‘I’ll always be that thorn in Domenicali’s side’: Hamilton isn’t done with F1, on or off-track

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If the 2022 Formula 1 season ended today, Lewis Hamilton’s sixth place in the drivers’ championship would be his worst of his 16-year career.

With six races remaining, that could change: Even second place in the standings is not out of reach. There are many more chances for the Mercedes driver to score points and for his rivals ahead to throw them away.

But by almost every metric, this has been the most challenging and least rewarding season in Hamilton’s illustrious career. It has seen arguably two of his worst race weekends in a Formula 1 car – in Jeddah and Imola, where he finished tenth and 13th respectively while team mate George Russell took fifth and fourth.

However, the Mercedes driver’s lowest moment may have come at the Belgian Grand Prix, where accidental opening lap with Fernando Alonso had ended his race and trashed a young power unit in the process. Speaking to select media including RaceFans four days after that setback, the fusion of frustration, guilt and determination the accident had sparked within Hamilton was evident.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2022
First-lap tangle with Alonso ruined Hamilton’s Belgian Grand Prix
“These past few days have not been easy and I don’t take lightly mistakes that I make,” he said in the Zandvoort paddock. “And some people will be like, ‘well, don’t be so hard on yourself,’ but that’s how I’ve got to be the driver I am today.

“There’s so many implications of a mistake like, for example, the one I just made. The team, the damage, the points for the team, the morale. So I go back into the factory and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry’. But we win and we lose as a team and we pull back together and that’s the part I really do love.”

But support for Hamilton comes from far beyond just his team. As a driver, he receives plenty of encouragement from his close friends and family, as well as wide international support from millions of fans across the world. Hamilton says he remains acutely aware of it while at the track.

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“I’m not alone in the emotional rollercoaster ride,” he says. “I feel bad for my friends that came to [Spa] and sat there ready to go, even if they’re one of a couple in a big orange field of Max [Verstappen] fans.

The W13 has been a vexing machine much of the year
“I’m so proud of them for the bravery they have, especially with what’s been going on this year, it’s not easy to stand in a crowd of the opponent’s fans. But they have been amazing, and so I know I’ve got to get back up for them as well. So that’s what I’m trying to.”

In trying to help bring Mercedes back to the front, Hamilton and Russell have spent half a season punishing their bodies and enduring multiple disappointments as they puzzle over the riddles thrown up the W13. So the recent August summer break was welcome relief for Hamilton.

Rather than rest at home, Hamilton opted to explore Africa. As the most vocal advocate of F1 returning to the only inhabited continent which does not host a round of the world champion, getting the chance to explore Africa in all its vast diversity appears to have been just what Hamilton needed after arguably the most challenging half-year of his F1 career.

Fans’ “bravery” has made an impression on Hamilton
“It just feels like we generally in life take things for granted because they’re there,” he says. “But it just puts a lot of things into perspective.

“Seeing animals in their natural habitat was… ‘wow’. When we were in Tanzania, I felt like I was in The Lion King. After the mid-part of the day, I’ll be working out in the gym and a zebra is just outside or elephants just outside or you come out of the gym and walk to your room and there’s elephants like 50 metres away and you’re like ‘woah’.

“Africa has wealthy cities as well and great businesses, but I really wanted to kind of get to the core of the continent. I’ve seen some of that stuff in the past. I’ve been to South Africa before, I went on a safari when I came down to see Nelson Mandela with my family. But I’m a different part of my life [now].

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“I was able to appreciate it so much more and I’ve just found it really grounding, very centring. And it was fun. Me and my friends had fun – a lot of laughter, to the point where you’re getting a stitch, which sometimes when you’re working, you don’t get that. So it was just good to have that.”

F1 hasn’t raced in Africa since 1993 – when Hamilton was eight
Hamilton’s influence extends beyond his status as a world-class athlete and record-breaking racing driver. Aside from the millions of followers and wealth of celebrity names in his contact list, he has the ear of Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali – and a race in the country is at the top of Hamilton’s agenda.

“We are on all the other continents, so why not?,” Hamilton asks. “We go to a lot of these places to highlight those countries and those communities there, so there was no reason why not to do that in Africa.”

South Africa may not feature on the 2023 F1 calendar released earlier this week, but a 2024 race is believed to be on the cards.

“I’ve been working as hard as I can with Stefano in the background to try and get that happening,” says Hamilton. “It’s also a dream for me to have that before I stop racing – to have a race in Africa would be would be incredible.

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“But also my time there, just getting to see kids in the streets, it kind of highlights there’s lots can be done for the young kids in the communities that don’t have the same opportunities we have, whether it’s clothes, there’s lots of great organisations. So I’m now looking into that to see how I can get more involved.”

Vettel has become an advocate of environmental causes
Hamilton is perhaps the highest-profile driver to speak out for where he feels F1 and wider motorsport can and should be doing better, but he’s certainly not been alone in recent years. His former rival and good friend Sebastian Vettel has also developed a deep and powerful sense of social justice and has been increasingly unafraid to express himself using his status as a driver and a multiple world champion.

But Hamilton will lose that accompanying voice when Vettel retires from Formula 1 at the end of the season. Hamilton is quick to express his heartfelt appreciation and respect for his peer and his friend.

“With Seb, we’ve had some great races in the past and I’m so proud of him,” Hamilton beams.

“How he’s gone through his journey and how he’s opened up and how he’s been outspoken and how he’s found things that he’s been outspoken about and continues to do. I have no doubt whatever he plans to do in the future, he will continue to do so.”

This mutual respect was harder to come by when the pair were fighting over championships in 2017 and 2018, Hamilton admits. “It’s hard to be friends when you’re having a head-to-head battle and one of you is and one of you isn’t winning. The psychological warfare you go through… it’s tough.

“But to be able to come out from that and be such good friends and I think will continue to grow and be even better friends in future, I’m really grateful for.”

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With the world championship calendar expanding and evolving to gain new footholds across the world on an almost yearly basis, Hamilton continues to face criticism about his support for diversity and equality as F1 spreads to new nations where women and LGBTQ communities do not enjoy the same rights as those in the west. Hamilton admits, it’s a difficult position to be in.

“I try not to worry about that because again, that’s kind of out of my control,” he says.

“You end up being in sometimes the uncomfortable position of having to speak out on things or being questioned about it. It’s definitely not easy. I just try to understand a little bit of as much as I can about the place that I am going. The fact is, you can’t change the world in a short space of time. So just trying to be understanding of where people are in different cultures and religions and all that sort of thing.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Hamilton won first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a pride helmet
Eventually, Hamilton’s voice among his fellow drivers will also be lost when he calls time on his own career, leaving behind a younger generation to whom many fans will expect to continue the progressive push that Vettel and Hamilton have been at the forefront of. Does he worry, RaceFans asks, that the positive legacy he’s fighting to leave behind could be lost with his departure?

“It’s not easy for the youngsters that are coming through,” he reflects. “I just think at some stage in their lives, they will hopefully get to that point. But I wasn’t there when I was in my twenties and I think that’s just part of the journey,

“I do hope at some stage we have more youngsters speaking out in the future because this is about accountability, about the people that lead our industry, our teams. We’ve got to keep them on doing the right thing and for the right reasons.”

But even once he’s raced his last grand prix and completed his final lap, Lewis Hamilton is adamant that his influence in the sport will continue – especially as far as Stefano Domenicali is concerned.

“I will still be always, even if I’m not racing,” he insists. “Maybe from a distance, I’m always going to be a fan of this sport.

“And I hope Stefano’s here for a very long time. I’ll always be on the other end of the phone and be like ‘hey, why are you not doing this? You’re not doing this enough’. So I’ll always be that thorn that hopefully ignites some interesting conversations.”

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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  • 35 comments on “‘I’ll always be that thorn in Domenicali’s side’: Hamilton isn’t done with F1, on or off-track”

    1. My respect for Lewis has grown immensely since last year. He seems so much more confident and assured, and it’s great to see him so passionate again. People who have relentlessly hated on him since 2007 will eventually notice and regret his absence far too late.

      1. I don’t know what you’re talking about. If anything he was rather subdued this year, making lots of mistakes. Then eventually he did come around and better results started to come. Other than that, he’s always tooted his own horn about how passionate he is, how hard he works, how he feels the whole world is against him and he has to prove them wrong, how he considers himself an agent of change and a cultural icon, etc etc etc.

        Quite frankly, I’m ok with all of it except for the constant humble-brags and the virtue-signaling. Mostly the latter. Because he was a celebrity in F1 for 13 years before he decided to actually take a stance on racial equality issues. There were many others who damaged their own careers in the name of activism while he sat pretty, collecting cheques, in silence. Then, and only then, in 2020, with the death of George Floyd, it became trendy, popular, and most importantly safe, to be an activist. So Lewis became one, and within weeks of adopting that new persona, he was chiding the sport for not doing enough about racial equality.

        In years past he was the driver, by far, who spent the most time in a private jet, bragging about it in American TV shows, while he was discovering his environmentalism. To his credit, he did get rid of the jet, and became a vegan. But the point is that he had to learn, it took years for him to change; but now that he is ‘enlightened’ he talks down to everyone who isn’t as ‘enlightened’ as he is.

        I don’t hate Lewis. In fact I’m an absolute fan of what he does on track. A true virtuoso. But off-track he is unbelievably petulant and condescending.

        1. @ajpennypacker Couldn’t have said it better. This perfectly sums up how I perceive the persona Lewis.

          1. You would Mayton

            That said I just love how the critics appear to have popped out of the womb perfect in every way and able to comment with authority on how Hamilton has taken years to develop both the standing and place in life to state his beliefs and note that in his youth he was different and had a different lifestyle.

            Surely he should have been doing this in his first week in F1 if he was ‘real’ like all the other drivers do?

            Because all those critics were standing up for change from a month old and have added their voices to a changing world ever since.

            Well – maybe not so much…

            Why is this man held to such ridiculous requirements?

            1. Because, as ajpennypacker said, he does it in a petulant and condescending way. I would add the disproportional glorification by some media & fans in combination with his own incapability of putting his achievements (and some on track actions) in perspective.

    2. Interesting choice of words, as thorns have to be removed to prevent infection…

      On a serious note, I can’t be the only one thinking Hamiltons and Vettels ‘drive’ to bother Formula 1 after they’re gone is rather hypocritical. Both have stated on numerous occasions that a podium shouldn’t be given to ‘oldtimers that used to drive in F1’. If you’re not on the grid anymore, you should just move on. Or come back as a teamboss or something, but gone is gone. Because at that point, you’re influencing something that you’re no longer part of, so not the one having to do things differently. IT really is just shouting others have to change without doing anything yourself.

      1. Steve, do you understand the meaning of nuance?

      2. @duuxdeluxe I guess the key here is ‘putting their money where their mouth is’…

        The people who Lewis and Sebastian criticised at the time were the people who made their money in/out of F1 who then sat back and did or said nothing when they left the sport apart from passively campaign to make sure it stayed the same as when they left it.

        If, in 5 years time & both drivers have gone, are they sat in their Swiss/Monaco apartments counting the pennies their vast wealth whilst living on the interest, then fair enough, but both drivers have issued a declaration of intent to continue to campaign for their beliefs once they stop driving. Lets see if they follow through…

        1. It all seems too much like trying to stay relevant when the spotlights are no longer pointed in their direction, no matter how valid some of their remarks may be. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, judge them by their intentions rather than their clumsy putting-it-in-practice so far.

      3. Only people with vested power, invested money or a binding contract get a turn at the megaphone.
        I know a few people who agree with that.

    3. ‘I’m so sorry’. But we win and we lose as a team and we pull back together and that’s the part I really do love.”

      His comments given pre race at Zandvoort were short lived, given his radio comments during the race!

    4. Hats off, salutations, and just plain awe for the people that use their position or status for better causes. In particular Seb and Lewis and all the other famous athletes that stand up for the many millions who have no voice.

    5. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      23rd September 2022, 12:29

      “It has seen arguably two of his worst race weekends in a Formula 1 car – in Jeddah and Imola, where he finished tenth and 13th respectively while team mate George Russell took fifth and fourth.”

      I would certainly add Belgium to above list, considering he threw away a possible podium.
      The overtake would have been successful if he had given Alonso a bit more space on the inside. Russell finished 4th not that far behind Sainz and expanding the gap to Leclerc.

      1. You could add lap 1 crashes to the list of worst weekends of any driver I guess. There are drivers which even crashed in the warm-up lap.

      2. It’s literally the next sentence in the article.

    6. How many of us have tried to change something where we work that is for the good of all? Not very easy. So even if they are just making a noise about these things its a start.

      1. I think it depends a lot on how you go about it.
        When you present change in a positive way and for a positive result, it often gets a good reception. But when you present it in a demeaning way that marginalises others and comes at a cost to the business, you can expect it to not go down well.

        Ultimately, the best thing an F1 driver can do for the environment is stop participating in F1.
        Being hypocritical is a great way to sabotage your message.

        1. Both drivers in question are doing as much as they can on a personal level to reduce their carbon footprint, which is all an individual really can do. The main cost to the environment in F1 is the travel between races, and the teams like Mercedes are attempting to mitigate that – https://twitter.com/Motorsport/status/1573286113749651456

        2. S: “Ultimately, the best thing an F1 driver can do for the environment is stop participating in F1”

          Why do you think F1 is worse for the environment than football or skiing for example? There are actually a lot more people participating in football than there are in motorsport racking up those pointless miles flying around Europe, along with thousands of fans all adding their own air mile carbon footprints. It is misguided to think that as F1 involves top of the tree cars so it must also be at the top of the tree when it comes to environmental damage.

          1. It would be incredibly naive to think that F1 doesn’t consume more energy and resources per car and per event than other series – even without the international travel.
            But especially with…

            1. Basically you think an F1 driver who argues that we should protect the environment is a hypocrite because you naively think that they are disproportionately polluting the planet just by being an F1 driver, or that they are promoting green values for commercial reasons, to jump on a popularity bandwagon.

              We all have carbon footprints. That is unavoidable. The logical extension of your argument is that anyone who ever dares call for change can be called a hypocrite because they do not themselves have a zero footprint. You are arguing that anyone who is won over to the arguments for environmental change must be shallow and insincere because they were not saying this ten years ago.

              Or maybe I am completely wrong. Maybe there is no logic in your argument. Maybe it is just that you have an irrational dislike of one driver and will always take the opposite position to them and then invent reasons to try to justify your stance. It sounds like you would rather see the earth burn than admit Hamilton and Vettel might just be right.

            2. Basically you think an F1 driver who argues that we should protect the environment is a hypocrite because you naively think that they are disproportionately polluting the planet just by being an F1 driver,

              Well, simply by being an F1 driver, they are disproportionately polluting the environment. It goes with the job, doesn’t it. That’s F1.
              Drivers participate in testing, racing, appearances, corporate events, marketing promos…. None of which is necessary to anyone. These are the choices people make.
              And then there’s their private/personal life – which often includes a lot of unnecessary travel too. They are celebrities with large social and financial influence (and means)…. That’s how they like to live.

              Good for them for having an environmental cause – but to be convincing, they need to ‘be’ and ‘live’ their message, not just ‘spread’ it.
              It is hypocritical to say what they say, and then jump in their exotic supercars, off to the airport to their charter flights (or private jets) to go race in some useless prototype racing cars for a couple of hours, then fly all the way home, then another corner of the globe to do it all over again in a couple of weeks.
              And all just for fun.

              Yes, nobody has a ‘zero’ footprint – so I have no idea why you jump to ridiculous conclusions.
              But most people (particularly those living luxurious lifestyles, such as F1 participants) can reduce theirs significantly.
              That’s if they truly believe in what they are saying, of course, and are not just basking in the popularity and money gained from doing so…

              Your last sentence is just absolute nonsense.
              Of course their message is decent and respectable – admirable, even. Their actual behaviour, however, leaves a lot to be desired. “Hypocritical” being the most suitable description possible, if not actually an understatement.

            3. I think it is save to say they leave a far more impactful carbon footprint than us mere mortals AlanD. Key here is that both protagonists find a better way to communicate their intentions. No they come across like grumpy old man protesting (which is the key word here) what they both to an enormous extent have enjoyed. Protesting needs to be replaced by constructively reaching out and having a plan/goal with a realistic and consistent roadmap towards.

        3. Maybe we should stop existing hey? Then there wont be any carbon footprints… Its not the Lewises or Sebs in the world thats destroying it. Neither are you and i. At the level it is being destroyed. Its the big multinationals, the companies that are slow to change. Because of cost… Etc. Industrialized farming also. Mono farming. Removing or reducing bio diversity. We as everyday people will buy and use what these companies produce. Because we have to. We dnt have easy cheap options. Sure we can give up our electricity, stop usinf vehicles, stop wearing clothes, stop eating meat etc but then we have to live too.

          1. Its not the Lewises or Sebs in the world thats destroying it. Neither are you and i.

            It is exactly the you’s and I’s and Seb’s and Lewis’. We are all human and all walk on the same Earth – even the people making decisions while protected behind the veil of corporate identity.
            Only some of us have an exceptionally larger impact on the world than others. Those with the most money tend to be at the top of that pyramid too.

            Industrialised farming has become a necessity to feed the ever-growing global population.
            For the last two centuries, the global population doubled and then quadrupled, respectively… What would you be eating now without it? And how much food do you grow yourself?

            Of course we – as everyday people – have the choices of not only what to buy, but whether or not to buy it at all.
            What do you reckon people did 200 years ago? 2000 years ago?
            Yes, we have to live – but does life need to be filled with so many wasteful luxuries?

            F1 is just that. A wasteful luxury.

            You can blame corporations, or you can stop buying things from them. The only language they understand is financial.
            Right, Liberty?

            1. Then u r in agreement with what i said.u just going about saying you agree the long way round…

    7. This kind of rethoric will destroy this sport, if he is passionate about social life then get in to politics,

    8. Let’s ignite equal pay for drivers.

    9. I’ll be blunt, he’s an easy guy to dislike.

      1. It depends on where you are in yourself imho. Lewis has never overreacted in a Schumacher way or been as snidy as Alonso for example. Both drivers I have enormous respect for btw.
        Lewis tries hard to to project a loving and positive perspective but that is criticised and defamed by many who perceive it as fake but I disagree, he gas been consistent in this for his entire tenure in F1 which speaks volumes for me personally.
        But nobody is perfect and I’m sure his detractors could point at various heat of the moment comments in the past but looking at the long game he’s been a credit to himself, his family and the sport.

    10. I will also be blunt.@joshgeake

      He’s easy to admire for a lot of us. His behaviour after the Abu Dhabi debacle, for example, was exemplary, and inspirational. The hate some people have for him likely reveals more about themselves than about Hamilton.

      1. +1000

        Imagine AD21 finished on the other foot?

        1. Well it didn’t. And we’ll never know…

    11. The hate for Hamilton is truly disgusting. He’s achieved more and done more good for F1 than any driver in F1 history yet small minded people who have likely achieved very little in life make him a target for their own failings.

      1. I must say I find it very disappointing as well, GreenFlag. Trying to minimize Hamilton’s achievements or just outright hating him is really very odd bahaviour.

        Perhaps after some time has passed he will come to be more appreciated. His actions after Abu Dhabi 2021 alone would put him in legendary status in pretty much any walk of life, a truly inspirational example after a travesty. The sport is very, very fortunate to have had him.

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