Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton believes Formula One should do more to highlight and address human rights issues in the countries it visits.
His comments were made ahead of two races in Bahrain and followed news of a letter from U.K. parliamentarians to F1 CEO Chase Carey urging the sport to use its races to "leverage Bahrain into respecting human rights."
The letter, which was signed by 30 cross-party members of parliament, called on F1 to "end suppression of protests against the race, secure redress for victims and ensure the rights of Bahraini citizens are defended." It drew special attention to the detention of activist Najah Yusuf, who was imprisoned in 2017 and allegedly tortured after criticising that year's F1 race on social media.
It's the second time this month an F1 race has been labelled as an attempt to "sportswash" a country's human rights record after Amnesty International made the same accusation of next year's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which was announced on F1's 2021 calendar at the start of the month.
Hamilton said he had received letters from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and would make time to learn more about the alleged human rights abuses.
"When I arrived here around midday, I received some letters," he said on Thursday in an online media conference. "I only got to see them quickly before I got here, but I've not had a lot of time to digest them.
"That's something I need to take some time to do over the coming days.
"The human rights issues in so many of the places we go to is a consistent and massive problem and I think this year has shown how important it is for, not only us as a sport, but all sports around the world to utilise the platform they have to push for change.
"Naturally, we are probably one of the only ones that goes to so many different countries and I do think as a sport we need to do more. We have taken a step in that direction, but we can always do more and I think there have been some steps put in place for the places that we are going to.
"But it's important to make sure they are implemented in the right way and it's not just saying that we are going to do something, it is actually seeing some action taken. That's going to take some work from all of us in the background."
In response to the letter from parliamentarians, an F1 spokesperson issued the following statement.
"We have always been clear with all race promoters and Governments with which we deal worldwide that we take violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously," the statement read. "Our human rights policy is very clear and states that the Formula One companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally and have made our position on human rights clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered."
Bahrain will host two F1 races over the coming weeks, with the postponed Bahrain Grand Prix set to take place this weekend and the Sakhir Grand Prix, held on a revised layout of the same circuit, set to go ahead next weekend.
In response to Hamilton's comments, the Bahrain government also issued a statement, with a spokesman saying that Bahrain "takes the protection of its citizens' human rights and freedom of expression extremely seriously, and this is explicitly protected by Bahrain's constitution. This is evidenced by the government's wide-ranging reforms in these areas over the past decade, which have been implemented in partnership with international NGOs and welcomed by numerous international governments.
"The Kingdom has a zero-tolerance policy towards mistreatment of any kind. The government has put in place a range of internationally-recognised safeguards to ensure human rights abuses do not occur, including a wholly independent Ombudsman - the first of its kind in the region - to oversee all complaints of mistreatment. The government is also clear that no one is, or can be, arbitrarily detained in Bahrain for expressing their political views."