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Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said he still feels uncomfortable racing in Saudi Arabia, days after being sent a letter by the family of a young prisoner set to be executed.
The family of Abdullah al-Howaiti, arrested in 2017 aged 14 and sentenced to death aged 17, have urged Hamilton to speak out ahead of the country’s second F1 race, taking place this Sunday (March 27).
The letter references the torture and abuse al-Howaiti has suffered at the hands of authorities, according to the Guardian.
The human rights group Reprieve has demanded F1 end its race contract with Saudi Arabia, citing the country’s recent string of executions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently carried out 81 executions in a single day.
A statement put out by Reprieve this week said that if Saudi Arabia continues carrying out executions at its current rate, it will hit nearly 500 executions this year. It said eight have taken place this week ahead of the F1 race.
Last year Hamilton voiced his concerns about racing in the country given its human rights record, saying: “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”.
On Friday, he said his view was unchanged.
“I don’t really know what to say. My position is still the same as when I spoke here last year,” Hamilton said when asked his feelings on the race.
“There’s not really a lot that I can say that’s going to make much of a difference. It’s obviously mind-blowing to hear the stories… I’ve heard that there’s a letter sent to me from a 14-year-old that’s on death row… When you are 14 you don’t know what the hell you are doing in life, so it’s…
“But we don’t decide where we go. I think we are duty-bound to try while we are here [to raise awareness], it’s not necessarily our responsibility when we are brought here, but we try and do what we can.
“I think it’s important that we just try to educate ourselves and with the little bit of difference that we can make, make sure that we are doing something. But ultimately, it’s the responsibility of those in power to make the changes. And we’re not really seeing enough, so we need to see more.”
Hamilton stressed that there is only a limited amount that F1 drivers can do when the championship signs a deal to race in countries like Saudi Arabia, although he wants to continue to explore ways he can make a difference.
“Just reflecting that it shouldn’t be our responsibility to do that. But it is obviously naturally a very, very complex situation.” But I’m always open to having discussion, to learning more, to try and understand exactly what why the things that are happening are happening and why they are not changing. Because it’s 2022 and it’s easy to make changes. But I’m open to doing that, I don’t know who I’d have to speak to but I’d love that.
“I know [UK Prime Minister] Boris [Johnson] has been over here recently… I heard that human rights was raised during that, but what’s been said, what’s being done? I’ve not heard about that.”