Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has responded after he received criticism for suggesting India is “such a poor place” and questioned whether Formula One races should be held there.
The five-time Formula One world champion posted a response to social media, saying India is “one of the most beautiful places in the world” but reaffirming his point.
“Whilst it’s the (fastest) growing economy it also has a lot of poverty,” he wrote.
“My reference was that a Grand Prix there felt strange to drive past homeless people and then arrive in an huge arena where money was not an issue.”
The Indian Grand Prix was held three times between 2011 and 2013 at the Buddh International Circuit in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, as the 17th race of the Formula One season.
Hamilton wrote on Instagram: “They spent hundreds of millions on that track that is now never used. That money could have been spent on schools or homes for those in need.
“When we did have the race nobody came because it was too expensive most likely or no interest. However I have met some amazing Indian fans.”
Criticism of Hamilton began after he said he would prefer racing venues with “real racing history”, such as England, Germany, Italy and the US, after Vietnamese capital Hanoi was recently announced in the F1 calendar for 2020.
“I’ve been to Vietnam before and it is beautiful,” the 33-year-old told BBC Sport.
“I’ve been to India before to a race which was strange because India was such a poor place yet we had this massive, beautiful grand prix track made in the middle of nowhere.”
Indians took to social media to criticise Hamilton for his comments.
“No Lewis Hamilton, you are wrong,” wrote one Twitter user. “F1 needs to go to new countries to popularize the sport.
“I think it’s better you stick to racing and let the sponsors, marketing and branding teams for Formula 1 handle the race circuits. FYI F1 is hugely popular in India.”
Another wrote: “India is not poor but world’s sixth largest economy and fastest growing.
“Yes, it does have a large no. of poor and efforts are on to uplift them. Simultaneously, we have adequate (infrastructure), (people) amongst richest in world, a humongous middle class, and a market 4 big players.”
But Formula One expert Kunal Shah said the sport is not a priority in India, tweeting: “His comments aside, we just have different priorities as a developing country & economy. Let’s just accept & acknowledge that.”
Hamilton next races on Sunday November 25 in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of the season.
The Englishman sealed his fifth world championship title at the Mexico Grand Prix in October, and is currently 81 points clear of second-placed Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.