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Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

F1 boss plays down Hamilton abuse

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone (left) and Lewis Hamilton
Ecclestone said Hamilton was a worthy champion this year

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has dismissed suggestions the sport has a problem with racism.

Britain's Lewis Hamilton was the victim of abuse during pre-season testing in Spain and in the build-up to Sunday's deciding Grand Prix in Brazil.

Ecclestone described the supporters' actions as "a joke" and told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I don't think it has anything to do with racism."

But Hamilton responded by saying: "I didn't see it as a joke."

Despite being unhappy with his treatment at the hands of fans at certain circuits on the F1 calendar, Hamilton said he would not allow the incidents to get to him.

"It's something that happened but it is in the past," added Hamilton, the first black driver in F1 history.

"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. I'm 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. I know Bernie and have a huge amount of respect for him. I can only assume he said positive things."

Hamilton became the sport's youngest world champion when he pipped Felipe Massa to the title in Brazil.

Race row in the past - Hamilton

But he has become a hate figure amongst some motorsport fans in Spain because of his rivalry with Fernando Alonso after the pair clashed during their time together as team-mates at McLaren.

Spain's former world champion Alonso complained the team were favouring Hamilton and left to join Renault at the end of the 2007 season.

Hamilton was taunted by spectators during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona earlier this year with some fans turning up with blackened faces and wigs, prompting the sport's governing body to launch an anti-racism campaign.

The FIA also condemned people who targeted Hamilton with abusive messages ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix at Sao Paulo.

Visitors to a "voodoo-style" website were invited to drop imaginary nails on a computer version of the Interlagos track, in the hope that Hamilton would suffer a puncture and hand the title to home favourite Massa. Many of the posts were obscene, while others referred to Hamilton's colour.

Hamilton's father Anthony spoke out about the abuse after his son's title triumph.

"My family have taken a lot of stick this past week, not just this week, but the past few months," he said.

"I did think that maybe this isn't the place for my family because as a parent you make sure you do right for your family and kids.

"But I never said anything to Lewis. I kept it to myself, even though I was going home and thinking 'I didn't think the world was quite like this'."

People are entitled to support who they want to support

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone
Renault team boss Flavio Briatore described the abuse as "completely disgraceful".

But Ecclestone feels the situation has been blown out of proportion and likened the actions of the fans in Spain to Ferrari fans sporting red wigs to back their team.

"There were a few people in Spain...and it was probably meant as a joke more than anything abusive," he added. "People look and read things into something that is not there.

"It's all nonsense. In Spain people supported Fernando Alonso and in Brazil they supported Felipe Massa.

"People are entitled to support who they want to support.

"When was he insulted? Do you remember the Ferrari guys that wore the red wigs when they went? People are [just] expressing themselves."

Ecclestone was thrilled at the dramatic end to the season which saw Hamilton, who just missed out on the title at Brazil in 2007, claim the crown by edging out Massa on the last lap in Sao Paulo.

"I'm emotionally detached from most things, but it was one of those things you couldn't believe," he said. "It wasn't until the end that you'd realise who had won. You would have been sure Massa had won, but out of the blue came a super surprise.

"It was a pity they couldn't both win but the right guy did in the end. Lewis should have won it last year."

After the win, Hamilton told the BBC that he had set his sights on winning the drivers' title three times.

"I don't think he'll have any problem with that," said Ecclestone. "There's no limit. You have to rely on the car and the team and a little bit of luck. I suppose you could say he was lucky this year."

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see also
Hamilton targets title hat-trick
03 Nov 08 |  Formula One
Last-gasp Hamilton takes F1 crown
02 Nov 08 |  Formula One
How will Hamilton's life change?
03 Nov 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton's rise to the top
18 Jun 07 |  Motorsport
Hamilton destined for greatness
02 Nov 08 |  Formula One
Rollercoaster race to the F1 crown
02 Nov 08 |  Motorsport
Feeling the tension at Interlagos
03 Nov 08 |  Formula One
Website racists target Hamilton
31 Oct 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton saddened by racist abuse
04 Feb 08 |  Formula One
Circuit acts on Hamilton incident
05 Feb 08 |  Formula One
Ferdinand wants racism crackdown
04 Feb 08 |  Internationals
Raikkonen pips Hamilton to title
21 Oct 07 |  Formula One

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