• Dennis Müller

Lewis Hamilton - my pandemic hero

Lewis Hamilton's lead over second-placed Daniel Ricciardo was just under 22 seconds at the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix. A win for Hamilton would have meant passing Nico Rosberg for first place in the drivers' standings. Hamilton would thus already have had a hand in the world championship title. However, luck was not on his side this season. On lap 41, Hamilton suffered an engine failure and was forced to retire his car and his hopes of winning the world title at the first corner. At this point I could not be counted among Hamilton's supporters and I cheered as his car slowed down and he expressed his frustration on the radio. It only took a few moments for me to feel ashamed of myself for cheering so much at a driver's retirement. I apparently had to learn about fair play and respect and how to treat athletes in such a situation.

After this event, season after season, I learned to appreciate the exceptional athlete Lewis Hamilton more and more. I realised that I am witnessing a generational athlete and I try to enjoy the time Lewis Hamilton is still driving in Formula 1. That said, this text is intended to be less about the driver Lewis Hamilton and more about outlining the person behind him. Lewis Hamilton is much more than a Formula 1 driver, he is a climate protector, an educator and raises his voice against racism. In recent months and weeks, Lewis Hamilton has become my personal hero of the pandemic.

Let's get one thing straight right away: Lewis Hamilton is not a knight in shining armour who does everything right. There is also a lot to criticise about him. For example, his carbon footprint as a Formula 1 driver and influencer is an absolute disaster and his ecological footprint is certainly huge. While he has come under criticism from all sides several times for this reason and one or two people have accused him of hypocrisy, I think the criticism is appropriate but the accusation of hypocrisy goes too far. In my opinion, it is important that people like Lewis Hamilton in particular, who have a huge media presence and a broad follower base, stand up for the biggest problems of our time and, in some respects, also educate. Nevertheless, Hamilton still has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to climate protection.

It can also be observed that Hamilton sometimes acts out of impulse on Instagram and the like, apparently without thinking beforehand. For example, he shared a video of an influencer who blames Bill Gates for the emergence of the corona virus and claims that Gates only wants to get rich from it. It did not take long for Hamilton to delete the post and apologise, and he himself admitted that he does not always get his postings right and that he sometimes spreads the wrong message. For me, this is one thing that Lewis Hamilton definitely still has to learn and improve. Anyone who has millions of followers must handle them responsibly and inform himself or herself in detail beforehand. However, his mistakes also make him a bit more human and show his rough edges. An ability that many athletes and people in public life lack.

Lewis Hamilton is and has always been a polarising racing driver and at the same time a real one-off in Formula 1. While other drivers run to their pits on foot, Lewis Hamilton comfortably drives around the paddock on a scooter and changes his style of dress race after race, for example. But what makes Lewis Hamilton so special in Formula 1 or in motorsport in general is quickly apparent. Lewis Hamilton is a person of colour. That this is unfortunately something out of the ordinary in motorsport is obvious to anyone who has watched even one Formula 1 race. So it is hardly surprising that Hamilton feels obliged to give his voice to the worldwide anti-racism movement, such as Black Lives Matter, and to provide information on the subject almost every hour.

According to several reports, Lewis Hamilton experienced racism first-hand at a young age during his go-karting phase. A pain I can never imagine as a white, male European. A few moments in the comments section under his tweets or Instagram posts are enough to even imagine the extent of the ongoing racist insults that Lewis Hamilton faces on a daily basis. That Lewis Hamilton draws strength from this and that it makes him ever more resilient is proven by his incredible career, which most likely puts him at least on a par with Michael Schumacher.

Since the violent death of George Floyd, which brought back to our attention the still persisting racism within society, big campaigns, especially in motorsport, have been a long time coming. #WeRaceAsOne and #endracism were and are the mottos of the resumed Formula 1 season. Campaigns that were only developed after Hamilton's criticism of the silent Formula 1. This, and the lack of response from other drivers on the issue of racism, highlighted the fact that motorsport is still dominated by white men, a fact that Hamilton criticised on several occasions. While drivers and teams showed solidarity - Mercedes painted their car and race overalls black in support of Hamilton - there were also voices from F1 legends such as Sir Jackie Stewart and Bernie Ecclestone who did not see a racism problem in motorsport or played it down.

The resumed season was nevertheless completely dominated by the fight for more diversity and openness towards all people. I was not the only one who was looking forward to the first race and wanted to know what actions the drivers and teams had planned. I was delighted when I learned that the drivers and staff of the teams were going to get down on their knees and wear a T-shirt with #endracism, just like in football, especially in the Premier League. I was even more shocked to read that some riders refused to kneel but still supported the fight against racism in their own way. Of course, everyone has the right to decide how he or she shows and expresses his or her support, but for me, unity and full support looks different, especially since Take-A-Knee is recognised as a worldwide symbol of sporting protest against racism. The mixed image of kneeling and standing drivers before each race is for me firstly a farce and secondly it also reflects a divided society. Lewis Hamilton nevertheless stands out here again. He is the only one who does not wear a T-shirt with #endracism, but only T-shirts with the striking print Black Lives Matter. His helmet is also decorated with this message.

When Chadwick Boseman succumbed to cancer during the Spa-Francorchamps race weekend on 28 August 2020, it was again Lewis Hamilton who set an example. Chadwick Boseman became an idol and a fighter for equality especially as the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with his famous Wakanda Forever salute. Hamilton, who expressed his grief with a text on social media shortly after the death was announced, dedicated his pole position to Boseman over the radio in the following qualifying session. Naturally, he performed the Wakanda Forever gesture after getting out of the car, once again showing his admiration for Chadwick Boseman and his fight for a more open society, which Boseman and his embodied roles stood for.

Lewis Hamilton caused even more of a public stir with his latest and probably most controversial action. Politics has no place in sport, we hear again and again from all sides. In my opinion, this saying is bullshit, because racism is not political, but a human problem. Sport therefore offers the perfect platform to draw attention to social problems in particular, precisely because so many different people are watching. Lewis Hamilton probably thought the same thing when he wore a T-shirt with the following inscription both before the race and on the podium at the Tuscany Grand Prix: Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor. Another case of police violence resulting in death that caused a stir in the USA in March 2020. For many experts, this action went too far and they repeatedly referred to the strict separation between sport and politics. Hamilton's action can be seen as a balancing act, as his statement is very precise and, above all, opinion-forming within his fan community. However, I only became aware of this case through his T-shirt, for example, and was thus able to inform myself comprehensively. From this, one can conclude that his T-shirt may have been provocative, but it fully achieved its goal.

Nevertheless, the outcry was great and even a punishment on the part of the FIA, the world governing body of motor sport, was in the offing, as political statements continue to be frowned upon in sport, to say the least. In the end, no punishment was imposed, but the FIA did have the effect that drivers are no longer allowed to open their race overalls on the podium and during interviews after the race, in order to prevent political statements, e.g. by wearing T-shirts.

Lewis Hamilton will certainly not be slowed down by this measure and will continue to be a polarising personality. It is precisely this personality that makes him my hero of the pandemic. Precisely because Lewis Hamilton makes mistakes and is not always this fundamentally likeable guy who lets every marketing person sleep easy and has a flawless façade. In a time when it feels like every athlete is just speaking meaningless phrases into the microphone and trying to play their part, it's Hamilton who breaks the mould. On the track, there may be other drivers I cheer for during the race, but once the chequered flag is waved, I'm a fan of the person under the helmet. A person who makes mistakes. A human being who does not remain silent. A person who stands for a better world and a person who has become an idol for many people.

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