What more can I say about a man whom everything has already been said? Countless articles have been written about Lewis Hamilton. I would not know what more to add when I contemplate that impressive list of sporting achievements, mind blowing statistics and records that look almost impossible to break. I mean, seven world titles, the number speaks for itself.
What I can do instead is tell the story of my journey as a privileged witness of an incredible athlete in march towards the highest peak of his sport. Back in the day, I was not into Formula one at all. To my utter embarrassment, I was one of the not yet educated people to think that F1 was - more or less - twenty drivers landing their 'lazy rich backs' in the fastest cars to go round in circles for an hour or two. Little did I know...
In my girlhood years, anybody who drove quickly was inevitably asked ‘who do you think you are, Micheal Schumacher?’. That was pretty much all the connections I could share with F1. However, as Hamilton himself said, representation is important. Not the least interested in a sport that seemed too far from my realities, I heard about a young black prodige who was giving a hard time to the double reigning world champion Fernando Alonso, who happened to dethrone Schumacher, the mythic driver of my younger years. The fact was vastly relayed, especially because the said youngster was doing great while sharing the same equipment as his most decorated opponent, only in his rookie year in the Ivy league of motorsports. It sparked my interest, and I decided to give it a go.
Since I knew nothing about it, with no one around to tutor me, I only monitored the race results, and saw Hamilton’s bid to the title very much alive with three races to go. Then came that pivotal moment when I watched him race for the first time live, at Fuji in 2007. A wet race. And what a shocking introduction to the sport that was! At that very moment, glimpses of Lewis’ brilliance dazzled me, and I stood there, in awe. Lewis Hamilton won under drenching conditions, in a way that left me saying ‘those reporters weren’t joking about how talented that kid is. He might very well win this championship! How epic would that be!’. And that is how my addiction started…
From that Fuji win in 2007 to the one in Istanbul in 2020, my relationship to F1 and Lewis Hamilton has been a rollercoaster ride, with some memorable elating moments but also some heartbreaks in between. After missing it in 2007, I finally saw my most outstanding sports person win the 2008 world championship. Following a title that felt a bit like a payback for what happened the previous year, he went into a five-year desert crossing. I stood there, through thick and thin, and witnessed in prime time his wins, his losses, his mistakes, his learning curve, his growth. I saw him become the most complete driver, be it the speed, the racing craft, the composure, the tool’s management, the race management, the bravery, the determination, the adaptability, the consistency, the work ethic, the team spirit, the team building. He has evolved in all the aspects in which a racing driver must excel, and is today the best driver on the grid, and one of - if not - the greatest driver of all times.
Most importantly, I saw Lewis becoming an exemplary man, a man of strong beliefs, a role model, who fights for what he believes is right, especially when it comes to tackling social inequality and injustice in all forms. The fact he committed himself to the ideals he prones and walked the talk is in my book, even more impressive. He sold his private jet and turned vegan to have a positive impact on our planet sustainability, donated his own money in support of the wildlife in Australia’s bushfires, and kept advocating and working in favor of the equality of chances for people of all races, genders, and backgrounds.
Considering his achievements on and off the track, you would think Hamilton is getting from the entire F1 universe, a very deserved and unanimous accolade. But you could not be more wrong. Rarely have I seen a dominant figure being ostracised this much. He often is blamed for things other drivers and fellow champions are praised for. When compared to tennis for instance, the contempt the F1 world has for its most prominent personality is intriguing. You would hear here and there: he has the best car; he is lucky; he doesn’t have enough competition from his teammates; he and his team are killing the sport; he is a crybaby; he lives a jetsetter life; he is a wannabe rapper. Among other things.
To those critics, it is fitting to remind that sport is about domination. In general, the stakes are for competitors to transcend themselves, and be better than any of their opposition, everytime they get the chance to compete. Marc Marquez, Michael Phelps or Real Madrid are some tales of sport’s domination that come to mind. Bayern Munich for instance won’t stop improving and winning because they have won too much. Their competitors must live up to the challenge.
As for Motorsports in particular, they are the combination of the best possible man in the best possible machine, the former being expected to extract the maximum from the latter. It is admitted that Hamilton could not win the championship in a 2020 Williams. The real question should nonetheless be ‘which driver would be able to get the maximum results of any machinery he has in hands, against any teammate he races against, over the length of a season?’ I am pretty sure the honest answer, from 2007 to date, is Lewis Hamilton.
More so, Formula 1 is a team sport. As such, teams collectively need to have the best package, in order to win. Lionel Messi isn’t expected to win the Champions League with Nottingham Forest FC - With all due respect to the club. So expecting Hamilton to win in an uncompetitive car is disingenuous, as no other champion ever won in a ‘shit box’ before him. The team, the car and the driver, as one, work together towards the common goal of winning both the driver’s and constructors’ titles. And this is what Hamilton and Mercedes have achieved masterfully since 2014. If one could complain that the Mercedes / Hamilton dominance has been longer than any other in the history of the sport, they cannot be blamed for being the best at being the best. Schumacher in his time said accordingly, “records are there to be broken”.
Furthermore, Lewis may not be everyone's cup of tea, for whatever the reason, be it his fashion style, his tastes in music, his residence whereabouts or his stances on social issues. But for those who have had the chance to meet him in person, he comes across as a charming, sympathetic and down to earth character, with an engaging smile. He is also known for his strong work ethic, his perfectionism, and his dedication to his team. Is he always nice to everyone? Who is? I personally am not. I have good and bad days. Like I am sure anybody else - detractors included - has too.
The newly-crowned seven-time world champion has sometimes attracted criticism from former glories of the sport, with a rosy retrospection energy, where tainted with that romantic and nostalgic sepia atmosphere, everything looked better before. They eventually came to terms, as Jackie Stewart, one of Lewis’ fiercest critics, endorsed him for getting the knighthood:
“Certainly Lewis deserves it. He's now a seriously top-line sportsman in the world and that's a wonderful thing to have, and the fact that he is British is the most important thing of all, with regards to the knighthood is concerned. I think he certainly deserves it."
Sir Jackie Stewart
It is definitely a testament to the evolution of Lewis Hamilton as a sports person but also as an authentic great. It is very telling that his first words as he crossed the line as the joint most decorated world champion, while struggling not to cry with emotion, were dedicated to the youth : “That’s for all the kids out there who dream the impossible. You can do it too. I believe in you”. The magnitude of his achievement received on that occasion, the assentiment of the British Royal Family.
Congratulations to record-equalling seven-time @F1 World Championship title winner @LewisHamilton - along with a record number of race wins, what an incredible achievement! 🏎🏆 pic.twitter.com/uzTXQC8Yj7— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) November 16, 2020
Ultimately, whether one like him or not, through sheer talent, hard work, and tireless dedication, Lewis Hamilton has risen above the brightest of all Formula 1 stars. I wish him many more years of brilliance, and long may he reign !
La une du journal L'Équipe de ce lundi 16 novembre. pic.twitter.com/pQxiFM9XPw— L'ÉQUIPE (@lequipe) November 15, 2020