7 Nov 2008

Ecclestone plays down racism problems

6:28 am on 7 November 2008

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 last weekend's's deciding Grand Prix in Brazil.

Ecclestone described the supporters' actions as "a joke" and told the BBC, he didn't think it had anything to do with racism.

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

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.

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.