Dear Lewis Hamilton,
So you’re not a fan of the Red Bull Aeroscreen. Nor were you a fan of the Halo concept proposed by Ferrari. Fine. Everyone is of course entitled to their opinions and I completely understand how a driver would prefer to keep to the familiar and the old school way of working. You have said yourself that the danger and the risk was a big draw for you and that these safety enhancements are taking away from that.
But I worry that you don’t see the impact that your outspoken opinions have. Maybe not on the actual production and development of these features but on public perception of them. Of all the people I have seen that are against some kind of cockpit protection, I am comfortable saying that at least 80% of them are fans of yours. Now, this could largely just be down to the fact that fans are drawn to the drivers who share their opinions and views on the sport but there is also a definite possibility that a lot of these people only have these opinions because you’ve expressed them. Our opinions aren’t exactly the most practical. Most of us have never set foot in an open cockpit car, we are just going by aesthetics. We have to trust what we’re told by journalists, teams, drivers. When I hear the drivers band together to say that it is a step in the right direction, I take comfort in that. So when someone comes along and says they don’t like it and they think it’s a negative step forward, it’s jarring and concerning.
You are the current world champion of Formula 1. To casual fans and outsiders, you are the face of this sport and your views are undoubtedly going to stand out from the rest. Far be it for me to tell anyone not to speak their mind; I’m a firm believer in drivers and teams being able to say their peace without the risk of reprimands. But when it’s dealing with matters like this, I really feel like more care could be taken in what you say.
You recently lauded yourself as doing more for this sport than anyone else as far as promotion goes but where I see drivers banding together to try and make the best out of this situation and provide feedback and ways of improving it for everyone, I also see you distancing yourself from it as best you can, condemning it at every opportunity. You give the impression that you’ll support whatever decision they make but it’s obvious it will be begrudgingly. If you don’t think your opinion will make a difference (as in, saying you don’t like it won’t actually stop it becoming so) then what is actually being achieved by digging your heels in so? Is it purely a matter of pride? The need to make sure that people know you’re ‘brave’ enough and willing to take the risks, suggesting that your colleagues aren’t? A friend of mine used the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ and I have to say, it seems fitting.
“You take away all [the danger], and that person could do it, almost. What’s the point if anyone can do it?”. I don’t know what to make of this statement. All I can interpret this as is ‘The main thing that separates us from literally anyone else is that we’re willing to risk our lives.’ It’s funny, but I thought the reason you were all there was because you were meant to be some of the most talented drivers in the world. Perhaps this is my mistake and I didn’t realise it was a matter of who had the biggest death wish. Maybe once they implement this safety measure, I’ll try my hand at it too because it will obviously suddenly be so much easier.
You made the suggestion that the protection could be optional, with you presumably choosing not to run whatever method is put into place. But that’s not going to work, is it? There will be pointless arguments and fights among spectators with some fans belittling those who choose to protect themselves over those who think it’s ballsier and more impressive to go without. It will put teams in awkward positions as well as the governing bodies. It constantly feels to me like you are only considering yourself with regards to this whereas everyone else is considering the sport and future generations.
Safety in motorsport improves every year in some way. This is simply another evolution, albeit a more prominent one than has been employed recently. Previous generations have been against changes that were implemented but because of these changes, we can watch races almost safe in the knowledge that a crash won’t result in anything more than possible broken bones.
In this interview, you state that people watch the sport because of the risks and the danger. I can state with 100% honesty that I have never and will never watch any motorsport for the crashes. When I watched the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014, it didn’t feel real. I didn’t believe this could still happen. I spent the rest of the day in a daze, the rest of the week refreshing all the news sites I could find, the next 9 months hoping for some positive development. I don’t watch motorsport for this feeling of helplessness and grief. Two of my friends were at the IndyCar race in Pocono when Justin Wilson died. They didn’t go to that race thinking “Well, I know someone could die today, but that’s part of the excitement of it!”. We watch this sport for the racing. For the overtakes, for the spectacle, the atmosphere, the comradery.
The only solace I can take from so many of my favourite drivers being killed in races is that something comes out of it. Because of Ronnie Peterson’s death, the safety car now follows the grid for the first lap because that could have saved his life. Because of Jules Bianchi’s death, we now have the virtual safety car for situations where recovery vehicles are on track or conditions are poor which could have saved his life. Because of Justin Wilson’s death, we are trying to get extra cockpit protection to limit the potential of fatal head injuries which could have saved his life. It’s as simple as that. By you consistently dismissing these ideas, it feels like a slap in the face to those who were affected by these deaths. Sometimes motorsport demands you to be selfish; this is not one of those times.
We all know that Ayrton Senna has been your racing idol since you started karting. Ayrton Senna who also lost his life in a tragic racing accident. An accident which led to a great number of changes being made in this sport and these changes meaning that we went 20 years without another fatality. But more importantly, Ayrton Senna would have become one of the biggest advocates of safety in Formula 1 had he not been robbed of the opportunity. He was faced with the death of Roland Ratzenberger and wanted something to be done about it. He wanted his death to mean something; to bring about change. Just as we do now. I think he would have lobbied for these changes just as your fellow drivers are now. Would you think less of him for it just as you expect us to think less of you?
I hope the protection continues to evolve and develop throughout the year and that we are left with a practical solution that suits drivers and spectators alike. And I hope that you will join in with this to ensure the safety of yourself and your fellow drivers, in this series and beyond, for this generation and the next.
A Formula 1 fan