8:14 AM PT -- Piquet has been banned from visiting the F1 paddock in the future as a result of his comments, according to multiple reports.
Former Formula 1 champ Nelson Piquet is apologizing for the controversial comments he made about Lewis Hamilton in an interview last year ... but claims there was zero racial intent behind his words.
Piquet was discussing an accident between the Mercedes superstar and his daughter's boyfriend, Max Verstappen, after the 2021 Silverstone Grand Prix ... when, according to a translation by CNN Brazil, he referred to Hamilton as a "little n*****."
The 69-year-old says he would never use such a disgusting term ... claiming the translation was completely inaccurate.
"What I said was ill-thought-out, and I make no defense for it, but the term used has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for 'guy' or 'person' and was never intended to offend," Piquet said in a statement Wednesday morning.
"I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations," he added. "I strongly condemn any suggestion word was used with aim of belittling a driver because of his skin color. I apologize wholeheartedly to anyone affected."
Piquet praises Lewis as an incredible driver and apologized for the hurt he caused ... saying, "Discrimination has no place in F1 or society and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect."
Lewis has yet to respond to the apology ... but tweeted a call for change within the sport on Tuesday.
"It’s more than language," the 7-time champion said. "These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport. I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action."