Formula 1

A racer and an activist: The challenges facing Lewis Hamilton entering the new F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton

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01/07/2020 at 09:04 | Updated 01/07/2020 at 10:19

Lewis Hamilton goes into the 2020 F1 season chasing his seventh F1 drivers' championship, but this year he enters the delayed campaign with more than one purpose.

Ahead of F1's opening race of 2020 - the Austria Grand Prix - this weekend, we take a closer look at the difficult issues ahead for Hamilton to tackle on and off the grid.

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Follow live text coverage of the Austrian Grand Prix from 14:10 on Sunday

His F1 challengers

There are four widely-considered challengers to Hamilton's F1 dominance this year. Hamilton's Mercedes driving partner Valtteri Bottas will surely be one of them.

Slowly but steadily the 30-year-old's number of race wins have increased in recent years and four wins for Mercedes last year will give the Finn plenty of confidence.

Having rising star George Russell hot on Bottas' heels could well put further pressure on the latter to deliver consistent podium finishes in 2020.

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Red Bull are regarded as Mercedes' greatest challenger this year in the constructors' championship. And with Max Verstappen at the wheel, Hamilton will have something to think about each week.

The 22-year-old German's encouraging performances in pre-season and recent upgrades to his car during the Covid-19 delay could all be important factors as the season plays out.

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Then last but by no means least, there is the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.

Leclerc's newfound aggression witnessed at the latter stages of last season cannot be ignored heading into just his second full year on the grid. Also starting off in Austria, where he finished runner-up in 2019, seems a good place for the 22-year-old to get off to a strong start.

For Vettel, it may have been seven years since his last drivers' championship but he knows what it takes to win it.

Having the pressure of the improving Leclerc in his team could drive him on and - perhaps more importantly in his case, - help him achieve greater consistency.

Add on the fact that Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the year, so the German will want to bow out in style.

His car

Hamilton's loyalty to Mercedes, amid constant rumours of a move to Ferrari, has proven to pay off both ways as his avid support of the Black Lives Matter movement is now a Mercedes corporate symbol.

How so? Well, in the form of slick all-black car.

Mercedes have traditionally raced in silver throughout their time in Formula One but will switch to black and have 'End Racism' emblazoned on the halo of both cars.

The team said the Black Lives Matter movement has "shone a searching light on how much we need new measures and actions in the fight against racism and all forms of discrimination".

Having an all-black car racing around the track for an entire season will consistently reinforce the Black Lives Matter message and is a move Hamilton has publicly applauded.

His greater goal

But Hamilton's pursuit for diversity in F1 has greater substance than just a cool-looking car.

The Black Lives Matter movement has been a sensitive issue on Hamilton's mind and he has backed up his views on social media with real action.

The 35-year-old is launching a commission to help motorsport engage more young people from black backgrounds and drive diversity.

Hamilton revealed on Sunday the development of The Hamilton Commission, formed in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Hamilton, who has spoken of the racism he has faced throughout his career, said that despite his own success in the sport "the institutional barriers that have kept F1 highly exclusive persist."

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The commission will explore how motorsport can be a vehicle to engage more young people from black backgrounds with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

It will also consider the lack of role models, the barriers to people from more diverse backgrounds and "problematic hiring practices" that mean fewer black graduates go into engineering professions.

"The time for platitudes and token gestures is over," said the Mercedes driver.

"I hope that The Hamilton Commission enables real, tangible and measurable change.

When I look back in 20 years, I want to see the sport that gave a shy, working-class black kid from Stevenage so much opportunity, become as diverse as the complex and multicultural world we live in.

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It's evident that in 2020, Hamilton is pursuing more than racing excellence.

Will the pressure of winning yet another championship, while managing a commission and using his platform to try and address systemic racism overstretch him? That, we will find out.


Drivers championship:

  • Lewis Hamilton 11/18
  • Max Verstappen 5/1
  • Charles Leclerc 8/1
  • Valtteri Bottas: 9/1
  • Sebastian Vettel: 14/1

Constructors championship:

  • Mercedes 1/4
  • Red Bull 9/2
  • Ferrari 7/1
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