Bernie Ecclestone has hit back at anti-racism campaigners who reacted angrily to his denial that Formula One has a race problem.
The Formula One Chief Executive dismissed the abuse that Lewis Hamilton received in Spain and Brazil this year, as well as on the internet, as “nonsense”, saying that the events stemmed from sporting dislike of Hamilton rather than real racism.
“It’s all nonsense,” he told the BBC. “In Spain people supported Fernando Alonso and in Brazil they supported Felipe Massa,” said Ecclestone.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with racism. There were a few people in Spain and it was probably meant as a joke more than anything abusive.
“People look and read things into something that is not there. People are entitled to support who they want to support.”
The comments prompted outrage in the UK, particularly amongst anti-racism organisations, and there were calls for Ecclestone to resign.
The 76-year-old however has defended his position reminding people that he has taken action against racism in the past.
“I was the one who pulled the Grand Prix out of South Africa (after 1985) in support of Nelson Mandela because of bloody apartheid before these people knew anything about racism,” he told The Times.
He also revealed that he came close to taking action at Barcelona earlier in the year, when a group of fans blacked out their faces and hurled abuse at Hamilton.
“I said to the promoters in Barcelona, ‘Let me go and get the people that blacked their faces up and bring them into the paddock and introduce them to Lewis and then see what they’ve got to say. But the police said, ‘Don’t do it,'” he explained.
Ecclestone has however hardened his stance on the Spanish fans who he claimed earlier in the week should be allowed to support who they want.
In an interview with the Mirror, he now describes them as “cowards” and dismissed abusive messages that appeared on a Spanish website last week as “disgusting”.
“We won’t put up with that in Formula One,” he said, “they are cowards. They are nothing, they are nobodies.”