Mercedes chief persuaded Lewis Hamilton not to protest anthem
Toto Wolff discussed matter with British driver on flight back from Japan
Lewis Hamilton driving his Mercedes during practice for the US Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Hamilton, who could be crowned Britain’s first quadruple world champion here in Austin, Texas on Sunday, is not expected to kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner despite admitting his support for the movement.
The Englishman, Formula One’s first and only black champion, had considered following in the footsteps of a series of NFL players who have protested racial inequality in the country.
But on board Niki Lauda’s private jet – following the conclusion of the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month – Wolff told Hamilton that he did not believe it would reflect positively on the Briton, or indeed the Mercedes brand.
“Lewis has good opinions and he and I discussed the issue on a flight back from Suzuka,” said Wolff on the eve of the US Grand Prix.
“I feel very much aligned with him on human rights so from a personal perspective I could understand where he was coming from.
“But on the other side, we discussed that even if you feel strong about showing your support against racism and human rights, that it is not our country, it is not our anthem, and you are offending many Americans that have a strong view on the flag.
“The conclusion was that it is probably better not to do it.”
Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who is now without a team, protested racial injustices in America last season by kneeling during the national anthem.
The movement has continued into the current NFL campaign, while German football side Hertha Berlin expressed their solidarity by kneeling before a 2-0 defeat against Schalke last weekend.
Trump has denounced the protests as unpatriotic and called on NFL franchises to fire or suspend players who do not stand during the Star-Spangled Banner and on fans to boycott matches.
“Lewis was personally confronted with racism as he was the only black kid on a go-kart track and that humiliation and trauma has shaped how he is today,” Wolff added. “That is why he has strong views and using your popularity to help fight racism is the right thing to do.
“But it would have certainly contributed to more polarisation against him and more controversy. Does he, and do we, as Mercedes, need to get involved in that discussion? No.”