Lewis Hamilton is having a remarkable impact in Formula One. He’s shattering records on the track – and setting new benchmarks once thought impossible – but also becoming a loud voice for social justice away from the sport.
Hamilton is a seven-time world champion pushing for an eighth title this year. He is also the only Black driver in the history of F1’s world championship, which started in 1950.
F1 has allowed a small portion of time ahead of every race since 2020 giving drivers the chance to make any statements they would like to make. Hamilton has knelt ahead of every race since the opening race of 2020’s season, which occurred just weeks after the death of George Floyd.
Hamilton has also used this opportunity to wear t-shirts carrying slogans on them. These have been poignant, creative and thought-provoking in equal measure.
While they’ve all conveyed important messages, they’ve also all matched Hamilton’s growing commitment to achieving tangible change away from the race track.
The Breonna Taylor statement
Hamilton’s desire to be heard on issues important to him has grown and grown in recent years. This was never more evident than at last season’s Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello Circuit.
Ahead of that race, Hamilton wore a t-shirt with the message “Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor”, with an image of Taylor’s face on the back and the words “Say Her Name”.
The following week, a grand jury in Louisville indicted one police officer — Brett Hankison — for shooting through the walls and into neighbouring apartments. Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in connection to the police raid that resulted in the death of Taylor, a Black woman, on the night of March 13.
Following the verdict, Hamilton wrote: “I’m so sad but not surprised at this outcome. Police continue to get away with murder every single day and it needs to stop! She was innocent and did not deserve to be shot and killed. Where is the justice, this clearly isn’t it!
“It hurts to know somebody was killed and nobody was held accountable. Imagine that was your mum, your brother or sister or friend, her life mattered but the system which was meant to protect her failed her all because of her skin colour. So mad.”
The Mugello t-shirt also created headlines after the race. Hamilton’s decision to wear the shirt on the podium was controversial and prompted the FIA, motor racing’s governing body, to investigate whether doing so had contravened its rules.
The FIA deemed it had been a breach but promptly banned non-official team kit being worn on the podium to prevent a repeat.
Hamilton later said: “I will just try to continue to work with them. Whether or not I agree or disagree [with the decision] is kind of irrelevant, it’s just trying to find a common ground in how we can do it together, maybe.
“So do I believe that they fully understand? I don’t know, but perhaps in the future we all will to the same extent.”
Speaking after Mugello, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff reaffirmed the team’s commitment to allowing Hamilton to express his mind however he liked.
“No question — it is entirely his decision,” Wolff said. “Whatever he does, we will support.
“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.”
Mugello was the last time Hamilton wore a shirt with a slogan to the podium.
Actions speak louder than words
That was the message Hamilton carried on his shirt at this season’s opening race, the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It is a statement Hamilton is living by. Hamilton has made sure his statements aren’t just being made to the cameras at the race track and has pumped his own money into tackling the problem. The initiatives he launched this year are already bearing fruit.
Last year, Hamilton created the Hamilton Commission, a body tasked with studying and understanding the barriers Black people face forging a career in U.K. motorsport. In July of this year, Hamilton pledged a further £20 million of his own money into the creation of a new charity Mission44 — using the number Hamilton has raced with since 2014.
Mission44 will use the findings of the Hamilton Commission to guide its work, but is also committed to supporting people from other under-represented groups.
Following the Hamilton Commission’s first findings, Hamilton committed to supporting the recruitment of 150 Black science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers in English schools.
Hamilton has said his charitable work will continue, showing that the shirt he wore ahead of this year’s curtain-raiser carried a statement he truly believes in.
A Black History Month poem
Hamilton has made it a priority to elevate up and coming Black artists this year. Most notably, he did so at the Met Gala, buying a table at the event and inviting Black creatives who are currently trying to establish themselves in the fashion industry.
He’s taken a similar mindset to the messages he’s promoted on the grid before races. Ahead of this week’s U.S. Grand Prix, he revealed that he’s carried messages this year which all form a wider message — a poem he wrote with George The Poet for the UK’s Black History Month, which runs throughout October.
Hamilton also gave up-and-coming Black artists the opportunity to design the different shirts.
The poem, made up of all those shirt slogans, read:
When will we change?
It’s OK to listen
It’s OK to question our way of living
Racial inequality hides in plain sight
We breathe the same air, let’s fight the same fight
Let’s work together
Let’s go the distance
Let’s show compassion
Let’s show persistence
We are in control of our own existence
Build or destroy, we all know the difference
We’ve waited patiently to have this conversation
We are no longer waiting
We’re no longer waiting
In the name of justice we raise our voices
We learn, we grow, we make out choices
Let’s choose respect
Hamilton will reveal the next line of the poem at this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.
That race will be broadcast live on ABC on Oct. 24 at 1.30PM Eastern Time.