War on Hamilton gets dirty
Racist abuse by fans at Barcelona circuit "saddens" British driver, threatens future of Spanish Grand Prix5 February 2008
MADRID - British Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton said yesterday he was "saddened" to have been the victim of abuse, including racist insults, during a weekend of testing at Barcelona's Montmeló race track. Some of the 50,000 people who attended the three days of pre-season testing booed the McLaren driver, a few even blacking up their faces and aiming abusive chants at the Briton, whose father is from the Caribbean.
"The truth is I feel somewhat sad," Hamilton said on Monday. "I love this country, especially the city of Barcelona. The people in Spain have always been very warm," the 23-year-old driver added.
The origin of the weekend's events at Montmeló go back to last season's rocky relationship between Spanish Formula 1 hero and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and Hamilton in the McLaren team. The Spaniard felt the British driver in his rookie season was given preferential treatment both by the sport's FIA governing body and within the UK-based team managed by Ron Dennis. Alonso now drives for Renault.
Both Spain's national motor racing authorities and Montmeló circuit chiefs hastened to condemn the incidents as the FIA suggested that they could have a negative impact on future F1 events in Spain. "We are surprised and disappointed," a FIA spokesman said. "This is a clear breach of FIA principles and any repetition will result in serious sanctions," he added.
Spain will host two Grand Prix races this season, in Barcelona and a street race in Valencia.
Trackside reports in the Spanish press say that Hamilton was booed and insulted whenever he made his way into and out of the McLaren garage in the Montmeló pit area. The Circuit de Catalunya yesterday thanked the "majority" of fans for their good behaviour while stressing that security will be boosted for the Spanish Grand Prix in April.
But Britain's sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, wants stronger action to be taken. "Racism should not be tolerated, and this is not the first time British sportsmen have been abused in Spain," he said yesterday. "This brings into question whether the Grand Prix should be held at this track," Sutcliffe continued.
Black soccer players were racially abused by the crowd while playing for England in Madrid's Bernabéu stadium in 2004.
[Copyright EL PAÍS 2008]
Subject: Spanish news