Plenty of British sportsmen and women have had their sporting achievements recognised through the honours system, although few professionals have achieved a level of dominance in their sport that could hold a candle to that of Hamilton’s.
Hamilton collected an MBE in 2008 following his first world championship, with McLaren, but he has not been honoured since. Fellow Briton, and 2009 formula one world champion Jenson Button, was awarded an MBE in 2010, while Britain’s other two most recent world champions— Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell— have been awarded a CBE and an OBE respectively. Yet, the late-great, Sir Stirling Moss, the greatest racing driver to have never won the formula one world championship, was made a Knight Bachelor in the 2000 New Years’ Honours List, for services to motorsport.
If sporting achievement alone was enough to qualify for a knighthood, surely Hamilton should have received one years ago. Hamilton holds the record for pole positions (97), podiums (162) and victories (93), while he is well on his way to matching Schumacher’s 7 world championships next weekend in Turkey.
On the track, Hamilton also has a record for a firm but fair sportsmen; rarely attracting controversy. Historically, the best drivers in formula one all possess an inner ruthlessness and disregard for sporting conduct. Brazilian 3-time champion famously rammed Frenchman, arch-rival and teammate, Alain Prost off the track at Suzuka in 1989 — resulting in his own disqualification and Prost winning the title that year. While Schumacher deliberately collided with his title rival, Damon Hill, at the Adelaide Grand Prix in 1994. Hill finished as runner-up to Schumacher in the championship by a single point.
When he eventually retires, Hamilton will brush shoulders in the F1 Hall of Fame, with some of the more unscrupulous sportsmen to have ever lined up on the grid. Yet given his clean record and the example he sets to younger fans, I am left to wonder- why hasn’t Hamilton been knighted?
The knee-jerk answer to this question is Hamilton’s tax-record. At the beginning of his F1 career, Hamilton made it clear that he wished to live in Switzerland, in order to escape the media scrutiny which he faced in the UK. He settled in Lake Geneva, but in 2010, he bought a further residence in Monaco for a sum of around £10million. This is not unusual behaviour for a formula one driver, drivers past and present have owned apartments in the principality. But crucially, both countries are tax havens, while Monaco also has strict paparazzi laws which favour A-listers.
Hamilton also owns a $40million dollar Manhattan apartment, as well as an estate in Colorado, where he plans to retire. However, Hamilton attracted the heat of UK politicians (somewhat ironically) and the British press following the leak of the confidential Paradise Papers in November 2017, it was reported that Hamilton had avoided paying £3.3 million of value added tax (VAT) on his Challenger 605 private jet worth £16.5 million. The jet was sold in September 2019.
Yet Hamilton is somewhat of an easy target. He is the highest paid British sportsman in history, earning an estimated £40million a year from his contract with Mercedes AMG Petronas Racing. Not to mention, he doesn’t just pay tax in the UK, he actually pays tax in several countries. Given his net worth of around $200million, it is unlikely Hamilton handles his own finances. His tax gaffe can be put down to poor management rather than a misconception or disregard of social-justice. Which brings me onto Hamilton’s philanthropy.
Racial Abuse & Charity Work
As the first and — still — only black driver to have ever competed in formula one, Hamilton has been on the receiving end of racist treatment throughout the entirety of his career. At the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton was heckled by fans in black-face and wigs, while in 2011, Hamilton said in an interview for the BBC “maybe it’s because I’m black, that’s what Ali G says”, after being called to the stewards following a racing incident. In 2019, Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s Team Boss at Mercedes, described Hamilton as being “scarred for life” following racial abuse received during his childhood.
Since the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers in the USA, Hamilton has knelt at every race, and publicly criticised the FIA — motorsport’s governing body — along with his fellow drivers for their silence following global protests and the BLM campaign. Hamilton is also at the forefront of many racial equality campaigns, in 2020, he set up a commission to increase inclusion in motorsport; both on the track and behind the scenes.
Outside of social inequality issues, in January, Hamilton pledged to donate US$500,000 (approximately £383,000) to a variety of causes relating to the ongoing bushfire crisis in Australia. The money was intended to go towards the fire services and animal welfare charities. Hamilton is also openly vegan and recently launched his own rally team to compete in the inaugural Extreme E championship.
Hamilton’s contribution and influence has been recognised regularly in the Powerlist, an annual list of the most influential Black Britons, in which he has ranked in the top 10 in 2016 and 2017.
On and off the track, Hamilton has done enough to deserve a knighthood. Behind the wheel, Hamilton competes in a truly world championship, flying the flag for Britain in upwards of 20 nations a season. Outside of the cockpit, he is an advocate for social justice and an extremely influential individual. Evidence aside, if Ian Botham can be made a peer for blabbering on about Brexit (if you think he was made a Lord for cricketing reasons you are kidding yourself), then Hamilton’s knighthood is long overdue.