OPINION | Driving with J9: Why Hamilton's message was more than just a controversial t-shirt


Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton wore a controversial t-shirt last Sunday which caused a social uproar.

The t-shirt had led F1 to 'actively consider' an investigation against the star-driver, but no further action will be taken.

Hamilton's latest human rights campaign is sparking many mixed reviews.

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Last Sunday (13 September), what should have been focused on Ferrari's 1000th grand prix race, an incredible feat since their first event in 1950, turned into a furry of chaos - more than just the two red-flags in the race.

Yes, two red flags and three race starts all in one grand prix, and only 12 cars crossing the finish line nearly two and a half hours later. The most dramatic race of the season so far, for sure, but thank God no one was seriously injured.

There are loads of things to talk about in that race: the unsafe restarts, Alex Albon's spectacular drive which saw him step on the podium for the first time, Daniel Ricciardo's excellent form and then missing out on the podium, and Ferrari's unsurprising underperformance, and also the special moment when Mick Schumacher drove his father's winning F2004 around the track. That sound was mesmerising... We can go on.

But no, I want to talk about Lewis Hamilton's t-shirt.

Now, generally I stay out of politics, and never air my views. But today, I can't keep quiet.

lewis hamilton, breonna taylor
Lewis Hamilton wears a shirt in tribute to the late Breonna Taylor in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Tuscany at Mugello Circuit on September 13, 2020 in Scarperia, Italy. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

And let me say this, I have unashamedly been a Hamilton fan for the longest time, so much that my husband and I could barely watch a race in the same room - he is a massive Sebastian Vettel fan. However, recently I've become so empathetic towards Vettel, and I have realised what a good bloke he is, and doesn't deserve the treatment he's been getting from Ferrari. 

But my enthusiasm for Team LH has subsided because of all the drama that seemingly came with him - the fashion shoots, the lifestyle; it started to put me off. Yet, I'm not one of those supporters who back the Lions one week and then the Stormers the next, depending on who is the better team on match day. I'm still a Hamilton fan because he's one of the best drivers of the current era. I'm not yet quite sure if he'll ever replace Ayrton Senna in my books, but I digress.

I love reading others' views on current affairs, but the hatred that has spewed from those who loathe him because he has hit a nerve, has made me sick to my stomach this week.

How many people went and searched Breonna Taylor's name on Sunday, 13 September? How many people have never heard her name? The 26-year-old emergency medical technician, who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove while sleeping in her own house on 13 March 2020.

Hamilton's t-shirt hit a lot harder and made too many people feel way more uncomfortable than they might have liked. It was never about him, nor is it about bringing politics into a sport. This isn't about an F1 driver "misusing his platform" to get attention for himself, or making a so-called "spectacle" of the sport. He is one man, doing a whole lot of good, and bringing awareness to human rights issues - something that all of us should be doing.

It's not about the race; it's not about his riches, or his fame. It's about police brutality, racism, gender-based violence, discrimination, unlawfulness, and Black Lives Matter. It's about all this and so much more.

And the more I get into this; there's a wave of anger bubbling inside of me, one that I've kept dormant for way too long. And it's not only because of the FIA folding to unknown political pressures to have "actively considered" an investigation for Hamilton's t-shirt for possibly breaking one of F1's statutes. It's because we refuse to acknowledge all the wrong around us.

I also believe F1 retracted any decision to explore the consideration any further because of the slew of heat it would bring upon them. And, frankly, they can't afford to lose any more fans. 

Even though there's no investigation, there sure will be a whole lot of new changes on what he (or any other drivers) may or may not do to express views. 

f1, end racism, black lives matter
Nicholas Latifi, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel kneel as Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat and Charles Leclerc stand in support of ending racism before the F1 Grand Prix of Tuscany at Mugello Circuit on September 13, 2020 in Scarperia, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

No, it's because of the utter hatred that's come to fore because one man is trying to make a difference in a world that is pretty much messed up right now. We're in 2020, and as humans, we just haven't become much better people than our ancestors.

Police brutality is not just in the US, but all over the world. Racism. Hate-speech. Abuse of all forms. The utter disregard of any human life.

Yet, it's the reactions to Lewis Hamilton's loud movement, by wearing a t-shirt, that emphasises the very reason why a greater, global need exists for his human rights campaigns.

At first I wanted to write a reaction piece and airing positive views in support of every human life. I wanted a feel-good piece to lift our spirits after all these dark pandemic days so that I could send out an onslaught of positive vibes to the universe, and just make us feel lekker.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I decided to refrain from publishing any of it, mostly good and a few disconcerting. It would mean we'd be allowing the very things Hamilton is being accused of: igniting a spark for more negativity in our world, instead of seeing a man (or woman), along with so many others, who is just trying to open our eyes to the reality we wish to ignore. One t-shirt at a time.

Call me a Hamilton-fangirl, hate me for saying our ignorance can no longer remain bliss, and think what you will. That t-shirt was never about Lewis Hamilton, the dominant F1 driver. But for goodness sake, when will the world really be a better place if change doesn't come from each of us? How many times does a name we have to Google make us take note of a way of life which should not exist?

How many more t-shirts does Lewis Hamilton need to wear before we all take a deep look at ourselves and say, 'enough is enough'?

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Van der Post is the editor of Wheels24. You can email her here with any queries.

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