The British driver Lewis Hamilton has said he is “not comfortable” racing in Saudi Arabia, claiming it would be harder to race away from crowds.
The Mercedes driver, one of the stars of next month’s Formula One race in Saudi Arabia, has received controversy from fans and fans of human rights over the race, which is scheduled to be held at the Yas Marina circuit in the Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh.
The race was given the green light despite criticism from Amnesty International, which said it had been held under conditions that amounted to a “human rights emergency”, and the FBI.
Hamilton was not on the official ticket list and will not be present for the action, and on Tuesday spoke of his doubts over whether he could deal with the atmosphere surrounding the event.
“Obviously it’s a big deal for my family and the UK,” he said in Abu Dhabi. “It’s good that they decided to open up for Formula One. It’s a big thing to bring Formula One into Saudi Arabia, so I’m excited for that. But in terms of going out there, if you make a comment, that’s on you. You have to be 100% sure you can go out there and perform and deal with that intensity of feeling your fans, that’s the main thing.
“It’s the same way in London. If I go out to places like that, you have to be comfortable. I’m not comfortable there. I’m not sure how I would be – I think I would have to know what to say and what not to say.
“But it’s exciting for me and the fans to be a part of the opening of the new venue.”
As the race drew closer, and Hamilton’s decision to be absent became public, fans were left angry at his decision. The figure from the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Movement for Solidarity with Bravery (MSB) tweeted that his announcement was “irresponsible and self-serving”.
But Hamilton defended his decision and said he would abide by all rules for the event, which will be the last for the Yas Marina circuit before it is demolished in 2019.
“Obviously you have to abide by all of the regulations,” he said. “You have to get the gig, and there are many things I have to look at before deciding [whether] it’s a good idea or not. It’s one of those things where people can talk all they want. I really don’t know what it’s like, I just have to respect that people will have different opinions.”