Lewis Hamilton: Champion and Fighter
Though a fan of his rival Sebastian Vettel, I couldn’t help but smile when Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line in the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix and tallied his record-breaking 92nd win.
Though a fan of his rival Sebastian Vettel, I couldn’t help but smile when Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line in the 2020 Portuguese Grand Prix and tallied his record-breaking 92nd win. As an avid Formula One fan, watching Hamilton’s journey from a teenage prospect to a dominating figure on the race track has been a memorable experience filled with anxiety and excitement. Hamilton’s reaching 50 Formula One victories in the 2016 United States Grand Prix felt like yesterday, and seeing him break Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 wins reminds me of what a fighter Hamilton is.
His career started with karting in 1993 when Hamilton was eight. He quickly racked up race wins and cadet class championships, and one day, the precocious 10-year-old Hamilton approached McLaren Formula One Team boss Ron Dennis and told him, “Hi. I’m Lewis Hamilton. I won the British Championship and one day I want to be racing your cars.” To that, Dennis replied, “Phone me in nine years, we’ll sort out something then.” Hamilton was getting one step closer to achieving his ultimate dream of becoming a Formula One racer.
Not long after the encounter with Dennis, Hamilton secured his second British Championship and an additional Super One Series title: accomplishments that would get Hamilton signed to the McLaren driver development program, including a contract with an option for a future Formula One seat. Following multiple successful seasons in the lower divisions of racing, Hamilton got his well-deserved opportunity to race for McLaren in Formula One—the beginning of what would be one of motorsport’s greatest racing careers.
Achieving a podium finish in his Formula One debut, Hamilton finished runner-up in the 2007 World Drivers’ Championship to Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen by a single point. In the same season, the British driver set a record for the most consecutive podium finishes from debut, the joint-most wins in a debut season, and the most points in a debut season. And he had only just arrived.
Despite some criticising his driving as arrogant and dangerous, Hamilton held his head high and amassed five victories and 10 podium finishes in the next season––just enough for the young Brit to beat Brazilian favorite Felipe Massa and clinch his first Formula One World Championship. However, Hamilton’s McLaren era would come to an end soon due to a series of unsatisfactory races in a less competitive car. Hamilton had lost some motivation and focus, as well. For the first time, he had been outscored by teammate Jenson Button, and in the remaining four seasons with McLaren, he failed to finish higher than fourth in the drivers’ standings. The public painted Hamilton as no more than a one-hit wonder.
“You can knock me down, but I get up twice as strong,” Hamilton said, and he stuck to his words. With a surprising move to Mercedes ahead of the 2013 season, Hamilton joined childhood karting teammate Nico Rosberg and proved his worth by winning the Hungarian Grand Prix and achieving an additional five podium finishes. Regulation changes before the 2014 season that mandated the use of turbo-hybrid engines contributed to the start of Hamilton’s next championship streak as he found himself in the most dominant car on the grid. That year saw the Mercedes Silver Arrows winning 16 of the 19 races—11 of which Hamilton secured—which was enough to earn his second World Championship trophy. The domination continued in the 2015 season: Hamilton won 10 races and stood on the podium a record 17 times, matching his hero Ayrton Senna’s three titles.
In 2016, despite recording more pole positions and race wins than any other driver, Hamilton saw the championship title slip away from his hands following an unfortunate engine blowout in Malaysia; Rosberg took advantage and edged out Hamilton by five points. But Hamilton came back sharper than ever. Lewis Hamilton went on to win the 2017, 2018, and 2019 World Championships and secured his seventh title after winning the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix in November.
Beyond his struggles in the driving sphere, Hamilton has faced the unique challenge of being the first and only black driver in Formula One, and while he’s earned well-deserved respect on the track, he still faces racial abuse. On one occasion, during the preseason testing phase at the Circuit de Catalunya, Hamilton was mocked and verbally abused by spectators who wore black face paint and black wigs. Since then, Hamilton has constantly received discriminatory comments on social media platforms and online websites. Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s Mercedes Team boss, noted how Hamilton was “scarred for life” by racial abuse inflicted during his teenage years. In a press conference in 2018, Hamilton condemned the lack of diversity in Formula One, pointing out how nothing had changed in the past 11 years. “Kids, people, there are so many jobs in this sport of which anybody, no matter your ethnicity or background, can make it and fit in.”
Hamilton’s racing career has been a tumultuous one. Yet, when the odds were against him, Hamilton took a step back, reflected, and performed––signs of an activist and a fighter.