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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 14:56 GMT
Hamilton saddened by racist abuse
Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton had a strained relationship with former McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso
Formula One star Lewis Hamilton says he has been left saddened after being subjected to racist abuse in Spain.

The 23-year-old Briton was taunted by spectators during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.

"The truth is I feel somewhat sad," he said. "I love this country, especially the city of Barcelona. The people in Spain have always been very warm."

The McLaren driver has become a hate figure in Spain because of his rivalry with former team-mate Fernando Alonso.

The former world champion complained last season that McLaren were favouring Hamilton and fell out with the Mercedes-powered team when they refused to grant him special status. He now drives for Renault.

The Briton, who eventually finished second to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in the title race, said he hoped Spanish fans of F1 would understand his rivalry with the favourite.

"The only thing that I have done is to try to give the best of myself and try to win the championship," he told

This is a clear breach of FIA principles and any repetition will result in serious sanctions

FIA spokesman

"At no point have I tried to deliberately prejudice Fernando but the fight has been very tough and my image in Spain has been severely damaged."

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) says Spanish circuits risk punishment as a result of the incident.

"We are surprised and disappointed at the abuse," stated an FIA spokesman.

"This is a clear breach of FIA principles and any repetition will result in serious sanctions."

Reports in a number of Spanish papers said Hamilton was booed and insulted whenever he made his way from the team motor home and into the pits on Saturday for pre-season testing at the Barcelona circuit.

"It is not right the way he is being treated," McLaren test team manager Indy Lall was quoted as saying.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Formula One commentator David Croft explained that some of those present to watch the testing had gone to great lengths to upset the British driver.

"There were about 55,000 fans present over the three days of testing," said Croft.

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton finished second in the drivers' championship last season

"(Some) were chanting nasty stuff and booing him when he made his way from the garage to the McLaren area at the back. We've never seen that at Formula One events.

"The officials at the circuit drafted in extra security guards to the stands and put some fences around the team area."

Spain will host two Grands Prix this year, the Spanish race in April at Circuit de Catalunya and the European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia in August.

Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit and Jerez are also used for pre-season testing.

Although the FIA did not spell out the sanctions, either circuit could lose its place in the championship if local organisers fail to deal with any further incidents of racist behaviour.

"We would like to make a plea to the fans to behave correctly," circuit director Ramon Pradera was quoted as saying in La Vanguardia newspaper.

"No type of offensive behaviour can be tolerated."

Gerry Sutcliffe, sports minister for the British government, has demanded the FIA take action to prevent a repeat of the "sickening" racist abuse suffered by Hamilton.

I am also going to write to the Spanish Sports Minister to express our ongoing concern about racism suffered by our sportsmen

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe

Following racist abuse suffered by English footballers in Spain in recent years, Sutcliffe believes strong action is required now.

"Racism should not be tolerated and this is not the first time British sportsmen have been racially abused in Spain," he said.

"This brings in question whether the Grand Prix should be held at this track.

"I am going to write to the FIA to ask what action they are going to take in response to this.

"I am also going to write to the Spanish Sports Minister to express our ongoing concern about racism suffered by our sportsmen."

The McLaren team said they were disappointed with the reaction of some spectators at the Barcelona track.

A statement read: "Vodafone McLaren Mercedes have raced and tested on Spanish circuits for many years. Everyone connected with the team regards Spain and the Spanish people with great affection, Lewis included."

The Spanish Motorsports Federation (RFEDA) issued a stinging condemnation of fans who abused Hamilton and declared its "absolute repulsion" at the incidents in Barcelona.

This type of idiots that are confusing sporting rivalry with violence should be aware that the Federation has a zero-tolerance approach to this issue

Spanish motorsports federation

"The Federation wants to show its absolute repulsion at these incomprehensible incidents and demonstrate its support and solidarity for the McLaren team and especially their driver Lewis Hamilton," said a statement.

"This type of idiots that are confusing sporting rivalry with violence should be aware that the Federation has a zero-tolerance approach to this issue."

The statement said the abuse came from a small and unrepresentative group of spectators present.

It commended circuit organisers for removing offensive banners and said the RFEDA had asked them to strengthen measures to avoid similar incidents in future.

McLaren's next test will be at the southern Spanish circuit of Jerez from 12-14 February.

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