“Winning doesn’t mean anything unless you do something about it.”

Lewis Hamilton told me in Mexico in November. The Briton was competing there in the Grand Prix, one of the final stages of the annual Formula 1 World Championship circuit, and he was running neck and neck in the standings with Dutch rival Max Verstappen of the Red Bull team as he was in pursuit of a historic eighth. world title.

Hamilton did not come across as a man under pressure. In fact, the opposite. He reflected on his legacy and relished the idea of ​​shifting gears to focus on his philanthropy once this race and the next four are over. At the time, his words did not strike me as unusual; Hamilton has redoubled his efforts as an activist in recent years. Now in light of the rumors about his possible retirement, our conversation takes on a whole new meaning. Perhaps he was already thinking about life beyond the racetrack back then and his responsibility to the next generation of athletes.

“When I was younger all I could think about was training, winning and being the best I could be,” he said. CGV. “Now I have a different feeling.”

Hamilton, 36, is one of motorsport’s all-time greats – he’s tied with retiree Michael Schumacher for most drivers’ world titles – but he came to Mexico City as an underdog , behind in points on the 24-year-old. Verstappen.

Lewis Hamilton at the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Steve etherington

He was a crowd favorite, however. He had already won the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez twice, and this year’s event was the first since his suspension in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The energy was at its peak throughout the city, most notably at the Ritz-Carlton, a developing project that spanned five years and opened just in time for the debates. (This is the city’s first Ritz.) Hospitality company has partnered with Hamilton team Mercedes-AMG Petronas over the past few years to build their VIP hospitality spaces on the track, and many fans of the team have been accommodated at the new property in Paseo de la Reforma, with its panoramic view over Chapultepec Park. They were ready for a showdown. The hotel restaurants were full of Hamilton swimsuits.

“We go to a lot of different countries, but the people here make it an exciting competition,” said Hamilton. “Families show up. Everyone paints their faces. The best thing about this race is the fans.”

Formula 1 has a history of almost 60 years in the Mexican capital – namely, the first Drivers’ World Championship was held in 1950 – after some bumps, it finally returned in 2015 to the Autodromo of 2.674 miles, considered by some to be Le Mans. from North America.

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The Mexico City Grand Prix in action.

LAT Images

The circuit is named after the last big names in Mexican motor racing, Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez, and has been a Formula 1 fan’s mecca here since 1962, when he held his first non-championship competition (Ricardo was killed while making practice laps). The sprawling site has undergone various transformations over the years – Madonna and the Rolling Stones have played in her baseball stadium – but on a Grand Prix weekend it’s practically a place of pilgrimage.

“We have had a time that has been horrible for everyone,” said Hamilton. “Mexico has been through hell and now people are allowed to come in and be together.”

Some 150,000 did, flocking into the room with pent-up impatience for a tournament in their own backyard after a two-year hiatus. Some were standing around the tight and tricky corners topping the otherwise oval-shaped course, others sat in front of the starting grid, but the most coveted vantage point was and remains just above the pit lane. This is where teams and sponsors host their lounges, and because Mercedes is one of the top three manufacturers in the world, the Silver Arrows Lounge is one of the Paddock Club’s most sought-after tickets.

In Before Times, pilots were known to take victory laps around the lounge to mingle with fans, which always allowed for the option of a selfie with your favorite pilot, or at the very least, a glimpse of the stars of the show. race. Covid has put an end to these kind of bums, at least for now, which is probably a relief for gamers. For devotees, however, the Silver Arrows Lounge remains the top row of the Grand Prix. A mega-fan, a Marriott Bonvoy member, used 2 million points to enjoy a weekend of organized experiences, including a race track getaway to see the pit lane up close and personal.

“This is the best place to go to really watch the race,” said Hamilton. “You can see that starting line! ”

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The Ritz-Carlton Silver Arrows Lounge for Mercedes-AMG Petronas at the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton

The opening of the new Ritz to coincide with the race may have cast a favorable spell for the Mercedes team, which beat favorite Red Bull in Saturday’s qualifying race to claim the top two pole positions for the final Sunday, including Hamilton in second. “It’s a real surprise and a shock for us to see that we’re in the front row,” said Hamilton. Recount The Associated Press.

The result bode well for a race Hamilton needed to win to tie the game against Verstappen at a time when only four more games remained: Brazil, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Hamilton, when we spoke, seemed at ease. I asked him how, after so many pennants, trophies and honors, he kept his eyes on the prize. How, I wondered, did he stay ambitious?

“That’s really the million dollar question,” he said. “Yeah, I want to win but I’m in a place where I really want to see everyone succeed.”

He was talking about his teammates, the mechanical team that keeps Mercedes running at full speed, but also the young racing fans of color who, until Hamilton arrived, did not see themselves represented in this very popular international sport. . In the past, Hamilton has criticized Formula 1’s belated efforts to diversify its ranks, not only among his driving skills, but also behind the scenes. To this end, he worked with the Royal Academy of Engineering to establish The Hamilton Commission and explore the barriers that prevent British blacks from accessing science, technology, engineering and math programs, and encouraging sport to recruit more talent from under-represented backgrounds. In July, he committed £ 20million follow up on the commission recommendations via a new philanthropic organization, Mission 44.

Hamilton first signed with Mercedes in 2013. When he re-signed a new contract with them this summer, he also asked them to collaborate with Mission 44 on a joint charity called Ignite rooted in “our common vision to develop our industry and our team to reflect society at large”.

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a driver you hire and it’s kind of a service relationship,’” he told me, referring to his new contract with Mercedes-AMG Petronas. “I don’t just want to make you successful in the race. How can we make an impact and help people? Now, with the findings of the commission, we can see some of the reasons why running lacks diversity and we are working together as a sport to create a better pipeline. And as a team, we are leading the effort.

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Lewis Hamilton poses with his medal after being named a Knight Bachelor for Motorsport Services by Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, during an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor on December 15, 2021.

ANDRE MATTHEWSGetty Images

Hamilton would have end up losing the Mexico City Grand Prix in Verstappen, which topped the standings by 19 points. Hamilton then leapt again, beating rivals in São Paulo, Losail and Jeddah. By the time they got to Abu Dhabi they were more or less in the same position they were back in Mexico, an even heat that gave Verstappen a little edge. The Dutch prodigy would win that final race and the world title, much to Hamilton and Co.’s dismay and outcry. On the final lap Hamilton said over the radio: “This has been handled, man.”

Despite the “heartbreak” in the desert, as the media have widely describe The episode, Hamilton has been anything but silent since. Just last week he joined an elite squad when he became the fourth Formula 1 driver to be ennobled during an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle led by Prince Charles. He has been harassed by breathless reports from the British tabloids that he may be retiring soon, but it should be noted that his contract with Mercedes leads it until the end of 2023. In any case, from his conversation with me and his public statements since, Hamilton doesn’t appear to be someone who is in a rush to give up his platform, or to get out of his way. move away from public life elsewhere. Far from there. Philanthropy, it seems, is a passion that can skyrocket alongside its champion’s focus on winning that elusive eighth world title.

“I’ve won these championships all these years and it’s great to win, but what does that really mean? ” he said. “It’s really about taking action, and that’s the inspiration I have now.”

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