In the wake of the storm that was whipped up by remarks he made suggesting racist abuse aimed at newly-crowned Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton was merely 'a joke', Bernie Ecclestone has sought to clarify his comments by insisting that 'anyone who does this sort of thing…are third-rate people'.
The sport's commercial rights-holder – who played a part in Hamilton's graduation to F1 with McLaren-Mercedes last year – had seemed to brush off obscene insults written about the 23-year-old on a Spanish 'voodoo-style' website entitled Pincha la Rueda de Hamilton
(Burst Hamilton's Tyre) as 'nonsense' and 'probably meant as a joke', adding that he didn't 'think it had anything to do with racism' [see separate story – click here
It was the second such incident in F1 in 2008, after Hamilton – the sport's youngest and first-ever black 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, in reference to former team-mate and bitter rival Fernando Alonso.
The Stevenage-born ace, however, clearly disagreed with Ecclestone's appraisal [see separate story – click here
], and anti-racism groups such as Kick It Out
were also quick to condemn the Formula One Management chief, believing his words were tantamount to condoning such actions.
Leading anti-racism campaigner Paul Elliot even went so far as to argue that Ecclestone 'should resign' as a consequence of what he had said. Referring to the Barcelona episode in particular, however, the 77-year-old told the BBC
that the 'joke' remark had been misconstrued.
“I meant they were a joke, clowns,” he explained. “I've spoken with Lewis' dad Anthony and he understands; everything's fine.
“I deal with Lewis and his dad all the time. We are good friends and I play cards with Anthony. I have even had many black people come up and shake my hand and thank me for helping Lewis get into F1.
“People should remember I was the one who pulled F1 out of South Africa in support of Nelson Mandela because of apartheid before these people knew anything about racism, so no one can say I am against black people.
“I've dealt with people all over the world for many years and I have no feeling with regard to religion, race, colour, creed or whatever.