SEPANG, Malaysia -- Three-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton says he supports athletes using their sport to make a political statement, adding that he identifies with recent protests made by players in the NFL.
The NFL's latest round of games were marked by team members kneeling, locking arms, raising fists or refusing to come out of the locker room during the pre-game American national anthem. The protests came in the wake of United States president Donald Trump criticising players who had knelt during the national anthem, labelling it as disrespectful and suggesting they should be fired.
Speaking about the issue ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, Hamilton said he supports the NFL players and believes athletes should feel free to use their sports to express political beliefs.
"I think there are opportunities all over [to make a political stand]," he said. "I think it's open for anyone to have the freedom of speech and I guess we can all play a role in trying to make a difference in the world.
"Particularly if your leader is not helping in that area, it needs the people to really try and stand up together. I really feel like I identify with a lot of those individuals, hence some of the posts I put up."
Hamilton took to social media earlier this week to share a picture of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became the first athlete to kneel for the anthem during a 2016 pre-season game. The image was next to a list of names of victims of police shootings with the words "No conviction" alongside.
Hamilton, the only black driver in F1's history, urged his followers to read about the issue, signing off his message with #Takeaknee.
The Mercedes driver is leading the Formula One world championship ahead of this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix and is among the most high-profile racing drivers in the world.
Asked if he was worried that he might upset his team or its partners by expressing political opinions, he added: "Not at all. I don't feel like I need to [be worried] either. I have always had support from all my team and I've never had any complaints from them. And I don't anticipate there will be moving forward."