Romain Grosjean says his suggestion for Formula 1 to end its pre-race anti-racism stand was wrong and has pushed for a more organised gesture at the British Grand Prix, after a 45-minute phone call with Lewis Hamilton.
Grand Prix Drivers Association director Grosjean was singled out by six-time world champion Hamilton, F1’s only black driver, for arguing against drivers continuing with an anti-racism message on the grid beyond the official ceremony at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
At the subsequent Styrian and Hungarian GPs, F1 and the FIA left the drivers to organise their own activity in support of the worldwide anti-racism movement that has erupted in recent months following the killing of George Floyd in the America – but that led to two increasingly rushed affairs that barely featured in F1’s TV coverage.
It was criticised by Hamilton and Grosjean’s fellow GPDA director Sebastian Vettel, while Hamilton said Grosjean was among those who felt doing it at one race was enough.
However, Grosjean has now explained that he adopted his position to speak on behalf of drivers who had raised concerns about continuing with the messaging – with not all 20 drivers ‘taking a knee’ so far and some choosing to stand.
The Haas driver says he felt like he was doing the correct thing at the time but on reflection accepts that was wrong, and has talked through the issue extensively in a “really good chat” with Hamilton.
“Yes, I have spoken to Lewis, we actually had a 45-minute phone call on Tuesday after the race,” Grosjean said on Thursday ahead of the British Grand Prix.
“I explained to Lewis that maybe I did it wrong, maybe I did it right. I felt right at the time, we are two directors in the GPDA, and we had seven or eight drivers that were not happy to carry on the ceremony as it was done in race one in Austria.
“I said to Lewis, ‘look maybe I did it wrong but I felt that as one of the directors – because Sebastian was pushing in the direction of carry on, which is the right approach – I was speaking for the drivers that were not happy to carry on, to express their voice as the director of the GPDA’.
“Now thinking about it, it was probably the wrong thing to do.
“Lewis had some good arguments, I had some also, but I think it was the wrong thing to do.”
Hamilton and Vettel said after the Hungarian GP that F1 and the FIA should make the pre-race anti-racism gesture more organised again, which Grosjean revealed is something he and GPDA head Alexander Wurz took up with the respective organisations last week.
Grosjean and Wurz had a conference call with FIA president Jean Todt and F1 CEO Chase Carey to make sure “that we do things the right way”.
He explained that the drivers could not organise it themselves in the midst of a grand prix weekend and wanted “more guidance from Liberty and a clear procedure”.
As a result, F1 is expected to return to the same pre-race anti-racism stand it adopted in Austria, and will formally add it to the pre-race schedule.
Grosjean said drivers will be free to perform whichever gesture they feel is appropriate, which means the group of drivers who have not kneeled so far – Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr, Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Daniil Kvyat – may continue to stand if they wish.
Though Grosjean said he is happy with the outcome regarding an improved anti-racism action for the drivers, he told Hamilton he was not happy to be spotlighted in the media as it attracted criticism over a matter Grosjean has been supportive of.
“It was a good chat with Lewis,” he reiterated. “I said sorry, maybe I did it the wrong way, but I felt I had to do it at the time, because the GPDA, we work on the majority vote system, and I felt that if I wasn’t as one of the directors listening to guys that were not happy to carry on, I wasn’t doing my duties.
“But also he mentioned that, as one of the directors they are listening to you, and that was his point. I think it was right in that aspect.
“I also said I wasn’t very happy that in the media it came out, on my social media I had a lot of things about racism, [saying] I am a racist, which is absolutely wrong.
“I don’t think you will find anyone anywhere in the world saying I’m a racist or I did something wrong in that aspect.
“I wasn’t very happy about being treated that way. I was one of the first ones to support and to push that we take the knee.
“I’m still hopeful that one day we get 20 drivers to take the knee on the grid, and that it will happen at one point.
“We need to keep the education, keep pushing the guys, and telling them that this is a sportsman’s gesture, and a way to support a cause on something that shouldn’t exist.”
Asked by The Race for his view on other drivers not yet taking a knee, despite competitions like English football’s Premier League doing so with many more competitors from many more nationalities, Grosjean said the individuals were being given freedom of choice.
“Everyone has a different feeling different way of expressing their feelings,” he said. “So, you cannot force anyone to do anything.
“The reason they have is personal. It’s just a feeling, so your reason is maybe strong enough for you but someone else doesn’t think it’s strong enough.
“That’s not really the question, I think everyone has to do what’s right for them.
“Ideally it would be nice to have the 20 drivers side by side, taking the knee.
“As you mentioned some other sports have managed to go there. But I’m not here to judge or to say they should do it or do it different.”