SPIELBERG, Austria, Jul 12 – Lewis Hamilton raised a podium fist to salute the global anti-racism protests on Sunday as he celebrated his first win this season and the 85th of his career at the Styrian Grand Prix in a performance so dazzling that his Mercedes team boss described him as a “unicorn”.
In a gesture that recalled the action of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympic Games, Hamilton delivered an image and message that transcended the pre-race muddle offered by his sport when at least four drivers remained standing while others took a knee and some were absent.
For the second consecutive weekend, Hamilton had taken a knee wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt accompanied by others in ‘End Racism’ t-shirts.
However, television coverage of the drivers’ symbolic act of support for his sport’s anti-racism stance lasted only two seconds.
Instead of showing the drivers, the direction switched broadcast attention to a pre-planned aerial demonstration while, with a global audience tuning in, confusion reigned.
Hamilton, the sport’s only black race winner and champion, who had drawn attention to F1’s need for a smarter and more unified demonstration as with football and other sports, was not surprised or perturbed.
Instead, he heaped praise on his Mercedes team –Valtteri Bottas had finished second behind him in a solid one-two – for their on- and off-track excellence as they seek to add to their six-year dominance as champions and focus on developing diversity.
“The easiest thing is to lose focus, to ease up and lose determination,” he said after the race.
“I don’t see this happening with this team. We are so united.
“You can see this on grid when all the team took a knee. I didn’t see it. I was told just before the race that they were going to do it.
“It’s not something I asked for, but it was a beautiful thing. It doesn’t take a lot to do and maybe its not changing the world, but it is hopefully changing perceptions and shifting ideals.”
After his masterful demonstration of wet weather driving in Saturday’s rain-hit qualifying session, Hamilton delivered a measured message on Sunday to drive within six wins of Michael Schumacher’s record and make his wider point.
“When he is in that space, he is just unbeatable,” said his Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in top-class motor racing. It’s like seeing a unicorn.”
Wolff added that the Mercedes team had all taken a knee, but none wished to judge others who did not.
“The team did it, but I think we have to be non-judgmental. None of the drivers standing are racist. We have to respect each point of view and I don’t want to judge what other people do.”
Hamilton attributed his victory to the team and hard work in preparation following the previous week’s disappointments at the Austrian Grand Prix.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.
“Last weekend was psychologically challenging. To have the penalties and be called to the stewards on the Sunday morning, just before the race, and to get a penalty there and then another one in the race. Its never easy.”
“But there’s nothing you can do about the past. All you can do is focus and channel your energy to the future.”