When it comes to the issue of the racist incident that involved Lewis Hamilton during testing recently at Barcelona, you need to pick your words with scrupulous care. As Bernie Ecclestone found out to his cost over the weekend.

The F1 commercial rights holder was strongly criticised by a leading anti-racist campaigner, for dismissing the controversysurrounding Hamilton as a "one-off". To make things worse, he then declared that the decision by motor racing's governing body, the FIA, to launch an anti-racism initiative is unnecessary. 

Ecclestone offered the view that the outrageous behaviour of the small group of spectators who heckled Hamilton with racist taunts at Circuit de Catalunya, should be downplayed in order to deprive them from too much media attention.

However, Weyman Bennett, from Unite Against Fascism, said: "I think these comments are totally unacceptable. There should be a clear message that bigotry and racism are not tolerated in Formula One.

"I think the idea that when people are racist you ignore them is just not acceptable in this day and age."

For their part, the FIA, who will unveil details of their 'Racing against Racism' initiative over the Spanish grand prix weekend April 25-27, responded with a robust statement authorised by their president Max Mosley.

"The FIA has made its position very clear," said a spokesman. "We will not tolerate racism of any kind in our sport and we will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that such scenes of racial abuse are never witnessed again."

Ecclestone had earlier taken a rather dismissive view of the episode, saying: "I don't think it's necessary. All it does, like all these things, is give attention to the people who want attention. I think in Barcelona it was the same group of people who caused the same trouble at the football."

He also dismissed the notion that those hurling the racial abuse were supporters of the twice world champion Fernando Alonso, who blamed Hamilton for what they regarded as the partiality shown against their hero by the McLaren team.

"I don't think they're fans," said Ecclestone. "I don't think they're anything, and I don't think they were supporting Alonso in particular. I think they just like to abuse people. It was a one-off, nothing to worry about."

Well, yes and no.