In the Pit Lane: The Dilemma Facing Sir Lewis Hamilton
As speculation fills the vacuum that is Lewis Hamilton’s contract negotiations, there may be one factor that has been overlooked. 2020 was the year Lewis decided to take a very vocal and public stand on social justice with his involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement.
After organising the ‘kneeling’ protest before the races Lewis upped the ante with the wearing of the “Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor” T-shirt on the podium at Mugello, prompting the FIA to investigate.
Hamilton hit back with, “I don’t know what they [the FIA] are going to do this weekend,” he said. “Lots of rules have been written for me over the years and they haven’t stopped me.”
A man of his word
At the Russian race Hamilton stuck to his principles stating, “I don’t regret a single moment of it,” he said. “I follow my heart and do what is right and that was me following my heart. I did something that has never really happened in F1 and obviously, they will stop it from happening moving forwards.
“People talk about sport not being a place for politics but ultimately it is a human rights issue and that is something we should be pushing towards. We have a huge, amazing group of people that watch our sport from different backgrounds and cultures, and we should be pushing positive messages towards them, especially for equality.”
Then before the Bahrain GP, he claimed F1 has a “consistent and massive problem” with human rights abuses in the places it visits. Chase Carey responded with “we are very proud of our partnership here in Bahrain.”
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Hamilton has acknowledged that he needs to learn more about countries like Saudi Arabia and was praised by Amnesty International for his efforts. Hamilton commented:
“We realise we’ve got to face and not ignore the human rights issues in the countries that we go to, not just 20 years, 30 years from now, but now. I want to help F1 and Mercedes in that journey, and moving more sustainable as a sport, I want to see if I can be part of that for a little bit longer.”
What has the reaction been?
Hamilton has received the backing of his boss Toto Wolff, who proclaimed, “Whatever he does, we will support,” Wolff said. “The team is fighting against any kind of racism and discrimination and it is Lewis’s personal fight for Black Lives Matter and with all the support we can give him. It’s his call.”
2020 saw Hamilton included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world prompting the only current black NASCAR driver, Bubba Wallace to declare, “His activism has also moved the world,” he said. “Lewis has brought international attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, through his advocacy on social media and at F1 events. He’s an inspiration for everyone.”
What Lewis may be struggling with is the enormity of the challenge and the personal attacks especially on the allegations of hypocrisy.
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The recent Spitting Image sketch lampooned him mercilessly for taking money from the likes of Petronas, a company with a chequered past. His salary comes from Mercedes, another company not exactly controversy-free, think corrupt practices and the diesel-gate scandal.
His new boss at INEOS knows a thing or two about tax avoidance, something Hamilton is familiar with after moving to Switzerland / Monaco. Hamilton has divided opinion, with some praising his stance, others criticising, and then there are the ‘Hamilton haters’.
A heavy load to carry
For Lewis, it is getting personal with Najah Yusuf the Bahraini activist who was allegedly tortured, sexually assaulted, and jailed for three years for criticising the grand prix on social media writing to Hamilton directly.
Hamilton has also received a letter from 11-year-old Ahmed Ramadhan whose father is facing the death penalty after a controversial trial in Bahrain with a message “Lewis, please save my father.”
Speculation on Hamilton’s contract negotiations revolve around pay, the length of the deal, sponsorship/media appearances, a share of the team’s revenues but what if Hamilton has had enough of the pressure?
As Lewis continues his pre-season training in the calm of the mountains, he may ponder is this all too much for one person, better instead to step back and enjoy his other interests leaving behind the cauldron that is F1.
Garry Sloan is the author of “In the pit lane – F1 exposed” details at inthepitlane.com
Copyright ©2021 Garry Sloan
[Note: The opinions expressed on this website are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors and/or publishers.]