There are several discussion topics, wherever you go in the world, that spark passion amongst its participants. These usually hinge on factors which have an influence on everyday life: politics, the economy, healthcare to name just a few, but in recent years the environment has become an enormous political football.
There are extreme voices on both sides of the equation with regards to the environment, and, more specifically, climate change. There are some who claim the world is already facing its imminent demise and there are those who do not believe it is even real. Scientific studies have shown that climate change is happening and that man-made factors have accentuated proceedings.
If he walked away from Formula 1 in an instant Lewis Hamilton would have a legacy that surpasses most, if not all, of the other drivers to have existed in the championship’s history. He has five, soon to be six, world titles, over 80 wins, and almost 90 poles. It is almost an embarrassment of riches.
He is also Formula 1’s only global superstar. Wherever you go in the world you are likely to notice Lewis Hamilton. His success brought him instant following and through the social media age that has swelled, while his reach outside of the sport has been grown courtesy of his other interests, most prominently his fashion tie-up with Tommy Hilfiger. He has used his social media platforms, obviously, for promotional purposes, but also regularly sends uplifting messages to his millions of followers, while also highlighting aspects others may shirk from. One example was his praise of Theresa May during one of the many, many fraught Brexit disputes. The latest example has been Hamilton’s push to convince his followers to try and adapt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, with the Briton a key proponent of veganism.
And bang goes the dynamite.
Immediately there was outrage and outcry, with many – and there is a bizarre hatred towards Hamilton in some quarters – straight away pointing towards hypocrisy. Here is a man who earns his living from driving racing cars, whose team has title branding from an oil company, and who jets around the world from location to location.
Yes, there is hypocrisy. But we are all hypocrites on a certain level. Working in Formula 1 will increase your carbon footprint – this writer is on 42 flights, and counting, for 2019 – but small changes can have a larger impact. Many inside the sport are trying to do their bit, such as using a reusable drinks bottle as opposed to relying on plastics. An estimation is that each person could save around 200 plastic bottles per year from adopting such a tactic. Sebastian Vettel, who does not use social media, pointed out Formula 1’s plastics problem in the press pen in Hungary. Bins have since been put in place (hardly a move which will change the world, we admit), but that development alerted some to the issue, switching to a bottle instead. It is a small change, but small changes help.
Hamilton, given his impressive reach and the commitment needed to remain atop his game in Formula 1, should be praised for trying to make a difference, rather than be condemned for speaking out. Formula 1 itself has been carbon neutral since 1997 and many teams have had projects and initiatives underway for several years, if not over a decade. Sauber has been carbon neutral since 2012. Those aspects have been almost unnoticed. When a personality of Hamilton’s stature comments, people take note.
“Yes, we are travelling around the world, we are racing Formula 1 cars and our carbon footprint for sure is higher than the average homeowner who lives in the same city, but that doesn’t mean that you should be afraid to speak out about things that can be a positive change and I’m always looking at things, and how I can improve the effect that I’m having on the world,” said Hamilton in Mexico.
With the written press Hamilton often has an eloquence and thoughtfulness that can sometimes not come across in the quick-fire TV surroundings, and Thursday’s press conference highlighted Hamilton’s introspection on a subject in which he has become more aware as time passes.
“I’m trying to make sure that by the end of the year I’m carbon neutral,” he said.
“I don’t allow anyone in my office but also within my household to buy any plastics. I want everything recyclable down to deodorant, down to toothbrush, all these kind of things so I’m trying to make as much change as I can in my personal space.
“I fly a lot less now, I’m trying to fly less through the year and mostly flying commercial so that’s been a big change in my habits. [He sold his private jet in 2018 – ed]. I’ve avoided trips as well, if I didn’t need to do it, been in the UK, for example, with family and going up to Bedfordshire and kind of stayed at Soho House for example, with the family instead of going on holiday.
“I have a new smart electric hybrid at home – it’s not hybrid, it’s electric. I’ve sold several of my cars, some of them I don’t really want to sell because I still love them and I’ve worked hard for them and I don’t drive them a lot if I’m honest.
“I have three Mercedes in the States for example. Send them back and get new QCs. I have a Maybach in London for example. I think they’re bring the hybrid out at the end of next year for the Maybachs. However, right now that doesn’t really suit what I’m fighting for so I need to change that also for either an EQC or one of the hybrids they have. I’m constantly making changes. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not something you do over a short period of time.
“My friends are seeing me doing those and also being more conscious and also looking to do those kind of things. I work with the team who are also really pushing to be carbon neutral, also changing things in their canteen because there’s a lot of plastics which you will see here, for example, we have mostly Just Water which are biodegradable bottles.
“I’m working with Mercedes on the future plan with them, for example. Car manufacturers have all leather interiors. There’s no reason why we cannot have faux leather for the suede so I’m pushing to be a part of that change with Mercedes Benz.
“Obviously I work with Tommy Hilfiger, nearly 70 per cent of all the clothes that I’ve done are sustainable and either recycled fabrics of leather, faux suede and the goal is to have that 100 percent and I’m looking at some point that to be 100 per cent sustainable, hopefully in the next year or two. That’s also encouraged Tommy Hilfiger, who work in quite a damaging business or industry to also look into that and push that direction.”
Hamilton also pointed out that “we use a third less fuel now [in the hybrid era], there is more I think that Formula 1 can do and I think they are putting plans together but I think we have to push all the industries, you have to push Formula 1 to do more.”
Vettel, who may not have Hamilton’s reach but is nonetheless a household name, concurred.
“I think you would be ignorant if you wouldn’t look at it and obviously, as Lewis mentioned, it’s very difficult, in a way, to us to get acceptance from outside, because we don’t have the smallest footprint because the races happen around the world,” accepted Vettel.
“We do have to travel, so it’s part of our jobs. But I think in general, Formula 1 should do more. It’s a worldwide operating platform.
“I think we should send a much stronger message regarding this subject and I think personally – this is free to everyone – but I think everybody can do something, contribute a little bit and if the whole world would act like that, it would make a huge difference. I think it’s inevitable that change is coming and hopefully rather sooner than later.”
If Hamilton takes the flak, takes the criticism, but inspires others – whether directly or indirectly – to make a change that has a positive impact then he will feel it is job done. Not everyone has the money, the time, and the contacts to be able to facilitate change. Hamilton does. We crave athletes that have personalities and opinions, and Hamilton should be applauded for making such a stance on a topic that affects everyone on a global scale, rather than sitting quietly in the corner and doing nothing.