Nelson Piquet denies using racial slur but apologises to Lewis Hamilton

Nelson Piquet has denied making a racist slur against Lewis Hamilton. The Brazilian, a three-time Formula One world champion, says the phrase he used has been mistranslated but admitted his comments were ill thought out and issued an apology to Hamilton.

Despite his contrition, it is understood that F1’s lifetime ban on Piquet will not be revoked.

Piquet’s remarks, made last year but which became public on Monday, described Hamilton with an epithet that can be translated as the N-word. However, after widespread condemnation of his comments, the 69‑year‑old insisted his comments were not intended to offend.

“I would like to clear up the stories circulating in the media about a comment I made in an interview last year,” the Brazilian said in a statement issued on Wednesday. “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.

“I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations. I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin colour.

“I apologise wholeheartedly to anyone that was affected, including Lewis, who is an incredible driver, but the translation in some media that is now circulating on social media is not correct. Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect.”

F1 banned Piquet from attending races until he issued an apology but his insistence that his remarks were misconstrued have gained little traction. The phrase he used is considered among black people in Brazil to be a derogatory reference to race.

Hamilton, a long-term campaigner for anti-racism and diversity, said Piquet’s remarks were part of a larger malaise. “It’s more than language. These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport,” he said. “I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”

The 1996 world champion, Damon Hill, sympathised with Hamilton. “Poor Lewis for having to put up with this constantly. It’s blighted his experience of being a Formula One driver, perhaps more than we’ll ever understand,” he said. “We have to be sure that the sport is not just nodding in the direction of political correctness. It has to be absolutely clear.”

F1’s governing body, the FIA, hosted a meeting of the world motorsport council in Paris on Wednesday, where it reaffirmed its zero-tolerance approach towards harassment and discrimination. A statement was also issued denouncing racism, but there has yet to be any addressing of the demands for action Hamilton believes are imperative.

However, at the same time the seven-time champion remains in a farcical stand-off with the FIA. The ban on drivers wearing jewellery – which until this year has not yet been enforced – will once more come to a head at the British Grand Prix, with Hamilton facing the threat of missing his home GP for the first time over the matter.

This season the race director Niels Wittich said he would be strictly applying the regulation and it is understood he did so under the instruction of the FIA president, Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

Hamilton has refused to remove his nose piercing and since the Monaco GP the FIA announced a moratorium on the rules. The exemption ends before the British Grand Prix this weekend. If the FIA enforces the rule and Hamilton continues to refuse to back down, he could be banned from the race.

The FIA has declined to comment on whether it will enforce the rule which is set to be applied before first practice on Friday, or whether a compromise has been reached.