Ecclestone tries to calm race row

Bernie Ecclestone has cleared the air with Lewis Hamilton after being criticised for reportedly making light of racist abuse targeted at the new world champion.

At a test session in Barcelona in February several people donned wigs, blackened their faces and wore t-shirts with the words 'Hamilton's family' scribbled on them.

Yesterday Formula One supremo Ecclestone described it as "a bit of a joke" and said he did not think "it was anything to do with racism."

Hamilton insisted he did not see it as a joke and, amid suggestions Ecclestone was condoning racism, he was roundly condemned by groups such as Kick It Out.

But as far as the 78-year-old Ecclestone is concerned, that could not be any further from the truth.

"People should remember I was the one who pulled Formula One out of South Africa because of apartheid, so no one can say I am against black people," Ecclestone told PA Sport.

"I deal with Lewis and his dad (Anthony) all the time. We are good friends and I even play cards with Anthony.

"I have even had many black people come up and shake my hand and thank me for helping Lewis get into Formula One.

"I've dealt with people all over the world for many years and I have no feeling with regard to religion, race, colour, creed or whatever.

"As far as this latest issue is concerned, I spoke with Anthony yesterday and he understands the comments I made, has told Lewis and everything is fine."

Ecclestone added: "It was at the beginning of the year and what I meant was those guys were clowns. They were a joke.

"If I had had the opportunity, I would have got those guys, dragged them into the paddock and asked them to explain themselves and say the things they were apparently saying directly to Lewis.

"There was a feeling at the time it was nothing to do with Lewis and more to do with McLaren given what they had allegedly done to Fernando Alonso the previous season.

"Three years ago, when Lewis was making his way up, this would not have been an issue.

"Now he has become very popular and very rich. Even if he was white he would still have people having a go at him because they would more than likely be jealous.

"Because of who he is, Lewis is likely to get stick for the rest of his career.

"What he has to do is rise above it, which is something he has successfully managed to do so far.

"But anyone who does this sort of thing against Muslims, Jews or whoever, are third-rate people."

Speaking at the media launch for next month's Race of Champions event at Wembley, David Coulthard felt the matter was "a non event."

Coulthard, who retired from Formula One after 15 seasons following Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, added: "It is trying to be built into something much bigger than it is.

"What happened in Spain because of those four guys, I'm sorry, but it hardly represents a nation of racists.

"You can keep this one going as long as you want because there will always be those who are racist, always be those anti one nation or another.

"I've seen some people having a pop at Bernie for trying to play it down, but what would you expect him to do?

"He is the ringmaster, the guy that has created this amazing foundation of business success that enables all of us to earn our pennies.

"We're all talking about Lewis being the first billion dollar sportsman, well that is on the foundations of what Bernie has created.

"To turn round and try to get Bernie to offer an apology to Lewis is just ridiculous.

"Formula One may have many failings, but it does not come close to the racism you see in people's first love, and that's football."