Formula One paused before the start of the season in Austria to recognise the Black Lives Matter movement with drivers wearing black shirts with "End Racism" and "Black Lives Matter" messages.

The start of the season was pushed back from March to July after the coronavirus outbreak forced the last-minute cancellation of the Australian GP.

In the meantime, the world was shocked by the death of George Floyd. Six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton has been an outspoken advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, including attending protests in recent weeks and hitting out at comments from former CEO Bernie Ecclestone.

Mercedes have backed Hamilton by changing its cars and race suits from silver to black, with signage around the Red Bull Ring for the season opening race carrying the "End Racism" message. The FIA donated $A1.6m (1 million euros) to a new foundation set up by Formula One aiming to improve diversity in the sport.

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But before the weekend, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association decided drivers would "stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion and supporting Formula 1's commitment to these."

All the drivers came together on the starting line wearing black T-shirts before the race to copy an act performed by sports people around the world which came to prominence through NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

But two of the brightest young stars in the sport — Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc — were among six drivers who stayed on their feet.

"I believe that what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures that could be seen as controversial in some countries," Ferrari's Leclerc wrote on Twitter.

"I will not take the knee but this does not mean at all that I am less committed than others in the fight against racism."

Similarly, Verstappen tweeted: "I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism. But I believe everyone has the right to express themself at a time and in a way that suits them. I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes".

Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat, Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi also stood.

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Sky Sports commentators agreed that it was a "monumental moment" and it was appreciated by fans although some said that it "wasn't united".

CBS Sports editor Igor Melo said that all drivers not kneeling was a "bad look".

But Hamilton downplayed the situation, saying: "I am aware of some opinions of some drivers but ultimately nobody should be forced into a scenario where they have to kneel.

"I never requested or demanded anybody to take the knee. I never brought it up. It was brought up by Formula One and the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

"I let everyone have their say and then I opened up to them and said 'guys, I will be doing it but you do what you think is right'.

"I am really grateful to those who did kneel along with me. It is still a powerful message but ultimately whether you did or didn't kneel, it is not going to change the world.

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"It is a much bigger issue across the world but for me personally, everyone had their own personal choice."

Australia's Daniel Ricciardo conceded not all drivers were comfortable with kneeling.

"The chat with the drivers was essentially saying all of us are 100 per cent on board with supporting it and ending racism. None of us our anti this, so we all support this," Ricciardo said.

"I just think there was a little bit of difficulty with some drivers and their nationality, and what something like taking a knee would represent.

"Obviously the reasons why we would do it is purely to support Black Lives Matter. It is for nothing political or anything else.

"But there is a little bit of a fine line with some drivers and their nationalities and how it is perceived.

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"We heard all of them, all their opinions, and we are not going to try to put anyone in jeopardy. We all understood that we will do what we feel comfortable with.

"But no one is going to be judged or criticised if they don't stand there in a certain way or take a knee."

Before the race, Sky Sports played an interview with Hamilton.

The six-time champion told his fellow drivers in a meeting last week "silence is generally really complicit".

"Well, just in the meeting I just acknowledged a lot of the drivers that … obviously there was an interpretation of a message that I had posted, asking for people to speak out and their silence and just saying thank you to those who have said something on their social media platforms," Hamilton said.

"They've got a great voice, a great platform and then encouraging the others that haven't to say something and I just described the scenario that silence is generally really complicit so there still is some silence in some cases but I think it's also part of a dialogue of people trying to understand, because there are still people that don't fully understand exactly what is happening and what are the reasons for these protests. So I continue to try and be that guide, try to influence."

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Drivers' Association director and Haas driver Romain Grosjean said as a global sport, F1 "have a lot of audience and we can send some very strong messages".