Three-time Formula One champion Nelson Piquet was ordered to pay a fine of nearly $1 million (five million reais) in moral damages for racist and homophobic comments aimed at Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, a court ruling published on Friday said.
“The Substitute Judge of the 20th Civil Court of Brasilia sentenced former Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet Souto Maior to pay R$ 5 million in compensation for collective moral damages, to be allocated to funds for the promotion of racial equality and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community, due to the offenses made against current Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton,” the court statement said.
Piquet used a Brazilian Portuguese racial and homophobic slur during a TV interview in November 2021 to describe seven-time champion Hamilton when addressing a high-speed collision involving Hamilton and Max Verstappen during the Silverstone Grand Prix.
The clip became viral and drew a negative reaction towards Piquet, who later apologized for his remarks – a point also reinforced by the court statement.
“The defendant, in his defense, argued that he had already recanted the way he treated the English driver, but that his conduct did not characterize racism or homophobia, and there was no need to speak of hate speech or offense to the black population or the LGBTQIA+ community in general,” the court statement said.
“He maintained that, despite the use of inappropriate language, there was no intention to harm Hamilton’s honor or anyone else’s. Thus, as it was not a case of hate speech, the duty to indemnify would not be characterized.”
The statement, however, reinforced that Piquet’s actions “affect not only the individual rights of the victim, but the values of the entire community, and of the black population and the LGBTQIA+ community in particular.”
Formula One, Mercedes and the FIA, motorsport’s global governing body, all condemned Piquet at the time, and Piquet apologized for the racial slur and said his comments had no racist intent.
“What I said was ill-thought-out, and I make no defence for it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for ‘guy’ or ‘person’ and was never intended to offend,” Piquet said in a statement to CNN last year.
He added that his comments had been mistranslated in some media and social media reports.
“I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations,” Piquet said.
“I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin color […] Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect.”
CNN has reached out to representatives for Hamilton for comment.
Last year, Hamilton responded to Piquet’s comments in a series of posts on Twitter, writing “Vamos focar em mudar a mentalidade” – Portuguese for “let’s focus on changing the mindset.”
Amy Woodyatt and Sammy Mncwabe contributed reporting.