However that unfolds, and however long he chooses to remain in F1 beyond the expiration of his current contract in less than six months’ time, Hamilton’s place among the sport’s greats is already beyond dispute.
Hamilton underlined his position as the leading voice among drivers three months ago when his was the lone voice speaking out against F1’s attempt to hold the Australian Grand Prix as the pandemic unfolded. More often, he increasingly uses his status within the sport and popularity outside it to call attention to the subjects closest to his heart.
The most powerful tool at his disposal is his vast social media presence, including 16.3 million followers on Instagram and 5.7 million on Twitter.
Hamilton takes a more considered approach to social media now than earlier in his career. At the end of 2017, shortly after apologising for sharing a video of himself criticising his young nephew for wearing a dress, Hamilton deleted years’ worth of posts from the platforms.
He learned from that experience and now treads more carefully. “I always try and make sure that I try and send positivity in the messages,” he said last month. “I don’t want to squander the platform that I have.
“I want to show pictures of me and my friends, for example, doing normal stuff. But then there’s just… it’s such a powerful tool I don’t want to use it for unimportant stuff.”
On Sunday evening Hamilton took to his favourite social media platform to tackle an extremely important subject. Appalled by the latest death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer in the USA, the six-times world champion challenged his F1 peers to speak out on against racism.
“I see those of you who are staying silent, some of you the biggest of stars yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice,” he wrote. The provocation worked. Within 24 hours, many of F1’s more active drivers on social media had spoken up.
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Charles Leclerc’s words reflected those of several other drivers. “I felt out of place and uncomfortable sharing my thoughts on social media about the whole situation,” he admitted. “I was completely wrong.”
“It is our responsibilities to speak out against injustice,” he added. “Don’t remain silent.”
While none of the drivers may have referred to Hamilton directly, his urgent words clearly emboldened many them of them to do speak out. This demonstrates the influence Hamilton now wields within Formula 1.
Hamilton’s followers have seen many messages from him on the subjects of the environment and animal rights. While these might be cynically described as soft targets (no one gets criticised for wanting to save the whales) Hamilton’s increasingly outspoken stance on racial justice is anything but.
He has also challenged the lack of diversity in his own sport. It has not escaped his notice that, 13 years since he arrived as F1’s first black competitor, there is little sign of the second following him any time soon.
For decades, black competitors have enjoyed success in other sports: Football, baseball, athletics. Formula 1, as Hamilton observed on Sunday, remains “white dominated” – a description which proved too inconveniently true for some to accept. Nonetheless, it is not just the shortage of black competitors Hamilton is referring to when he talks about diversity.
Many of sport’s greatest champions carefully avoided speaking out on political matters. At the other extreme are those such as Muhammed Ali who made it part of their identity.
Hamilton, who admits he is entering “potentially my last period of time in my sport”, is at the peak of his powers as a racing driver. But he’s just beginning to tap the power he has to be a force for good outside of F1.
There is the kind of greatness that is born on the track, and there is another kind of greatness Hamilton is just beginning to discover.
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2020 F1 season
- Bottas vs Rosberg: Hamilton’s Mercedes team mates compared after 78 races each
- F1 revenues fell by $877 million in Covid-struck 2020 season
- Hamilton and Mercedes finally announce new deal for 2021 season
- F1 audience figures “strong” in 2020 despite dip in television viewers
- 2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton