Three-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has offered his support to athletes using sport to make a political stand.
United States president Donald Trump last week suggested NFL players should be sacked by their clubs if they knelt in protest during the American anthem.
Players from up and down the league have been kneeling during pre-match renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner – while the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team remained in the locker room when it was played ahead of their recent game with the Chicago Bears.
Trump recently called on team owners to fire any player involved in demonstrations and said fans should leave any stadiums where protests were witnessed.
Hamilton, Formula One’s only black driver, backed the players and said he understands where the protesters are coming from.
“I think there are opportunities all over,” he said when asked about sportsmen standing up for their rights. I think it is open for anyone to have freedom of speech and I guess we can all play a role in trying to make a difference in the world – particularly if your leader is not helping in that area.
“It takes for the people to try standing together and I really feel I can identify with a lot of those individuals.”
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Hamilton said he had no issue airing his personal views in public.
“Not at all, I don’t feel like I need to either,” he replied when asked if he had talked to his Mercedes team about his perspective.
“I genuinely have always had support from all of my team, I have never had any complaints from them and I don’t anticipate there to be moving forward.”
Hamilton was also questioned over recent comments that he has considered retiring from the sport. The Briton, who is 28 points clear of nearest rival Sebastian Vettel heading into the race in Sepang, explained his thinking and ruled out staying in motorsport or taking up life as a politician in the future – despite his opinion on those defending their views.
“It is just evaluating where you are in life and I was just being very open about things I have contemplated,” he said.
“Of course, I still contemplate about decisions over my future, the longer I delay my departure from the sport, the longer my next life is delayed. It is just trying to weigh-up the balances but at the moment I am here to stay.
“I hate politics. I don’t have the greatest understanding of it and I absolutely hate politics.
“I can’t see that I will (stay in motorsport). There is no other racing series that I have any desire to drive in, it is a shame, I wish I did have more passion in me to do IndyCar or Le Mans but there isn’t, there is zero, nothing.”
Hamilton’s engine failure here last season remains his only retirement across the last 30 races.