One of the Spanish Formula One fans who caused a diplomatic storm by "blacking up" to hurl insults at the British driver Lewis Hamilton has insisted: "I am not a racist."
Toni Calderon was one of four fans who wore dark curly wigs, black make-up and T-shirts with the words "Hamilton's family" at the Montmelo circuit near Barcelona during testing last weekend. As Hamilton walked from the McClaren team paddock to the circuit last Saturday, he faced more insults and racist abuse.
Gerry Sutcliffe, Britain's Sports minister, condemned the incidents as "sickening" and said he would make an official protest to his Spanish counterpart.
Formula One's governing body, the FIA, has launched an investigation and could ban Spain from holding two Grands Prix in Barcelona and Valencia later this year.
Mr Calderon told the Spanish daily Publico: "We went last Sunday and we dressed up to celebrate Carnival. We wanted to give a touch of humour to Montmelo and have a laugh at the father of [Lewis] Hamilton. We didn't have the slightest intention to laugh at anyone, nor to laugh at the British driver for the colour of his skin.
"I am not a racist and it has made me ashamed to appear like that in the British press. Also, as I am in the middle of the photo [of four blacked up fans], I seem like the protagonist. This has angered me."
Mr Calderon said no one on security said a word when the group arrived at the circuit dressed as "Hamilton's family". "On the contrary, the people on security at the gate started laughing and let us pass," he said. "In fact half the people who saw us thought we were fans of Hamilton. Lots of people took pictures of us.
"If I had known that this was going to happen, I would never have dressed up, but I want to be very clear that we never intended to offend.
"We haven't done anything wrong. I would not have any problem to explain it personally to McClaren and Lewis who is a star."
Hamilton finished second in the drivers' championship last year in his rookie season and was widely blamed in Spain for the failure of his team-mate Fernando Alonso to win a third consecutive Formula One title. Hamilton said: "The truth is that I feel somewhat sad, I am in love with this country, and especially the city of Barcelona and this circuit, which is one of my three favourites."
The Spanish Motor Sports Federation expressed its "absolute repulsion" after the incident.
At Montmelo, circuit staff erected barriers around the McClaren paddock while banners making references to Hamilton and the team boss, Ron Dennis, were removed. The stands above McLaren's garage were cleared to ensure no missiles could be thrown.
Racism has dogged Spanish sport for many years and it is common at football matches for abuse to be directed at black players.Reuse content