The Formula One season started on Saturday after a three-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the Austrian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, the only Black driver, kneeled while wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. The other 19 drivers congregated around him wearing End Racism shirts, but not all of them kneeled.
Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen were two of the drivers that did not kneel alongside Hamilton and their peers. They still wore the End Racism shirts, and Leclerc held up the shirt once again after finishing in second place. The Ferrari driver drew attention and criticism for not kneeling, but he explained this decision. He sent a series of tweets prior to the race and said that he is still committed to the fight against racism.
"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 tweeted. "I believe that what matters are facts and behaviors 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 also explained his decision by saying that everyone has a right to express themselves at a time and a way "that suits them." He said he respects his fellow drivers and their personal choices. Verstappen reiterated that he is committed to equality and the fight against racism.
According to CNN, the other drivers that stood prior to the race were Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen. Following the qualifying session, Hamilton spoke out and expressed disappointment that some of the drivers did not use their platforms to speak out against racism. However, he also clarified that he didn't specifically ask anyone to kneel with him. He instead gave them a choice.
"I said: 'I will be doing it but you do what you feel is right,'" Hamilton said, per CNN. "I am really grateful for those who did kneel along with me. I think it is a powerful message, but it won't change the world. It's a much, much bigger issue across the world; everyone had the right to their own choice and for me it felt right to do. Everything we do is not enough; we all need to do more. There has been awareness for a few weeks and what we don't need is for it to die a silent death and disappear."