Bernie Ecclestone has brushed off the racist attacks directed at newly-crowned Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton on a Spanish website last week as' probably meant as a joke more than anything', arguing that 'people are entitled to support who they want to support'.
The 'voodoo-style' website – entitled Pincha la Rueda de Hamilton
, or 'Burst Hamilton's Tyre' – was met with widespread disgust in the Formula 1 paddock when its presence was revealed on Friday [see separate story – click here
], with many observers believing it was set up in an effort to try to derail the McLaren-Mercedes star's ultimately successful title charge in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos at the weekend.
It was the second racist incident in F1 in 2008, after Hamilton – the sport's youngest and first-ever black world champion – had found himself on the receiving end of jeers and taunts during a test in Barcelona back in February, from spectators wearing black make-up and clad in T-shirts with 'Hamilton's Family' written on the front and 'Alonso No. 1' on the back. Following that unsavoury episode, the FIA launched its anti-racism 'Every Race' campaign, and threatened Spain with the loss of its grand prix should any such incidents re-occur.
Those who posted the 'obscene' comments on the site were believed to have been disgruntled fans of Fernando Alonso, Hamilton's former team-mate at Woking and a driver with whom the Briton fell out to such an extent that the Spaniard left the squad two years before his three-year contract was due to expire at the end of the 2007 season.
The former double F1 World Champion and his Renault boss Flavio Briatore thoroughly condemned the abuse – the latter describing it as 'completely disgraceful' – and both governing body the FIA and Hamilton's father and manager Anthony similarly spoke of their severe distaste for the insults.
“My family have taken a lot of stick this past week,” Hamilton Snr is quoted as having said by the BBC
, “not just this week, but [over] the past few months.
“I did think that maybe this isn't the place for my family, because as a parent you make sure you do right for your family and kids, but I never said anything to Lewis. I kept it to myself, even though I was going home and thinking 'I didn't think the world was quite like this'.”
F1 supremo and commercial rights-holder Ecclestone, though, has dismissed the comments on the website as 'nonsense' and having been blown out of all proportion, denying F1 has a problem with racism – even going so far as to liken the situation to Ferrari fans donning red wigs in support of the scarlet machines.
“It's all nonsense,” the 78-year-old urged in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live
. “In Spain people supported Fernando Alonso, and in Brazil they supported Felipe Massa. I don't think it has anything to do with racism.
“There were a few people in Spain...and it was probably meant as a joke more than anything abusive. People look and read things into something that is not there. People are entitled to support who they want to support.
“When was he insulted? Do you remember the Ferrari guys that wore the red wigs when they went? People are [just] expressing themselves.”