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Lewis Hamilton has condemned the former Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone for praising Vladimir Putin, and said that an individual who appeared to support “killing” people should not be given a platform.
The seven-time F1 world champion urged broadcasters to shun the 91-year-old over his comments that appeared to downplay the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, warning that such remarks will “put us back decades”.
Hamilton argued that Ecclestone was an “older voice” who no longer represented the sport after the latter said he would “take a bullet” for the Russian president and described him as “a first-class person”.
“We don’t need any more of it, to hear from someone that believes in the war, and the displacement of people and killing of people, and supporting that person [Putin] is beyond me,” the Mercedes driver said.
“I cannot believe I heard that. This is going to put us back decades, and we have yet to see the real brunt of the pain.
“Why? We do not need to be supporting that but looking into the future. If you don’t have anything positive to contribute, don’t give them any space.”
Ecclestone, who was in charge of F1 for four decades until departing in 2017, has been criticised for his comments about the Russian president who he has reportedly has been friends with since the introduction of the Russian Grand Prix in 2014.
“What he’s doing is something that he believed was the right thing he was doing for Russia,” he told ITV programme Good Morning Britain on Thursday. “Unfortunately, he’s like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time.
“I’d still take a bullet for him. I’d rather it didn’t hurt, but if it does I’d still take a bullet, because he’s a first-class person.”
Ecclestone added that the war could have been averted if Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, made “a big enough effort” to speak to Putin.
He said the war in Ukraine was not “intentional”, adding: “And I’m quite sure Ukraine, if they’d wanted to get out of it properly, could have done.”
Asked if he has had a chance to speak to Putin about “what a mess” the situation is or urged him to rethink what he is doing, Ecclestone said: “No. He’s probably thought about that himself. He probably doesn’t need reminding. I’m absolutely sure he now wishes he hadn’t have started this whole business, but [it] didn’t start as a war.”
In a later interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV, Ecclestone appeared to refer to the Ukrainian population as “Russians”. He said: “How many Russians were there in Ukraine when he (Putin) invaded? … They were all Russian people.”
When Morgan disagreed, Ecclestone responded: “No, they were Russians.”
F1 also moved to distance itself from the remarks of its former boss. A spokesperson said: “The comments made by Bernie Ecclestone are his personal views and are in very stark contrast to the position of the modern values of our sport.”
Ecclestone, who in 2020 announced the birth of his fourth child, with his wife, Fabiana Flosi, 45, is no stranger to controversial remarks.
In a Times interview published in 2009, he appeared to praise Adolf Hitler: “Terrible to say this, I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was – in the way that he could command a lot of people – able to get things done.”