The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will get underway this weekend as Lewis Hamilton fights to chase down championship leader Max Verstappen.
Just eight points separate the two drivers, but a win for the Red Bull star in these final two races will deny Hamilton of a record-breaking eighth championship.
However, coming away with a win at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit is not the only thing weighing heavy on the Brit’s mind as Formula 1 enters the penultimate Grand Prix of the season.
Sunday will mark the first time an F1 Grand Prix has taken place in Saudi Arabia and it’s a decision that has received hefty backlash from supporters, due to the country’s poor human rights record.
Hamilton has expressed his discomfort over racing in Jeddah this weekend and has stressed that the drivers, and others involved in F1, should do their best to raise awareness of equality during their time in the Middle East.
A fortnight ago, Hamilton wore a rainbow-coloured helmet for the race in Qatar, with the words “we stand together” printed on the back. He will wear the same helmet this weekend and then again in Abu Dhabi for the final race.
“Do I feel comfortable here [in Saudi Arabia]? I wouldn’t say I do, but it is not my choice to be here,” the Mercedes driver said. “The sport has taken the choice to be here, and whether it is right or wrong, while we are here I think it is important that we do try and raise awareness.
“If anyone wants to take the time to go and read what the law is for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s pretty terrifying. There’s changes that need to be made.”
Human rights charities, including Amnesty International, have criticised Formula 1 for alleged sportswashing by deciding to host Grand Prix weekends in these countries.
Individuals in Saudi Arabia can face severe legal action if discovered to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. Amnesty International, amongst other charities, continues to raise awareness of these laws, as well as the treatment of women and migrants.
Hamilton also discussed the record of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and spoke out on the driving ban that was lifted just three years ago.
“Some of the women are still in prison from driving many, many years ago. So there’s a lot of change that needs to happen, and I think our sport needs to do more.”
Women and girls in Saudi Arabia face strict laws, which impact their personal and working lives. Gender segregation has been a major issue — it was only in 2019 that restaurants were no longer required to feature separate entrances for men and women.
Legal requirements of gender segregation in the workplace were lifted in 2005, but many companies continue to follow these rules today.
Sebastian Vettel has also made a stand and is one of F1’s more vocal activists. Back in August, he sported a rainbow-coloured ‘Same Love’ t-shirt at the Hungarian Grand Prix to protest against the country’s views on the LGBTQ+ community.
The German held an all-female karting event in Jeddah earlier this week.
“[It’s] very difficult for us coming to a country where we spend maybe only a couple of days, trying to be a perfect judge by not knowing the background exactly and the people inside out,” the four-time championship winner said.
“This way it was important to get to know some of these women. And I think it was a very, very memorable and inspiring day and a great way to kick off the weekend by focusing on the positive.”
Hamilton feels he and the rest of F1 are “duty-bound to ensure we try and raise awareness for certain issues, especially human rights, in the countries we are going to.”