Lando Norris says privileged Formula 1 drivers are aware they cannot “speak for a lot of people” but want to take a respectful, sincere stand in the fight against racism.
The Black Lives Matter movement and the surrounding campaign to end violence and racism towards black people has been publicly reignited by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in the United States of America.
A social media movement has been spurred by protests and demonstrations, drawing comments from many celebrities and sports people around the world.
However, on Sunday evening six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, F1’s first and only black driver, criticised “my industry” as a whole for its silence and said he felt like he was left to stand alone in the face of racial injustice.
A wave of statements from F1 drivers, condemning racism and asking others not to stay silent, then emerged.
Norris, who is 20 years old, was among those to issue a public comment after Hamilton had spoken out but had already taken some action already by directing his followers on the streaming platform Twitch to sign petitions on the matter.
In an exclusive interview with The Race, Norris said he had been unsure how to address the issue of discrimination further without sounding insincere, and suspects his fellow drivers feel the same.
“I’m lucky and I’m privileged,” the McLaren driver told The Race.
“I grew up in a world where everything has been great.
“I’ve been very lucky because of that, my dad and my family worked hard to put my family in that situation and I think a lot of us that have gone racing have been lucky.
“So, I don’t think we can speak for a lot of people.
“You get a lot of circumstances where you get people saying ‘you don’t know what it’s like for us’, and everything like that.
“And especially being in the public eye, it’s very easy for things to get portrayed in the complete wrong way.
“Things can just get turned very easily onto us and be looked at in the complete wrong way, although we only mean it for the greater good.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I think a lot of us were just a bit uncertain straight way, to post something on the very first day of it happening and saying ‘this is what we believe’.”
After Hamilton’s initial comments, Norris wrote on Twitter that he acknowledged his “power through this to lead and inspire so many”.
He shared a link to a web page containing educational resources, petitions and donation suggestions, along with a message urging his fans “to do something and take action”.
His Instagram page, which has 1.4million followers, has also been changed and his biography now reads:
“@mclaren F1 Driver.
“But that doesn’t matter right now.
“This does ⬇️
Norris said it was important to take time so that the message he shared with his audience was the right one, and properly understood.
“We just didn’t want to get portrayed by trying to be someone we’re not, and say something that we didn’t believe would be looked on it in the right way from everyone on the outside,” said Norris.
“So we just took our time, initially, to make sure I was saying the right thing.
“That’s why I just didn’t post in the first couple of days. Once we knew how to voice it in the right context, then I did what I did and I said what I said.”
As well as his extensive social media presence, Norris has been prominent online during F1’s coronavirus enforced hiatus this year and built a rapport with a younger generation of fans.
He said his cheery attitude influenced his decision to raise awareness among his supporters.
“I just want what’s right for everyone and I’m a happy guy,” he said. “I come in and I try and make people smile. I want that for McLaren and I want that for everyone.
“I guess that’s why I’ve done everything I’ve done. And I’m happy I said what I said.”
Hamilton’s comments this week, including a powerful secondary statement on Tuesday evening in which he said he was “overcome with rage”, have drawn comments from others in F1 as well as drivers.
He was quickly supported on social media by a statement from his Mercedes team, while rival outfits and the championship itself have also issued comments or shared links to informative websites.
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said this week that he has “learned a lot” from his driver, who has thrived in a sport dominated by white men, and that “every single one of us must be part of a movement to stop these kind of things happening”.
“We know that Lewis is always a strong supporter of any minorities,” said Wolff.
“He asked the question once, ‘Have you ever had the active thought that you are white?’ and I said, ‘No, actually, I’ve never thought about it’.
“And he said, ‘Well, you know, I need to think about it [being black] every day because I’m being made aware that I am’.
“I think it’s very difficult for us to comprehend how difficult it is.”