GUEST COLUMN: Lewis Hamilton and Brazil – A Love Story

© LAT Images for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd

By Alexia Tibil

“I can’t believe it! I woke up this morning and was like I can’t believe it! A complete surprise and very emotional really[…] this is very surreal and I’ve had messages from some of my Brazilian friends saying “welcome” so I’m very proud.”

When you are granted honorary citizenship from your “greatest” idol’s home country, it’s understandable you would have a hard time finding the right words to describe your feelings. Well, this is what happened to Lewis Hamilton just before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix race weekend had started. On June 10th, Hamilton woke up to the news that would make him smile from ear to ear not just the whole day, but the whole weekend and most probably even longer than that.

Ever since Lewis Hamilton entered the sport back in 2007, he has had quite the connection with Brazil. And if we were to take a closer look at his feelings towards the country, we could easily see that, from year to year, his love for it has been continuously growing. More so, he has never been reluctant to express how much the Brazilian people mean to him and the fact that every time he lands on Brazilian soil, he feels like he was at home. And so, from the moment he won his first ever World Championship in Sao Paulo back in 2007, to one of the greatest drives the sport has ever seen on a race weekend at the 2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix, everything has been nothing but a fairytale when it came to Interlagos.

Having won there on 3 different occasions, the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, formerly known as the Brazilian Grand Prix, has always hosted some of the most mesmerizing drives of Hamilton’s career. And even if he did not take the race win, he would still deliver a spectacular drive nevertheless. And so, if we were to take a short trip down memory lane to his very first year in Formula One, Hamilton, who was driving for Mclaren-Vodafone back then, has managed to take the championship fight to the very last race of the season, which was held right in Brazil. All he needed to do to win the 2008 championship was to finish at least in P5 and the world title was his to take. But, as no race in Interlagos has been without drama, when rain began to pour in the middle of the race, everything changed for the drivers. So, towards the end, after Vettel quickly closed on Hamilton and managed to overtake him eventually, he ended up in P6, which was not enough for him to win the title. However, right in the very last corner of the last lap, Lewis succeeded in overtaking Timo Glock, who had been on the wrong tyre, and by doing so Hamilton clinched his first F1 Championship. Right in Brazil. Right in the place that he gets to call a second home now.

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Circling back to last year, the whole of the sporting world has been in awe of Lewis Hamilton’s stellar drive through the whole race weekend. Taking pole position on Friday with a magnificent lap, the race weekend started on a high for him and the team. But that was shortly spoiled by the FIA’s decision to disqualify him from qualifying on the grounds that his DRS was not within the regulations. Despite the team’s protest, the disqualification stood. On Saturday, instead of starting on pole position for the sprint race, he started right from the back of the grid. But that did not stop him from overtaking almost everyone in a span of 30 minutes and ending up in P5, not far from the guys on the podium. Then on Sunday he had to start from P10 because of an engine penalty. And again, that did not stop Lewis from winning the race. So, very much like Toto Wolff said on the radio after this magnificent victory, Lewis really did overtake everyone in that one weekend. What actually made the day unforgettable for Lewis and his fans was his celebration on the podium, where he was draped in the Brazilian flag, and every Brazilian present was chanting his name, Hamilton could barely hold his emotions. As he mentioned right after the race in an Instagram post, the love he felt during those few days has been incomparable to anything he has felt in his career. “EU AMO BRASIL. Because of you I had the wind at my back this race, I can feel your energy and it makes all the difference,” he said.

It certainly is not just the people that made Lewis love Brazil the way he does. It is also Ayrton Senna, the man that made him fall in love with the sport and the man that has been nothing but an inspiration in all aspects not only for him, but also for an entire sport. Going back right to the start of his motorsport career, Lewis has shown his respect for Senna from the very beginning, from his junior career to be exact. And so, while wearing a yellow helmet with some green stripes in honour of Senna, Hamilton has made headlines even in his karting days. He not only kept the yellow helmet tradition when he entered Formula One as a rookie back in 2007, but also continued to wear a Senna tribute design up until 2014. When given the chance, Hamilton never hesitates to praise Senna’s driving style, personality and more importantly, the things he stood for.

“He was the driver who inspired me as a kid and he’s still a hero today,” Lewis said on one occasion.

“And he always will be.[…] I didn’t really know his personality so much apart from the small clips you were able to see.

“So it was more what he stood for, what he stood up against and what he was able to do in a car that I loved to see,” he concluded.

Back in 2017, when Hamilton clinched his 65th pole position in Formula One at the Canadian Grand Prix, thus matching Senna’s tally of F1 poles, Ayrton’s family surprised him with a gift that he would for sure never forget. A replica of Ayrton’s 1987 helmet in a crystal box. As expected, he could barely hold his emotions, and more than that, seeing that he got recognition from his hero’s family meant the world to him. The family stated the following after the special event:

“Just like Ayrton, he always shares his accomplishments with his fans. Our family is very happy with his achievements and I’m sure Ayrton would be in Montreal to deliver this special gift, absolutely happy in seeing his record being equalled by a driver as talented as Lewis is.”

June 10th 2022 has been nothing but a dream come true for Sir Lewis Hamilton. Thanks to Andre Figueiredo, a Brazilian Congressman who took the honorary citizenship proposal to the Parliament right after the Sao Paulo Grand Prix last year, Lewis Hamilton gets to call Brazil his country now.

“His gestures add to his indisputable sporting merit,” said Congressman Jhonatan de Jesus.

“His public positions in support of relevant issues such as the environment, animal rights, Black people, women and human rights must also be remembered and highlighted,” he concluded.

While Hamilton’s fantastic drive throughout that whole 2021 Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend is not to be put aside, and not by a bit, the Brazilians chanting his name whilst he was wrapped up in the Brazilian flag, is what truly stands out from those few days. So, more than just a citizenship, it’s the love of the Brazilian people that means more than anything, and the joy that they bring Hamilton is truly one of a kind. Obrigado, Brasil!

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