend and replied “I’d still take a bullet for him”, calling him “a first-class person” and the invasion of Ukraine “something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia” and saying the death toll in the conflict – including thousands of Ukrainian civilians – “wasn’t intentional”.
He said Russia’s invasion should be compared to “the sort of times America has moved into different countries which had nothing to do with America. They like wars because they sell a lot of armaments so it’s good for them” and also argued the greater responsibility for the invasion not being averted lay with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
F1 rapidly issued a statement following the interview, saying “The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to position of the modern values of our sport”.
Ecclestone’s long tenure at the head of F1 ended ahead of the 2017 season when Liberty Media acquired the promotional rights to the series.