Former Formula One champion Nelson Piquet apologised to Lewis Hamilton on Wednesday, saying the racial term he used about the Mercedes driver was “ill thought out” but was not meant to be offensive.
The 69-year-old Brazilian has faced heavy criticism this week over comments he made in Portuguese last November on a podcast where he referred to Hamilton as “neguinho,” which means “little Black guy.” “What I said was ill thought out, and I make no defence for it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and was never intended to offend,” Piquet, who won three F1 titles in the 1980s, said in the statement.
“I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations. I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin colour.”
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Piquet used the term three times during the interview as he discussed a crash between Hamilton — a seven-time F1 champion and the only Black driver in the sport — and Max Verstappen during last year’s British Grand Prix.
What I said was ill thought out, and I make no defence for it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and was never intended to offend. - Nelson Piquet
“I apologise wholeheartedly to anyone that was affected, including Lewis, who is an incredible driver,” Piquet added. “But the translation in some media that is now circulating on social media is not correct. Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect.”
After Piquet’s comments resurfaced this week, Hamilton called for “archaic mindsets” to change, while F1 and governing body FIA both condemned the use of racist language. “It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I've been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life,” Hamilton tweeted on Tuesday.
“There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”