Lewis Hamilton, who used his large platform to speak out against racial and social injustice, knelt on the front line with a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, while the other drivers were marked “End Racism”.
Before the race, the Ferrari Leclerc driver published a series of tweets explaining why he had chosen not to kneel alongside his peers.
“The 20 drivers are united with their teams against racism and prejudice, while adopting the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion, supporting the commitment of Formula 1 and the FIA”, said -he writes.
“I believe that what counts are the facts and the behaviors in our daily life rather than the formal gestures which could be considered controversial in certain countries. I will not take the knee but that does not at all mean that I am less engaged than others in the fight against racism. “
Verstappen echoed Leclerc’s comments, writing: “I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe that everyone has the right to express themselves at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not take the knee today but I respect and support the personal choices of each driver. “
A total of six drivers chose not to kneel. The other four were Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen.
The different positions were particularly striking to come less than two weeks after the launch of the Formula 1 “We Race as One” initiative, which aims to combat racism and inequality.
Just days after the initiative was launched, former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was widely condemned for his comments on racism.
Despite the extended break before the start of the season, normal service resumed on the track as Valtteri Bottas gave Mercedes first place on the podium.
It looked like Mercedes would finish with their two drivers first and second, but Hamilton received a five-second penalty just four laps from the end for his role in a collision with Red Bull’s Alex Albon.
This allowed Leclerc to take second place and gave the young driver McLaren Lando Norris third place for his very first podium in Formula One.
Hamilton had not won in Austria since 2016, with teammate Bottas winning and Max Verstappen of Red Bull, the other two in the years that followed.
The six-time world champion had a fierce battle from the start, having been demoted from second to fifth place on the grid less than an hour before the start of the race.
Hamilton had originally been cleared by the stewards for not slowing down for the yellow flags during qualifying, but was sentenced at the last minute after a complaint from Red Bull.
It has been reported that the new evidence provided by Red Bull for the ban to be imposed was a video posted to the Formula One Twitter account.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said the footage was not released by the race promoter until Sunday morning, which is why it was not available for investigation on Saturday.
Bottas made a decisive effort to ignore the tragedy behind him and led the race from start to finish, despite a spate of moments of pressure following several deployments of safety cars.
Verstappen appeared to be the only driver capable of challenging the first two at the start, but electrical problems with the car forced the Dutch driver to retire early on lap 11.
Quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel’s race was almost over after 31 laps following a collision with Carlos Sainz, the man who will replace him at Ferrari next year.
The modified Formula 1 season, which has seen a number of grand prix cancellations, continues with another race in Austria next weekend, before traveling to Hungary.