Lewis Hamilton hailed as race hero for being gay champion driver

• Angered by anti-gay slurs, Hamilton drove slowly along the track • ‘Saved the race,’ says gay rights campaigner

Lewis Hamilton hailed the powers of his pit-lane cars as he successfully defended the LGBTI rights of drivers and race marshals at the F1 Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday.

The sport has been criticised in the past for homophobia and prejudice towards drivers and marshals. It was thrown into the spotlight at this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, when two French journalists, Julia Goulet and Emilie MacLaren, were followed into a hotel lobby and banged on by men yelling homophobic abuse.

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After describing the incident as “unacceptable”, Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s commercial rights holder, added: “My strong feeling is that the gays have a problem themselves – they’re called the gay mafia. It’s very difficult for anyone in general to be gay in some countries, so you wouldn’t think it would be tolerated in our sport. It seems the driver/supporters live a very different life from us.”

When the Allianz Grand Prix saw in a gay couple kissing behind the safety barrier at last year’s race, Ecclestone added: “You can’t blame them. They’re idiots.”

However on Sunday evening, as he led the 49 laps at the Exhibition City circuit, Hamilton had another, even more significant voice in his earpiece.

“I was being told I’d have to drive slow, because people were giving us shit about being gay. I’m like, ‘It’s not gay, it’s human rights’. I was just so upset.

“Everyone came up to me afterwards, as I was leaving the team garage, and said ‘Saved the race’.”

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