Lewis Hamilton said Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko’s comments attributing Sergio Perez’s inconsistent form in 2023 to his ethnicity were “completely unacceptable.”
Marko, 80, said after the Italian Grand Prix that Perez didn’t have the same “focus” as world champion drivers like Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel.
“We know that he has problems in qualifying, he has fluctuations in form — he is South American and he is just not as completely focused in his head as Max is or as Sebastian,” Marko said.
Verstappen, Perez’s Red Bull teammate, is Dutch. Vettel is German. Perez is from Mexico, a country that is not in South America, a continent where F1 champions like Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna were born.
Marko apologized days later for what he said about Perez.
“I would like to apologize for my offensive remark and want to make it absolutely clear that I do not believe that we can generalize about the people from any country, any race, any ethnicity. I was trying to make a point that Checo has fluctuated in his performance this year, but it was wrong to attribute this to his cultural heritage.”
Hamilton is the only Black driver in Formula 1 and has been very outspoken about racing’s lack of diversity. The seven-time F1 champion told Sky Sports that diversity efforts are hampered when people in positions of power like Marko make comments like he did.
“It’s completely unacceptable what he said,” Hamilton told Sky. “Whilst we say there is no room for any type of discrimination within this sport — which there should be no room for it — to have leaders and people in his position making comments like this is not good for us moving forwards.”
“I think it just highlights, firstly, the work that still needs to be done. There are a lot of people in the background that really are trying to combat these sorts of things but it’s hard to maneuver if there are people in the top that have those sort of mindsets that just stop us from progressing. Not surprised, to be honest.”
Perez said Thursday that Marko had apologized to him for his comments.
“I know him and I know that he doesn’t mean it that way as well,” Perez said. “That to me is what matters. When you have a personal relationship with someone, it’s a feeling that you’ve got to have and to me that’s the most important one.”
Perez is a distant second to teammate Verstappen in the Formula 1 points standings as Verstappen is well on his way to a third consecutive title. Verstappen enters Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix with 10 consecutive Grand Prix wins and has won 12 of the 14 races so far in 2023. The other two race wins have been by Perez as Red Bull has won 15 consecutive races dating back to the 2022 season finale.