Lewis Hamilton admitted he had fears over expressing his support for LGBTQ+ rights during the first Qatar Grand Prix two years ago.
Formula 1 has returned to the Losail International Circuit for the first time since Hamilton’s victory in the inaugural 2021 event. He won the race wearing a helmet bearing the rainbow colours of the pride flag.
Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle Eastern nation. Human rights organisations have reported gay and transgender Qataris have been imprisoned and abused by the authorities.
Qatar did not hold a Formula 1 race last year as it hosted the football World Cup. Returning to the country for the first time since his 2021 victory, Hamilton admitted it was a “really difficult question” whether F1’s presence there could have a positive effect on the lives of Qatar’s LGBTQ+ community.
“I think it’s always good and well raising awareness for things, but it’s more about the work that’s done in the background,” said Hamilton. “It’s the conversations that you continue to have to have.
“It’s just such a big machine to shift as well. It’s not only what people here – it’s a whole country that’s very young – and particularly in this part of the world, and it’s taken the West a long, long time to get to where they are. So I think all we can do is try to just be positive when we do come to these places and do take the opportunity.”
Hamilton will continue to carry the pride flag this weekend as he has done in other countries with similarly repressive legislation, such as Saudi Arabia.
“I was very proud in 2021, it was also nerve-wracking because I didn’t know how the country would react. But it was amazing when I do meet people who are incredibly grateful for utilising a platform for something like that, where they felt like they perhaps didn’t feel included.
“As a sport we have to continue to work on our inclusivity. Diversity continues to be an issue.”
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has justified the series’ presence in countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia saying it will inspire progress there. Hamilton team mate George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, agrees with that view.
“First and foremost, as drivers, we put our trust in Formula 1 to help with these decisions. It’s important that we do see change and I think change is happening. It obviously doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s obviously a very important topic with many places we go to, but I think Formula 1 and sport generally can have a really positive impact for the local culture and issues that they’re facing. So I hope we’re here for the right reasons.”
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