Lewis Hamilton, who uses a large platform to speak out against racial and social injustice, knelt on the front line wearing a Black Lives Matter Matter T-shirt while the other drivers wrote “End Racism” on them.
Before the race, Ferrari driver Leclerc posted a series of tweets explaining why he decided not to kneel along with his peers.
“All 20 drivers stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, while embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion, supporting the commitment of Formula 1 and the FIA,” he wrote.
“I believe the most important facts and behaviors are in our daily lives, not formal gestures that might be considered controversial in some countries. I won’t kneel, but that doesn’t mean I’m less committed than others to fighting racism.”
Verstappen echoed Leclerc’s comments, writing: “I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themselves at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not kneel today but respect and support the personal decisions each driver makes.”
A total of six drivers chose not to kneel. The other four were Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen.
Different views in particular emerged less than two weeks after Formula 1 launched its “We Race as One” initiative aimed at tackling racism and inequality.
Just days after the initiative was launched, former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was widely condemned for his comments on racism.
Work as usual
Despite an extended break before the start of the season, normal service continued on the track as Valtteri Bottas gave Mercedes a place on the podium.
It looked like Mercedes would end up with its two drivers in the first and second, but Hamilton was given a five-second penalty just four laps from the end for his role in the clash with Red Bull’s Alex Albon.
This allowed Leclerc to take second place, and young McLaren driver Land Norris was awarded third place for his first ever Formula One podium.
Hamilton has not won in Austria since 2016, with teammate Bottas scoring one win and Red Bull Max Verstappen taking the other two in the years to come.
The six-time world champion was leading an upward battle from off, after being knocked down from second to fifth in the net less than an hour before the start of the race.
Hamilton was initially cleared by the stewards for failing to slow down due to yellow flags during qualifying, but received a net penalty at the last minute following a Red Bull appeal.
It was announced that new evidence provided by Red Bull to ban the installation was a video posted on a Formula 1 Twitter account.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said the footage was released by the race promoter only on Sunday morning, making him unavailable for questioning on Saturday.
Bottas committed himself to ignoring the drama behind him and led the race from start to finish, despite the bursts of pressure that followed the numerous starts of the safety cars.
Verstappen looked like the only driver able to challenge the first two players at first, but electrical problems with the car forced the Dutch driver to retire early 11 laps.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel’s race was almost after 31 laps after a collision with Carlos Sainz, the man who will replace him at Ferrari next year.
The modified Formula 1 season, in which a number of prizes were canceled, continues with the second race in Austria next weekend, before heading to Hungary.
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