Lewis Hamilton is already Down Under, with the 2020 Formula One season preparing to get underway with the curtain-raiser of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15. The 35-year-old is gearing up to not only defend his World Championship but vie for a record-equalling seventh title, a feat that would put him on par with all-time great Michael Schumacher.
If that sort of potential record-breaking has left the Briton feeling a bit more under pressure than usual, he isn't showing it and he says that "having a target on his back" is far from a new feeling for him.
In his eighth, and perhaps final campaign with Mercedes, Hamilton has helped reveal the Team Kit that will be used by the F1 team throughout the year, ‘unboxing’ the customised outfits, with the new INEOS sponsorship, that includes a double-layered jacket with the addition of the hood Hamilton had specifically requested.
Far more importantly, Hamilton has continued to invest the time to draw attention to the numerous social issues he has become increasingly concerned about.
The Brit has promoted ‘Women of Influence’, amongst them climate activists Alexandria Villaseñor, Leah Namugerwa and Greta Thunberg, on his social media channels in celebration of International Women’s Day, and visited areas ravaged by the wildfire crisis that has beset the nation of Australia over the past several months.
This F1 year, a greater challenge to the Silver Arrows’ dominance and Hamilton’s reign is expected to be mounted by the youthful Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, of Red Bull and Ferrari, respectively.
The competition understandably does not faze the six-time champion, highlighting the unique position he has always found himself in in the world of motor-racing. Bursting onto the F1 scene in 2007 with McLaren, with whom he would go on to win his first Championship in his sophomore season, the then-22-year-old Lewis Hamilton was the first black driver in Formula One history.
As of 2020, he remains the only black driver in the sport.
“I've had a target on my back since the day I won my first championship when I was 10 years old,” Hamilton said (Formula1.com). "It's nothing new to me.
“I've always been the only black driver there, I've always been generally at the front of the championships, so it's no different to any of the other 27 years of driving – so I'm quite comfortable in that space.
“It's also a positive when people are targeting you and looking to try and beat you because you want everyone to bring their ‘A-Game’, so if we do manage to pull it off and finish ahead, it feels even better.”
Mercedes’ Team Principal Toto Wolff has also previously highlighted Hamilton’s racial background, and suggested that while it has been formative in making him the pre-eminent champion of the new millennium and the most successful British driver in history, it is a blemished narrative that reflects poorly on the elitist nature of F1.
“When Lewis was younger he was the only black kid among the white kids, and I know he was racially abused on the track,” Wolff said (The Guardian).
“If that happens to an eight-year-old or a 10-year-old, it just leaves scars that will not go away. If, as a child, you have had to overcome abuse and discrimination, on one side it makes you a stronger personality. But on the other side it also leaves scars.
“Today Lewis has a good and mature perspective, but the scars are certainly there. That is not the only motivating factor for him – those scars are a witness of having survived. We have to acknowledge that we are not very diverse in Formula One, and I have certainly learned through Lewis to accept that it is difficult to overcome discrimination from time to time.”
Following on from his record sixth British Grand Prix win at Silverstone in 2019, Hamilton was asked of his opinion as to the extent of racist undertones in F1 and necessity for cultural diversity in the future.
“Every day is an opportunity to elevate, to shine, and to do something new,” he said (via The Telegraph).
“My mum is white and my dad is black - I have the best of both worlds. I have supporters from all religions, all different ethnic backgrounds, and I love that I am a part of bringing people together.”
Hamilton will be helping to do just that once again this upcoming weekend at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, an event he hasn’t won since 2015. Lewis Hamilton may indeed go on to match Schumacher’s record this season, and even surpass it in the future.
Ignore the titles, the pole positions, the fastest laps. It will be undoubtedly more vital to identify how well he has used his platform to champion his own success story as a person of colour. Hopefully one day he will be considered a trailblazer rather than an exceptional exception.