Henry Segrave, Malcolm Campbell, Jack Brabham, Frank Williams, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Patrick Head, Lewis Hamilton?
In the aftermath of the boy from Stevenage’s record-equalling seventh world championship and the general consensus that he really is one of the greatest sportsmen to hail from these islands, so the clamour grows for Britain to recognise him with a knighthood in the New Year’s Honours. This is something that Motor Sport supports.
Hamilton has joined the immortals with his victory in Istanbul: future generations will talk of him in the same way that we talk of Clark, Moss, Fangio, Senna. We are lucky to be alive to witness his mastery firsthand.
But it is not just his record of victories that marks him out for wider recognition: as Mark Hughes points out this month, the way he races is also important. Rarely, if ever, has there been a cleaner racer who instinctively understands how far he can push the limit without ever going over it. He is a credit to the sport and an example for all racing drivers working on their craft.
In speaking out about equality and diversity in motor racing Hamilton has used his platform to challenge the status quo and outdated attitudes in the same way as Jackie Stewart challenged the sport over its safety record half a century ago. Like Stewart he knows he will attract criticism but speaks his mind and takes the brickbats. His legacy, like Stewart’s, will show that he was on the side of the angels.
After Turkey, I asked the last motor racing recipient of a knighthood what he thought of Lewis. “I have great admiration for many reasons,” said Sir Patrick Head. “Not least that he develops good relations with those he works with and is so consistent. I think he is always learning and maintains respect for what he is doing. He would be a most frightening team-mate to partner, for any driver.”
And should Hamilton be knighted: “I fully support that the country should offer it to him.” Then Sir Patrick adds: “But I would not take it for granted that he would accept.”
He may be more right than he knows. Asked about the speculation Hamilton replied: “When I think about that honour of being knighted, I think about people like my grandad who served in the war, and then you have these doctors and nurses, who are saving lives during this hardest time ever. I think about those unsung heroes and I don’t look at myself as an unsung hero.” Spoken like a true world champion, Sir or no Sir.
On the eve of Lockdown 2.0, I took the opportunity to get out of London for the last time in at least a month and travel to an industrial park just outside Crawley. It was here that Toyota was giving UK press the first taste of its all-new GR Yaris hot hatch.
This model is a homologation special conceived to justify a Yaris WRC car for the 2021 season. Then came Covid, and in order to allow teams to save some cash the authorities decreed that they would retain their 2020 cars for next year. In 2022, the championship switches to hybrid-powered cars. So the new Yaris WRC car is destined never to be used in anger. But I came away from the event with a feeling of genuine admiration for the company and its president Akio Toyoda who has made it a mission to inject some motor sport adrenaline into his vast organisation.
In fact, Toyota now arguably has more skin in motor sport than any other manufacturer, with programmes in WEC, WRC, NASCAR and BTCC, not to mention Dakar and Super GT in Japan. At a time when companies are rolling back on traditional motor sport commitments, Toyota is keeping the turbos spinning.
Readers will notice a small change in this month’s magazine. The Lunch With series is no longer with us. First published in 2006, the roll call of interviewees reads like an entry of Who’s Who in motor sport: from Stirling Moss to Max Mosley; Ron Dennis to Norman Dewis; Dan Gurney to Marcus Grönholm. It set the standard for in-depth profiles and was much copied, but never equalled.
But like all greats, it couldn’t go on for ever. Its successor will aim to maintain the high-profile names and examine specific periods in their careers to give readers the inside story in more detail than you can get anywhere else.
I hope you enjoy the new feature and the rest of this month’s magazine, and join me in raising a glass to a long and splendid lunch