LONDON, England -- The racist abuse meted out to Lewis Hamilton at Formula One testing in Barcelona could lead to Spain losing its two grand prix if repeated, motor racing authorities warned.
The McLaren star was jeered and insulted when he moved between the McLaren motorhome and the team's garage at the Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday and world governing body, the FIA, has condemned the behavior of the fans.
"FIA are surprised and disappointed at the abuse directed at Lewis Hamilton.
"An act of this kind is a clear breach of the principles enshrined in the FIA statutes, and any repetition will result in sanctions," said a spokesman.
Hamilton said that his image in Spain had been unfairly damaged by his fall-out with Fernando Alonso last season.
"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 favorites," said Hamilton, speaking to sportlifepress.com.
"The people in Spain have always been very warm with me, and even though I imagined what might happen it has not been pleasant.
"But maybe these types of things make you learn to appreciate more the warmth of the public, who although you always try to be there for them, you never know how important they are to you until these types of things happen," he added.
The Circuit de Catalunya is scheduled to stage the Spanish GP on April 27 with Valencia due to host the European Grand Prix four months later.
Circuit de Catalunya director Ramon Pradera was quick to warn spectators about any repetition.
"We would like to make a plea to the fans to behave correctly. No type of offensive behavior can be tolerated," he said.
Pictures taken at the circuit showed some spectators aiming abusive gestures and mocking Hamilton by wearing wigs and dark make-up.
McLaren played down the incidents in an official team statement.
"Vodafone McLaren Mercedes have raced and tested on Spanish circuits for many years, and everyone connected with the team regards Spain and the Spanish people with great affection," it read.
But test team manager Indy Tull was less circumspect in reported remarks in the Sun newspaper.
"It is not right the way Lewis is being treated," he said.
Former British sports minister Richard Caborn has also spoken of his disgust at the incidents in Spain and made reference to the racist chanting which marred an England football friendly against Spain in Madrid in 2004.
Caborn said: "This is totally unacceptable. I spoke to the Spanish sports minister when England players were abused a few years ago.
"It is disgusting behavior and has no place in sport."
Hamilton, 23, is F1's first black driver and was pipped to the world championship by Ferrari's Kimi Raikonnen in the final race of his 2007 debut season.
He was expected to play second fiddle to then reigning champion Alonso, but as the season progressed outperformed the Spaniard, leading to disagreements within the McLaren team which led to Alonso's departure to Renault for 2008. E-mail to a friend