Is Lewis Hamilton the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time? He has won more races than Michael Schumacher, and, on Sunday, he tied the German legend’s haul of seven world championships. Sure, the racecraft is phenomenal but is Hamilton as tactical or dogged as Schumacher? And where would he be without the unparalleled Mercedes power? These arguments, however, seem petty, juxtaposed against Hamilton’s race beyond the race. Schumacher’s first title in 1994 was hailed as a changing of the guard. In 2008, Hamilton became the champion in a week that saw him being racially abused on a Spanish website, insulted by two Brazilian comedians and handed a toy black cat at an event.
“When I first started in Formula 1, I tried to ignore the fact I was the first black guy ever to race in the sport,” Hamilton said in 2015. “But, as I’ve got older, I’ve really started to appreciate the implications.” This year, he forced Mercedes — the proud Silver Arrows — to paint it black. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Hamilton championed the Black Lives Matter movement. But his activism hasn’t been limited to one community. Last month, he joined the protest against police violence in Nigeria, sporting an EndSARS t-shirt (a slogan calling for the disbanding of the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad). For a while, the supercars in his garage are collecting dust, the private jet has been sold and his electric car has been running overtime.
Meanwhile, the “stick to sports” calls have grown steadily. The cynics have chalked Hamilton’s stance up to a newfound conscience which has prompted corporations and star athletes to be more vocal. F1 continues to turn a blind eye towards “human-rights unrest” in GP destinations like Bahrain, China and Saudi Arabia, and Hamilton gets attacked by his peers for being “too much”. In a year in which he continues to reign supreme in the death-defying, G-force driven world of racing, it is off the track that Hamilton’s courage has looked most striking.
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