Mercedes F1 boss apologizes as fire survivors slam sponsor

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LONDON (AP) — The head of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One racing team apologized Friday for the way the team announced its partnership with a company involved in a London high-rise where a fire killed 72 people.

The team announced a sponsorship deal this week allowing building products maker Kingspan to put its logo on the nose cone of world champion Lewis Hamilton’s car beginning with a weekend race in Saudi Arabia.

Survivors and family members of the people who died in the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire immediately condemned the deal and asked the team to sever its ties with Kingspan. The fire started in a fourth floor refrigerator and raced up the residential building, which experts said likely was caused by flammable materials used in an exterior renovation.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas principal and CEO Toto Wolff said the team “engaged” with Kingspan before the announcement to understand what role the company’s products played in the tragedy.

“On behalf of our team, I would sincerely like to apologize to you for the additional hurt that this announcement has caused,’’ Wolff said in a letter to the families that was posted on Twitter. “It was never our intention to do so.’’

Wolff said he hoped to meet with Grenfell Tower survivors as soon as possible.

Criticism of the deal is particularly difficult for Mercedes because Hamilton, a seven-time world champion from Stevenage, England, has been outspoken in his support of the Grenfell community. Hamilton is currently in second place in the Formula One driver’s standings with two races left in the season.

In a letter sent to Wolff earlier this week, the community group Grenfell United said Kingspan “played a central role in the pain and suffering that we feel today,” citing evidence presented to a public inquiry into the disaster.

Kingspan said it played no role in the design or construction of the remodeling project blamed for the Grenfell disaster. In addition, the company said Kingspan products accounted for only a small percentage of the insulation used in the project, and it was used as a substitute without the company’s knowledge “in a system that was not compliant” with building regulations.

Wolff acknowledged the “deep and ongoing pain” suffered by survivors

“I would like to thank Grenfell United for the offer to meet in person for me to learn and understand better,’’ Wolff said “I look forward to coming together as soon as we can.’’