SPIELBERG, Austria, Jul 5 – Lewis Hamilton admitted it “was not a great weekend” after he finished fourth in the Austrian Grand Prix and saw six drivers opt out of taking a knee in support of his anti-racism initiative.
The world champion had hoped for success on and off the track as he pursued a unified drivers show of pre-race support in taking a knee and to claim an 85th career victory to launch his bid for a record-equalling seventh world title.
But on a dramatic day, in front of empty grandstands and an almost-empty paddock at the Red Bull Ring, he was handed a trio of penalties en route to fourth place in the Covid-19 delayed season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
The six-time champion, who was imperious as he topped the times in all three practice sessions, was handed a three-place grid penalty before the race, a five-second penalty after a clash in the closing laps and then two points on his racing licence afterwards.
It meant he started fifth, instead of second, dropped from second on the road behind triumphant Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to fourth and moved to seven points on his super-licence – more than half way towards a possible ban if he reaches 12.
“I don’t really feel particularly anywhere right now,” said the sport’s only black champion who has been heavily involved in backing Formula One’s push for diversity and supporting the global Black Lives Matter campaign.
On the pre-race grid, he was the only driver to wear a BLM t-shirt while all of his fellow-drivers wore similar garments with an ‘End Racism’ message.
However, six of the 20 – including Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen of Red Bull – declined to join Hamilton in taking a knee.
“The race is done and I just feel like moving forwards. It’s not been a great weekend for me – the race is done and I want to move on,” he added.
“Of course, it’s not been a great weekend for me. Yesterday (Saturday), in qualifying, it was entirely my fault, but it was a bit odd to get a penalty suddenly today (Sunday), but it is what it is.
“It didn’t destabilise me – it just encouraged me to go out there and drive as best I could. I feel like I did that. I had great pace to catch up with Valtteri and then there was a really unfortunate incident with Alex (Albon, of Red Bull).
“I can’t believe we have come together again (after also clashing in Brazil last season), but it really felt like a racing incident. I’ll take whatever penalty they feel like I deserve and move forward.”
The stewards ruled that Hamilton was “predominantly to blame” for the collision with Albon, which knocked the Thai driver off the track and out of the points.
In a statement, they said Albon, who was on fresh tyres, had the advantage in Turn Four and made “a better exit.”
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said: “Today was a bad day for Lewis and a bad day for the team. Obviously, the three-place grid position penalty that he got in the morning, with Red Bull digging out a different camera angle.
“You have to take that on the chin and it is what it is.
“In the race, I would say, from my perspective, the five seconds were too harsh. We looked at the video now a couple of times.”