Lewis Hamilton has accused Formula One of lacking diversity before the opening race of the new season in Melbourne.
Shortly after appearing alongside Sebastian Vettel at the pre-race press conference, the 33-year-old posted a video on Instagram in which he suggested F1 should do more to encourage participation from a wider range of ethnic backgrounds. Hamilton is the sport’s first and only black driver.
Alongside the video, he wrote: “There’s barely any diversity in F1. Still nothing’s changed in 11 years I’ve been here. Kids, people, there’s so many jobs in this sport of which anybody, no matter your ethnicity or background, can make it and fit in.”
Formula One has chosen not to comment on the remarks but it is not the first time Hamilton has spoken out about racial issues. After being penalised by Monaco race stewards in 2011, he said: “Maybe it’s because I’m black. That’s what Ali G says.”
Before his Instagram post, Hamilton hit back at criticism from his former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg about his consistency. Rosberg and Hamilton drove together for four years but by 2016 the relationship had deteriorated and become increasingly acrimonious. Mercedes have since admitted the atmosphere was highly detrimental to the team.
Earlier this week Rosberg said Hamilton’s rivals could take advantage of his lack of focus. “Lewis would have off-weekends and moments of inconsistency,” the retired German said. “Sometimes his weekend can be affected by how he arrives at the track. He can lose momentum in practice and be on the back foot.”
But Hamilton pointed to his record last season, in which he beat Ferrari’s Vettel to the title with nine wins, including a run of five from six races between the Belgian and US grands prix. “I think I proved that’s not the case last year,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people that need to get headlines and so maybe that’s one way of saying it. The goal this year is to be even more consistent than I was last year, consistency was the reason I won the world championship.”
Hamilton appears to be in a good position to begin his title defence and claim a fifth world championship that would match Juan Manuel Fangio’s tally. The Briton’s car was strong in testing and, after what he described as his best season last year, he believes he is still in his best form. “When your interest starts to decline and your drive starts to decline, then you are past the peak. I definitely don’t feel like that,” he said. “I’m definitely in a good range now and that’s where I need to continue, to extract the most from it.”
Last season Hamilton battled Vettel, who led the title race until the 13th round at Monza. The German admitted it was difficult to find chinks in Hamilton’s armour.“There aren’t many,” he said. “He has being doing a good job for many years now.”
Hamilton however was circumspect about his team’s chances, pointing to the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, which have made good progress over the winter. “Daniel’s been smiling quite a lot today so I think you’re going to be surprised this weekend just how competitive Red Bull are,” Hamilton said. “There’s a lot of hype around our team, which I think is very difficult to take much notice of. I’m excited to see how we all fare once we get into practice.”
Ferrari are understood to have unlocked more power from their engine over the winter but Vettel insisted Hamilton was the man to beat. “I think Lewis is right to be the favourite but it’s a long season,” he said. “We have all the reasons to be confident. Our car is great. Based on testing I think we are in good shape.”