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Is Hamilton the greatest?

3 years ago

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Andrew Frankel | Ti co-founder


8 April 2021

Many years ago, the thick end of 30 by my calculations, I was doing a karting event, somewhere in West London if memory serves. I hate karting because being on the comfortable side of 100kg, karts make me look even more rubbish than I actually am. But this was for charity so I gritted my teeth and had a predictably dismal evening.

Indeed the only bright spot was during an interval in proceedings between heats and the final when they sent the young kids out in their karts to do a bit of a demonstration. They all made all of us look stupid, of course, but none more so than the lad who simply streaked away from the field, making even his mates look pretty sluggish. And I’m afraid to say the only reason I recall any of this was that said kid was black.

Sadly, people of colour in motorsport are vanishingly rare even today, let alone in the early 1990s, so I’m afraid I did notice and I did remember. But I didn’t see Lewis Hamilton again until the new century had dawned. It was now the year 2000 and Autocar was hosting its annual ‘Sideways Challenge’, which was a brilliant event they really should reprise. It did what it said on the tin: we’d go to somewhere with a large steering pad, on this occasion the Longcross test track near Chobham, flood it with a water bowser and invite our guests to drift a car of our choosing (so rear drive, powerful, with a limited slip diff) around the circle. Meanwhile line judges would award points for duration, elegance, consistency and angle of the drift. And it usually boiled down to a contest between chassis engineers and racing or rally drivers and, much to the chagrin of the latter group, the chassis engineers almost always won.

I’m not sure who had the bright idea to ask Lewis along but I remember this quiet, shy but very polite 15-year-old kid turning up with his dad to have a go. I’m not sure he’d driven any car by that stage in his life, and certainly not a BMW Z3 M Coupe and absolutely not as sideways as possible around a drenched steering pad. So you know what happens next don’t you? Lewis gets in the car and makes all those chassis engineers and race car drivers look as amateurish he did those kids in karts all those years ago. Right?

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