The event has faced criticism from the Human Rights Watch organisation, which has called on Formula 1 to express its concerns over what it calls “a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator”.
The report issued by HRW, which follows a letter requesting a meeting with F1 senior leadership and FIA president Jean Todt, says F1’s presence in the country risks “bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded efforts to whitewash its image despite a significant increase in repression over the last few years.”
Seven-time world champion Hamilton has been a vocal advocate of human rights and introduced a prominent rainbow helmet livery at the Qatar Grand Prix last time out – in support of the LGBTQ+ community – which he plans to continue using in Jeddah and next week’s final round in Abu Dhabi.
Speaking to media on Thursday ahead of the Saudi Grand Prix, Hamilton said that he believes F1 is “duty bound to help raise awareness for certain issues that see with human rights in these countries we are going to”.
The Mercedes driver stressed that he had received “a warm welcome from people on the ground” but admitted he “wouldn’t say” he felt comfortable racing in the country.
Asked whether Saudi’s place on the calendar opposed the ‘We Race As One’ message that F1 has promoted over the past two seasons, Hamilton said: “I can’t pretend to be the most knowledgeable and have the deepest of understanding of someone that has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime.
“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say I do, but it’s not my choice to be here.
“The sport has taken the choice to be here and whether it’s right or wrong, I think whilst we are here, again, I feel it is important to raise awareness.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st position, waves from Parc Ferme
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
“For example at the last race [in Qatar] you saw the helmet that I wore, I will wear that again here and in the next race because that is an issue.
“There is changes that needs to be made.”
Hamilton cited that although Saudi law was changed in 2018 to allow women to legally drive, “some of the women are still in prison from driving many, many years ago”.
He added: “There is a lot of change that needs to happen and our sport needs to do more.”
In a statement, Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal said: “It’s good to see people stand for what they believe. But at the same time, we have our culture, our traditions.
“We understand and for someone with his background and with his culture, I totally understand why he does it.
“I think he should do what he do, whatever he supports, and think that he believes is suitable for him, we respect his opinion.”