Today it was announced that Lewis Hamilton will be awarded a knighthood in the New Year’s honours list. Humble, game-changer, successful: he embodies everything good about Britain.
With his victory at Istanbul Park, Lewis Hamilton secured his seventh Formula 1 world championship title. He now equals Michael Schumacher, having already outclassed the German driver in all the other meaningful statistics. His story is the perfect example of dreams fulfilment and a social commitment to pass on to younger generations.
Hamilton was born in Stevenage on 7 January 1985 from a multicultural family: his paternal grandparents came to Britain from the Caribbean isle of Granada and their son Anthony, Lewis’ father, grew up in West London and married Carmen. The family was neither wealthy nor white and this seemed to be quite a challenging obstacle in the world of motorsport, dominated by rich and white people.
Lewis received racial abuse a few times at the beginning of his career when he was just a child competing on karts, but the young champion did not give up and went on following his dreams. His father sacrificed his youth, even engaging in four different jobs at the same time, to allow his son to compete in a number of different motorsport series. Lewis’ impressive row of victories was more than enough to gain access to international competitions and the attention of Formula 1 scouts.
The hostility against a black driver was even stronger outside the UK, as Lewis told Sky Sports in a recent interview. When he was a teenager, he took part in a race in Parma, Italy, and was bombarded by boos and insults by the fans and even by other drivers throughout the weekend. Despite the abuse, he obtained excellent results during the Italian weekend and the following years. His great chance came when Formula 1 team McLaren offered him a contract and later a test Friday in Silverstone during a race weekend. The benchmark was set by McLaren’s experienced Pedro De La Rosa, but Hamilton immediately matched the performances of his teammate, overcoming him in the long run.
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The 2007 season, His first campaign in Formula 1, saw a tight battle for the title that slipped through Hamilton’s fingers for a few unlucky coincidences and Fernando Alonso’s unfair behaviour during the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Spanish driver deliberately stopped for longer than needed during a pit stop, preventing Hamilton from obtaining a probable pole position. This was an important result in a championship that was decided by a few points. However, Hamilton set a new record for a debut season in Formula 1, paving the way for his first world championship title the following year.
From 2009, McLaren’s performances slumped and Hamilton was forced to stay away from the quest for the title, but he managed to win at least one Gran Prix every year. When he moved to Mercedes, no one considered this a good step towards his return at the top of the table, as the silver arrows were far from the top spots. But Hamilton believed in the project and soon became a key factor for the team.
Some fans might say that he has set new records thanks to his car’s performances, but we should all remember that great drivers make their teams successful, not the opposite; it has always been this way. Mercedes were a mid-table team, but the British driver has managed to transform it in the most successful team in the history of the sport. Hamilton’s influence on the team’s decisions was so important that Mercedes’ headquarter was moved from Germany to the English town of Brackley and the cars painted in black in support of Black Lives Matter.
From 2014, with the only exception of the unlucky 2016 season that saw strange engineer transfers inside the Mercedes box and a number of unlucky episodes including an engine failure when he was cruising towards success, Hamilton has dominated the championship, breaking every meaningful record in the history of the sport. Nevertheless, his role in modern society goes far beyond his talent, it has a lot to do with his commitment to fight racial injustice, climate change and every form of discrimination in our society.
Slowly but constantly, the support for Hamilton and the causes he promotes rose to a new high in Britain and in many other countries, but it seems that a small and loud minority is still trying to belittle his results. He was the first black Formula 1 driver, the first black Formula 1 world champion and now the most successful driver of all times. This should shout up every critic commentator. Sadly, there are too many episodes signalling the racist attitude of motorsport towards him, both from the federation and the media.
During his entire career, he received laughable penalties and was forced to see the stewards and the race director too many times, often because of episodes that had occurred to many other, white, drivers without consequences. The list is incredibly long. Just to mention a few episodes from the 2020 season … In Russia, he was heavily penalised for testing the start at the end of the pit lane, something that is not openly forbidden by any rule. In Italy, he was called to the box while the entry light of the pit lane was red – it curiously turned to red a few seconds before Hamilton got in, while the other lights were green and while other drivers who had done exactly the same were not penalised so heavily. During the Austrian Grand Prix, he received a penalty because another driver had bumped into him.
The shameful attitude of the motorsport world is also palpable in the media coverage of Hamilton’s success. Angry comments by pseudo-journalists, offensive montages with Hamilton’s head replacing Senna’s one in the famous photo of the Brazilian driver carried on a stretcher, along with other despicable images, have flooded the internet. This was particularly the case with Italian and Spanish Facebook pages, immediately after the British driver declared his support to the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, Lewis Hamilton doesn’t stop when the driving conditions are difficult – as shown this year with the rainy Saturdays during the Styrian Grand Prix and the Turkish Grand Prix – so why should he stop fighting for a fairer society just for a bunch of envious racists? We all know the answer. This true son of multicultural Britain, the same guy who used to live in a council housing, the same man who, knowing the exact meaning of sacrifice and hard work, homages the team after every positive result, is showing the way while heading for new records, having already inscribed his name among the legends of sport.