Lewis Hamilton puts F1 on notice over human rights before Bahrain GP

Lewis Hamilton has stated his belief that Formula One can no longer ignore human rights issues in the countries it visits, putting the sport’s chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, in an awkward position after he rejected calls to launch an independent inquiry into alleged human rights abuses associated with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The F1 world champion was speaking before the season-opening race in Bahrain and was unequivocal in a stance he first displayed last year. “There are issues all around the world but I do not think we should be going to these countries and just ignoring what is happening in those places, arriving, having a great time and then leaving,” said Hamilton, before revealing that he takes the situation in Bahrain so seriously that he has spent the past few months educating himself on it.

“Coming here all these years I was not aware of all of the details of the human rights issues. I have spent time speaking to legal human rights experts, to human rights organisations like Amnesty,” the 36-year-old said. “I have been to see the UK ambassador here in Bahrain and spoken to Bahraini officials also. At the moment the steps I have taken have been private and I think that is the right way to go out about it but I am definitely committed to helping in any way I can.”

Hamilton has become an increasingly vocal campaigner, seen most strikingly with his support for the Black Lives Matter movement last year, and his latest backing for a cause is sure to draw similar attention. It is unlikely to go down well with Domenicali, however. It was last Friday that the Italian, who become F1’s chief executive in September, rejected calls for an inquiry in Bahrain, having been encouraged to establish one in a letter sent to him, the teams, the FIA and Hamilton by a group of 61 British MPs and a coalition of 24 human rights groups, led by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird).

“It is important to make clear that Formula 1 is not a cross-border investigatory organisation,” Domenicali wrote in response. “We are a sports rightsholder that has the important job of promoting our sport across the world in line with the policies I have set out. Unlike governments and other bodies we are not able to undertake the actions you request, and it would not be appropriate for us to pretend we can.”

F1’s response was dismissed by Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Bird’s director of advocacy. “We simply do not accept that a multimillion-pound business doesn’t have the resources or capacity to establish such an inquiry,” he said. “F1 should urgently review their position.”

On Thursday the Bahraini government issued a statement responding to the call for an inquiry by insisting it had put in place “internationally recognised human rights safeguards”.