Opinion: The real reason F1 needs Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton can’t really do much more for Formula 1 than he is at the moment.
Like him or loathe him, he takes the sport far beyond its normal boundaries, and is a name known globally, appearing at mainstream events and branching out into other industries. Then he shows up at a grand prix and dominates.
You can’t blame him for dominating. He’s given the machinery, and drives it to the best of his ability – and that level tends to be much higher than anyone else can currently achieve. As a result, he relentlessly closes in on Michael Schumacher’s records.
If any one driver would want to keep the status quo in F1 at the moment, you’d think it would be the winner of 75% of this season’s races and four of the last five drivers’ titles.
After the race in France, he was asked if he ever considers showboating – slowing down or similar – when he’s so far clear and on such a run. A stupid question it might seem, but it provoked an admirable reaction from Hamilton. Saying he’d never do such a thing, he opened up on his own disappointment at the lack of competition in F1, the lack of excitement at the front and his frustrations with the racing at present.
Those comments came even as he strengthened his grip on the lead of the drivers’ championship. Hamilton had been present at a meeting between the FIA, F1 and all the teams in Paris just over a week previously, where 2021 regulations were discussed, and it had led him to stop toeing a Mercedes party line – as rare as that was anyway – and call for significant change.
On his team principal Toto Wolff, Hamilton says there’s no better manager in F1 – but that he shouldn’t be the next boss of the sport. In his opinion, human nature makes it hard for anyone who has been part of a team to be truly neutral. But then that wasn’t the five-time world champion’s only concern.
“From how (F1’s governance) is set up, just from watching when I was there, it’s not good,” Hamilton says. “Really not good. They won’t like me saying that…
“I think ultimately the FIA, they’re the governing body and they need to make all the decisions. The teams shouldn’t be involved in that in my opinion, because the teams all want to do something for themselves. That’s the natural thing, the competitive thing.
Hamilton has deep respect for Wolff – but doesn’t think he, or any other team representative, should be steering F1’s rules. Image by Etherington/LAT
“In football, if all the teams sat in a room and said sport should be like this they would push and pull for their own benefit. But if you get a central group of people telling us, like the FIA for example, that their sole job is to make the sport great again, hiring individuals or whatever, they should have the power. They should make the decisions.
“Currently they don’t have necessarily the right answers, because they’re sitting there talking about making the car heavier, which baffles me. Why? The car is already 130kg heavier than when I first got to the sport.
“What they don’t know is we have the best brakes we can possibly have, as great as can be, they’re overheating and fading … Make the car another 20kg heavier, and it’s just going to get worse for the brakes. We’ll have to do more lift and coast, and more fuel saving, which has a knock-on effect.”
2021 has been portrayed as a make-or-break opportunity for F1, given the chance for new technical regulations alongside fresh commercial agreements and a cost cap. But Hamilton thinks the sport locks itself into certain directions.
“When they bring these rules out, I don’t think they should have it solid for five years,” he says. “I think they should have it rolling with opportunities… 2021, it’s a great year to think what could we do to make it better, and be open to adjustments that we may need to do for the following year, rather than wait four more years for the cycle to break and then get into a new one. Maybe that’s something they could look into.”
Max Verstappen recently called for F1 to have a dictator rather than a democratic approach to rule making, so perhaps these aren’t entirely new opinions. But Hamilton has recognized the power he has to effect change, and as he reaches the latter stages of his career he wants to improve the sport that has made him the global icon he is today.
“I’d been talking a lot to Alex (Wurz, GPDA Chairman) for a long time,” he says. “I’d always been kind of quiet. There were a lot of outspoken people over the years in the drivers’ briefing or the GPDA and I just didn’t always agree necessarily with what was being said.
“I just felt like in the last couple of years we’ve all aligned, we all joined together, and I just also really realized the position, and the responsibility I have as the driver with the most championships, it has meaning when it comes to speaking to the FIA.
Hamilton says that he’s beginning to appreciate the leverage and influence he has as the sport’s most successful active driver. Image by Etherington/LAT
“If they listen at all to any of us, (it will be) the drivers that have been here for a little bit longer, who have truly experienced different tires and different aero packages, who hopefully have better understanding or input. I see the mess that we’re in; I see it every year.”
Hamilton was only representing the views of many drivers by attending the extraordinary meeting that saw the teams, FIA and F1 agree to delay finalizing the 2021 regulations until October.
“We sat in there, we listened to their proposals and they said we’d like to hear from the drivers,” he says. “It was really constructive, it was really awesome and they sat and listened to us, we spoke about the topics for a really decent period of time, and made the meeting way, way longer.
“They really took it on board, even at the end before I left they said we need to get back to the points I had mentioned. I really think there were lots of positives from it, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves.”
While Wurz brings the drivers together within the GPDA and can act on the drivers’ behalf, Hamilton says he is open to attending further meetings if his presence can help ensure the sport changes for the better.
“I really enjoy driving, my work ethic, my team,” he says. “I continue to love that, that’s never a worn process for us. It’s a serious journey we go on every year. But I empathize with fans watching and you guys turning up each weekend and it’s like ‘ugh’, a race like (France). I race my heart out but for you it might not be so exciting to watch, so I empathize with that. So I said to the guys (in the GPDA) I’ll go, so I committed to going.
“We’ve never been in that room before (at the FIA). It’s the first time us drivers have been in the room and I really think we had an impact. They thought ‘we do need the drivers here’. The fact it’s taken so long to realize that is not so great, but on a positive side they’ve listened and I think they welcoming us to be in the decision process.
“We need to be at the next meeting. Part of the next chain of emails is happening, even if it’s just small things, like the weight thing for example.
“I’ve been here a long, long time and, if I look at my legacy, there are small little things I’d love to be able to look back and say ‘I was a part of helping that positive change for the fans that are watching Formula 1’. That would be a cool thing to be a part of, not just a driver and the titles but someone who actually cared about the sport.”
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