Lewis Hamilton is an undisputed champion on and off the racetrack, but that hasn’t stopped his critics from disputing his greatness. After securing his seventh Formula 1 world title with a victory at the Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday, Nov. 15, the British driver — the first and only Black racer in the sport — was left tied with Michael Schumacher for the most season championships in the 71-year history of the open-wheel racing sport.
Hamilton’s milestone came three weeks after he surpassed the retired German driver Schumacher’s tally of 91 career race victories, a total that previously looked unassailable. In the wake of clinching the title with three races left in the season, the 35-year-old Hamilton also vowed to continue using his platform to advocate against racial and social injustice.
“This year I’ve been driven not just by my desire to win on the track, but by a desire to help push our sport and our world to become more diverse and inclusive,” Hamilton told the press after the race. “I promise you I am not going to stop fighting for change. We have a long way to go but I will continue to push for equality within our sport and within the greater world we live in.”
Hamilton, who joined Formula 1, considered by many to be the highest tier of race car driving, in 2007, has been an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement this season. He’s often worn T-shirts and masks with anti-racism messages on them on the trophy awards podium in front of worldwide audiences after races. He also caused a stir when he wore a shirt that said “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” at the Tuscan Grand Prix race in September.
It is an issue that is personal for him as the only Black driver in the sport.
“It’s obviously no secret that I’ve really walked this sport alone as the only Black person here,” Hamilton said. “It’s a really interesting point, the fact is I’m biracial. … I’m biracial and I think this color isn’t [what] people should read about.”
While many fans praised Hamilton after his win and called for him to be knighted, there were some who downplayed his accomplishments, saying Hamilton has no real competition and only continues to win because he has the best car since he left his previous team, McLaren, and joined the now-dominant Mercedes team in 2013.
“No competition for ages in f1 very boring for a couple of years now no wonder one person is winning the f1 race every week its like celtic winning the league with no competition for years,” user @JohnLen66110926 tweeted.
“Problem is it’s all just because he has the best car,” Twitter user @Wor_s wrote.
“Shame he never really had a rival to go up against. Would of made the sport more exciting,” @James882James added.
Hamilton’s advocates debated his critics, calling their logic faulty and pointing to thinly veiled racism as a motivating factor in their failure to give Hamilton his due credit.
“Lapped his team-mate in the exact same car but ok,” responded user @Jab_bd. (Hamilton finished more than a lap ahead of his Mercedes teammate Valteri Bottas in Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix even though the two drivers were driving identical cars.)
“Which of the other 22 drivers would beat him on a mercedes car? Come on, on top of being a good driver he always gets lucky too . Nobody out there right now can compete. Hamilton rarely makes mistakes on top of that too. Dont (sic) let your hatred blind you bro,” wrote user @gussaturnine.
“Instead of congratulating a man who has distinguished himself in all the races, here you are grumbling. The same story, the same ramblings. If he were another, they’d celebrate him and lie to themselves and call it greatness. Sorry this is finding a winner in the none expected,” responded user @Ngeremshalom.
User @Whizzle68262084 even said Hamilton wasn’t Black when another user celebrated his barrier-breaking contributions to F1.
“Oh yeah, I didn’t see this one coming? Is he a white man now?” user @DavohtheKing responded.
The Powerlist 2020 named Hamilton the most influential Black person in the United Kingdom after his win Sunday. Despite the hate he receives from those bashing his racing ability and telling him to tone down his social justice advocacy, Hamilton said he will continue to do his diligence to give Black kids someone they can look up to.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have anybody in the sport that looked like me. And so, it was easy to think that it’s not possible to be there, because nobody of your color has been there, you don’t see any Black people on TV that are in F1,” Hamilton said. “But I think hopefully this sends a message to the kids that are watching, hopefully they see the performance today and hopefully they can see that it doesn’t matter where you come from. Whatever your background, I think it’s so important to dream big.”