Lewis Hamilton cut an isolated figure as he fidgeted on his tinsel pulpit after being pipped to pole position for today’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The fact he was beaten into second place by his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was greeted with a degree of delight from garage to garage. Many F1 insiders here have heard enough of the six-time world’s champion’s self-righteous preaching.
The final insult, as many saw it, came in his post-qualifying assertion that he considered his fellow drivers to be racists unless they proved that they aren’t.
Lewis Hamilton believes a split of opinion over drivers taking a knee before the Austrian Grand Prix is proof that there is a racism problem within Formula One
‘Silence is complicity,’ he reported of his own comments to a meeting of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association on Friday night, at which the issue of how to demonstrate against the killing of George Floyd and the waves it caused, on Formula One’s return after a seven-month lull.
He talks of ending division, while in fact he breeds it. Yes, all the grid’s cast will wear ‘End Racism’ t-shirts as they line-up for the Austrian national anthem but a number of the drivers are privately unhappy to be dragooned into taking a knee at Hamilton’s heavy-handed insistence.
Several were taking last night to think over whether they fall in line, conflicted between a desire to protest at racism on one hand and freedom of self-expression on the other.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz said: ‘Not everyone has decided what to do. You will see tomorrow.’
The chief accusation against Hamilton is one of hypocrisy on several fronts. He is the eco-warrior who, on Thursday, chided anyone wearing a disposable mask on the basis they end up on the ocean floor.
Around a quarter of the grid are uneasy about taking the knee due to its links with the politically sensitive Black Lives Matter movement that Hamilton (above) has supported
But how did this environmentalist arrive in Austria? By a needless private charter flight from Monaco.
He could have travelled with his team from the United Kingdom — where he was based after testing at Silverstone on June 10 — but no, he flew to his tax haven home for a few days and then made his own way here.
The journey formed part of his extravagant carbon footprint through lockdown that took him from Australia, where the intended opening race was called off in mid-March, to Bali, to America, then to Britain and Monaco.
Fine, it is easier to go long distances by plane than by foot. It is just a problem when you virtue-signal your commitment to saving the planet, such as by selling your £25million candy red private jet (originally bought, as the Paradise Papers revealed, through a company in the British Virgin Islands and on which there was a £3.3m VAT refund).
And where is Hamilton staying while he is in Austria? In a motorhome driven here as it polluted the roads, just as the V6 engine of his work car will do through 71 strictly pointless laps today.
For this Formula One season Mercedes have ditched their traditional silver colours, with Hamilton having helped design their all-black car to promote anti-racism
A fortnight ago, he complained about racism lurking in the sport — and this should not be belittled if that is what he feels, though it is not obviously so — but did he not stop to think how he climbed to the top of the tree?
He was given a massive leg-up by Ron Dennis, the then McLaren chairman, who funded his career through the ranks. There was no obstacle to lavish sponsorship then on the grounds of colour. Irony is not Lewis’s strong point.
Take his call for statues to be torn down, made in one of several inflammatory social media posts. He objected — understandably — to celebrations of men who, in a different time, exploited slavery for riches.
But has he pondered for a moment the story of Mercedes Benz, the company who have provided him with most of his £220million fortune? The snag is that they used 40,000 slave labourers in World War II.
Yet while he is celebrating the lawless destruction of Edward Colston’s monument in Bristol, he is asking for a new, improved contract from the manufacturers of Hitler’s car.
As negotiations are about to start, his team are ready to trim their F1 staff, or redeploy them, as the result of a sport-wide budget cap made more stringent by the exigencies of Covid-19.
Last week, casting freedom of speech aside, he berated Bernie Ecclestone for ‘uneducated and ignorant’ comments about racism, in which the 89-year-old’s chief crime was to challenge the perceived orthodoxy.
Yet how far did Hamilton educate himself as to the motives of the Black Lives Matter organisation before compromising social distancing by marching through London under their banner?
Does he know about their quasi-Marxist views? How do their anti-capitalist views fit with his status as the richest sportsman Britain has ever produced?
If he thought it through, he might understand why some drivers might conceivably object to genuflecting before these ideals.
The Red Bull Ring home of F1 for the next two weekends invites a top speed of around 210mph
It is a tyranny to demand that they must do so. Spontaneity and sincerity are victims. He has some noble intentions: improving the chances of all. But what is he actively doing to this end, other than indicating that he might, one day soon, launch the Hamilton Commission, of all self-effacing initiatives?
Why not invest, say, a year’s salary, in establishing a fund to bankroll drivers and engineers from non-white backgrounds to augment his other charitable works? He has had since his debut in 2007 to think that one over.
However, his ‘bubble’ in Austria for Covid reasons comprises his physio and Man Friday, respectively a white New Zealand woman called Angela Cullen and a white Englishman called Mark Hines.
Hamilton is a brilliant driver. He is motivated by some decent impulses. But, please, Lewis, stop throwing stones at your friends.
Valtteri Bottas sprung a surprise by taking pole position in Austria.
The flying Finn posted a time 0.012sec faster than second-quickest Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes.
Bottas might have gone even faster but for running into the gravel on his final lap.
Mercedes dominated the rest of the field, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen a yawning half a second off the pace in third.
Ferrari suffered a depressing afternoon with Charles Leclerc seventh quickest and Sebastian Vettel back in 11th.