On the track Hamilton talks with the greatest authority. At 36, he is the most accomplished Formula One driver of all time, with 98 grand prix wins, 100 pole positions and 171 podium finishes. The only meaningful record he hasn’t broken is the number of drivers’ championships won, where he is tied with Michael Schumacher at seven. Put bluntly, he’s the best the world has ever seen and is still at the top of his game.
But in the past year, off the track Hamilton has started to find a voice about his racial identity. He has been taking a knee; raising a clenched fist. Long dormant concerns about racism and discrimination have been rudely awakened following the Black Lives Matter uprisings. In the process, Hamilton has transformed the way he sees himself: from a compliant go-with-the-flow character to a change agent who is determined to make waves. He has shaped the way others see him too, going from an inoffensive, if gaffe-prone, socialite focused only on his sport, to a politically aware role model conscious of his wider cultural significance. Now, he is about to take on the sport that brought him fortune and fame, with a commission demanding racial diversity and meaningful outreach to underrepresented groups – as well as more racial equality in general.
Feeling comfortable in your own skin, under those conditions, is easier said than done. “I remember not being able to be myself,” Hamilton says. “Of not being able to speak the way I want to speak. That’s the point of all this inclusivity: including people and not asking them to change in order to fit. I remember feeling that I had to be a different shape. The entry point to my sport was a square and I was like a hexagon, and I thought, ‘I’m never going to fit through that bloody thing.’ So I had to morph my way in in order to fit into that world, and then try to get back into the shape I was before.”