Europe awoke on Saturday morning to the shock news that Chadwick Boseman, famed for his role in Marvel’s superhero epic Black Panther, had died aged just 43 from cancer. In a year in which the push for racial equality has been of global prominence, and Lewis Hamilton at the forefront in the Formula 1 world, it was fitting that Hamilton delivered a display befitting of a super-human talent. Hamilton seized hold of the three-part qualifying session and unleashed the W11 around one of Formula 1’s most epic circuits, which takes drivers on a seven-kilometre journey around the verdant Ardennes Forest. Twice in the 12-minute Q3 session Hamilton set a new track record, his performance majestic through the lengthy middle sector courtesy of Mercedes’ high-downforce set-up approach, as he wound up with a 1:41.252, finishing over half a second clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
“A superhero died last night,” said Hamilton, after pole number 93 of his career, and sixth at Spa-Francorchamps. “That was really weighing heavy on me today, I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so that I could dedicate it to Chadwick. I was really, really lucky I got to meet him once and tell him how awesome he was. I remember when I was a kid that Superman was a superhero, he didn’t look like me, but I still thought Superman was the greatest. When Chad became the King, it was really… when he became a superhero in Wakanda it was such a special day for so many people as I know kids like myself will be able to now look up to him and it is possible to do what he did, so this one’s dedicated to him.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff lauded his driver.
“Lewis’ performance was extra-terrestrial today,” he said. “On these fast, traditional circuits he’s just in a league of his own.”
It was the kind of performance that made an excellent driver in the form of Bottas appear decidedly average.
“It was a clean lap and it felt like I was pushing the limits,” said Bottas on his second lap. “But obviously there’s quite a big gap, I’m not too sure why.”
Hamilton has never been this far ahead of the rest after just six rounds of a season. Rather than become tripped up by the altered schedule, revised lifestyle – for example staying low-key in a motorhome as opposed to criss-crossing the world – and unusual campaign, Hamilton has conversely thrived.
“I think that like many other high-performance people, we function well on adversity,” said Wolff.
“Why I can relate to it is we have discussed it. The more thrown at you the better you get, and we definitely see that with Lewis this season. With all the craziness that happens in the world, all the tragedies, he has certainly been driven by these circumstances to provide his answers to what’s happening in the world.
“Lewis has the possibility of becoming the greatest champion in Formula 1, and I think he’s very much carrying that energy, and also that responsibility, that he wants to… how can I say? He wants to continue to be a role model and an inspiration for the many people that look up to him.”
Hamilton holds a 37-point buffer over the excellent Max Verstappen, who is six in front of Bottas, with the remaining 17 racers irrelevant in the context of a title fight. Fourth-placed Charles Leclerc, who claimed his maiden win at Spa 12 months ago, is already 87 points adrift, and will start Sunday’s race from 13th on the grid.
The upcoming events do not give Hamilton’s rivals much cause for optimism.
Hamilton triumphed in Belgium in 2015 and 2017, and across 2018/19 finished a close runner-up to Ferrari. Neither Verstappen nor Bottas have won in Belgium.
At Monza Hamilton has been supreme in recent years, taking wins in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018, and last season took the fight to a Ferrari car whose power unit remains the subject of finger-pointing. Neither Verstappen nor Bottas have won at Monza. Mugello is new for everyone – but Hamilton has hardly struggled when faced with curveballs or new challenges.
And after Hamilton’s supreme performance came a reminder of another skilled driver, albeit one whose potential went unfulfilled. The Grand Prix community paid tribute to Anthoine Hubert on the grid prior to the Formula 2 Feature Race, with his pink helmet taking centre stage at the front of the field. They bowed their heads. Remembered their colleague. And did what they do best – they raced.