Hamilton breaks rank to disagree with Russell and F1 rivals in Jeddah

Lewis Hamilton on difficult season for Mercedes in November

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Lewis Hamilton did not follow suit on Thursday when various F1 stars, including his Mercedes team-mate George Russell, played down the issues that come with racing in Saudi Arabia. Safety concerns and human rights issues are both hot topics ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix in Jeddah, with F1 chief Stefano Domenicali facing criticism for the controversies that come with racing in the country.

Drivers were given an almighty scare before last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as smoke billowed near the track following a missile attack on a local oil depot. F1 and FIA bosses were forced to call crisis talks amid the threat of a driver boycott. 

The country’s human rights record is also a prominent subject, with Domenicali recently accused of ‘enabling heinous crimes’ by the brother of a man who was executed by the Saudi state. Despite that, most drivers maintained that they were pleased to return and that many of the pertinent problems had been cleared up. 

“I’m happy to be back,” claimed Sergio Perez. “As a sport I think we are able to also help the country to evolve for the people that are living here. This is something as a sport we can be proud of, on the other hand we fully trust the organisations that bring us here to compete in a safe place.”

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Russell, who drives with Hamilton at Mercedes, added: “Although I can’t speak for the other 19 drivers, generally I think we’re happy and have no concerns with the changes that have been put in place ahead of this year.

“I think there were a lot of lessons to be learned from what happened 12 months ago and Formula 1 have really stepped it up. Not just in regards of what’s happening here in Saudi but for all of the grand prix we go to.”

Russell turned out to be correct in refusing to speak for all other drivers as Hamilton put across a different view, although he refused to go into detail. When asked to address his peers’ comments, the seven-time world champion told reporters: “Not much really to add… all the opposite to everything they said. 

Hamilton was then pushed for more detail, to which he responded: “I didn’t elaborate on it so it’s open to interpretation. Hopefully everyone has a safe weekend and hopefully everyone gets back safe afterwards. That’s as much as we can do, right?”

Hamilton will hope to improve on the P5 he managed in Bahrain, with Mercedes once again trailing a long way behind their rivals this season. The Brit addressed speculation around his future this week by confirming that he ‘does not plan’ on joining a new team.

He also took time to delve further into Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues. “I still feel as a sport going to places with human rights issues, such as this one, I feel that the sport is duty bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact,” he said. 

“I feel like it needs to do more. What that is, I don’t have all the answers. We always need to do more to raise awareness for things people are struggling with.”

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