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Motor Racing: Racist abuse was not a joke, insists Hamilton.

Byline: BY DUNCAN BECH Daily Post Correspondent

LEWIS HAMILTON yesterday insisted he does not share the views of Bernie Ecclestone that the racist abuse he received this year should be dismissed as a "joke".

Formula One supremo Ecclestone made the claim when asked about the insults directed at Hamilton during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, near Barcelona, in February.

Some spectators were pictured mocking the newlycrowned world champion by wearing wigs, dark make-up and T-shirts with the slogan 'Hamilton's Family'.

In an attempt to defuse the row, Ecclestone declared it had been blown out of proportion and stated he did not understand why the scenes were insulting. But Hamilton, the first black driver in Formula One history, refused to trivialise what happened and revealed it was the support of his fans that enabled him to overcome his anguish.

"I didn't see it as a joke. It's something that happened but it is in the past," he said.

"What's more important to me is that I had a lot of support, especially from UK fans.

"As long as I have my country behind me it makes me very proud. It makes me very proud to see my fellow countrymen holding up the flag.

"All the other stuff I need to put behind me. I don't generally keep up with what's being said and I haven't read what Bernie said. But I know Bernie and have a huge amount of respect for him."

It was an astonishing outburst by Ecclestone, not least as the FIA launched an antiracism campaign in response to what occurred in Spain.

Hamilton was also targeted during the build-up to last weekend's decisive Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, in which he finished fifth to become the sport's youngest world champion.

Racist remarks were left on a website, yet Ecclestone insisted the row had been blown out of proportion.

"I think it's all nonsense. In Spain people were supporting (Fernando) Alonso and in Sao Paulo they were supporting Felipe (Massa)," he said.

"I don't think it was anything to do with racism. There were a few people in Spain and that was probably beginning as a joke rather than anything abusive.

"I think people look and read into things that are not there.

All those things are all a bit of a joke and people are entitled to support who they want to support. I don't see why people should have been (insulted by it). These things are people expressing themselves."

Ecclestone's comments failed to dent the euphoria Hamilton has felt since claiming his first world championship on Sunday.

The 23-year-old had to field questions raging from his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, to Barack Obama's victory in the US Presidential elections at yesterday morning's promotional event to launch the BlackBerry Storm.

Demand for Hamilton has rocketed since his first title triumph and he is happy to continue enjoying the privacy his residency in Switzerland affords - at least for now.

"I wouldn't say I miss living in the UK. My family and team are here and I'm very fortunate that every once in a while I get the chance to come back and visit the place," he said. "But I'm happy where I am."

CAPTION(S):

Lewis Hamilton launches the new Blackberry Storm at Claridges, in London yesterday Picture: LEWIS WHYLD/PA
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2008
Words:561
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