Formula 1's first black world champion Lewis Hamilton has rubbished Bernie Ecclestone's suggestion that the racist abuse aimed at him on a Spanish website in the run-up to last weekend's title-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix was nothing more than 'a joke'.
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. Many observers believed it was set up by disgruntled fans of Fernando Alonso, 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.
Alonso was Hamilton's team-mate at Woking last season, 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 2007.
Whilst F1 ringmaster Ecclestone suggested the comments were 'all nonsense' and the product of poor sportsmanship rather than 'anything to do with racism' [see separate story – click here
], Hamilton clearly disagreed, insisting he 'didn't see it as a joke'.
“It's something that happened,” the 23-year-old is quoted as having said by the International Herald Tribune
, “but it is in the past. You've got to look forward.”
The website abuse marked the second racist incident in F1 in 2008, after Hamilton – the sport's youngest-ever title-winner – 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 – even if Ecclestone had again appeared unconcerned.
“I don't think we should even be talking about racism,” the 78-year-old told The Associated Press
at the time. “I really think that they are against Hamilton for his ability, not because he is black. I always thought it was a bit of a prank – they're probably not racist at all.”