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Former F1 driver Nelson Piquet fined nearly $1 million for racist and homophobic comments against Lewis Hamilton

Three-time Formula One champion Nelson Piquet was ordered to pay a fine of nearly $1 million (five million reais) in moral damages for racist and homophobic comments aimed at Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, a court ruling published on Friday said.

“The Substitute Judge of the 20th Civil Court of Brasilia sentenced former Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet Souto Maior to pay R$ 5 million in compensation for collective moral damages, to be allocated to funds for the promotion of racial equality and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community, due to the offenses made against current Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton,” the court statement said.

Piquet used a Brazilian Portuguese racial and homophobic slur during a TV interview in November 2021 to describe seven-time champion Hamilton when addressing a high-speed collision involving Hamilton and Max Verstappen during the Silverstone Grand Prix.

The clip became viral and drew a negative reaction towards Piquet, who later apologized for his remarks – a point also reinforced by the court statement.

“The defendant, in his defense, argued that he had already recanted the way he treated the English driver, but that his conduct did not characterize racism or homophobia, and there was no need to speak of hate speech or offense to the black population or the LGBTQIA+ community in general,” the court statement said.

Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton looks on in the pits during the third practice session ahead of the 2023 Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah on March 18, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
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“He maintained that, despite the use of inappropriate language, there was no intention to harm Hamilton’s honor or anyone else’s. Thus, as it was not a case of hate speech, the duty to indemnify would not be characterized.”

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Formula One, Mercedes and the FIA, motorsport’s global governing body, all condemned Piquet at the time, and Piquet apologized for the racial slur and said his comments had no racist intent.

“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 said in a statement to CNN last year.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 20: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes walks in the paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on November 20, 2022 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)
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He added that his comments had been mistranslated in some media and social media reports.

“I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations,” Piquet said.

“I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin color […] Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect.”