Katy Fairman takes a closer look at why there is more to Lewis Hamilton’s involvement with Extreme E than meets the eye.
When it was announced that Lewis Hamilton has founded a new racing team, there was inevitable buzz, intrigue and excitement. The expansion of his already impressive empire will see Hamilton venture into Extreme E, the electric off-road series where his team will compete in the sport’s first season, due to launch early next year.
Hamilton was quick to note he will not be driving the electric SUVs – yet -, nor will he be responsible for the day to day running of the team, he hopes his involvement will make a difference and inform his audience and following about the growing climate crisis.
Of course, it was the lure of the racing that likely drew Hamilton in. After all, Hamilton is arguably the most known and successful racing driver of recent times. However, the message that Extreme E plans on demonstrating is what made him stay.
His entry, Team X44, inspired by his racing number and the X being short for extreme, becomes the second venture Hamilton has with Extreme E after his plant-based sustainable burger chain ‘Neat Burger’ became a partner to the all-electric series last month.
Hamilton’s talents away from the race track, from fashion, arts and music, show how his life is more than just the sum of his on-track achievements, which makes his six world drivers’ championships in Formula 1 all the more impressive. This new venture is no exception.
Of course, there will be the inevitable criticism that Hamilton’s current job as a Formula 1 driver is probably the worst sport in the world for causing damage to the environment and that this plea to help ‘save the environment’ is the most controversial thing going – and to be honest, you might be right.
But at least he is trying. Formula 1 as a sport is trying, if not very slowly. At the end of 2019, Formula 1 announced that they plan on being Net Zero Carbon by 2030, the keyword being ‘plan’ and, although they have published their ambitious sustainability plan, it is still too little and possibly too late.
The current hybrid power units are an improvement on the roaring V8 engines of the past, but transporting all of the freight involves trucks and currently due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most of the drivers are being flown from track to track on private jets. This hardly fits in with Formula 1’s pledge to becoming more sustainable and lessening its environmental impact.
However, although Hamilton might receive negative feedback from this new adventure into electric motorsport, at least he is trying. He can see the impact his passion is having on the environment, and he wants to at least help balance that out. Fair play.
From embracing a vegan lifestyle, voluntarily participating in beach clean ups in his days off or adding the latest electric supercars to his collection, he is making changes and to date has managed to offset his carbon footprint from his F1 career dating back to 2007.
“The first step in this journey was to understand my personal impact on the planet so I could make changes to improve it,” Hamilton recently said on one of his instagram posts.
This is why the lure of Extreme E was higher than a similar eclectic series like Formula E. Where Formula E visits city centres, the main purpose of the championship is to develop and implement technologies from their race cars into road cars – hence why Formula E is having to turn away manufacturers left and right as the appeal of electric cars becomes more mainstream.
Hamilton could, of course, get involved in Formula E through Mercedes AMG, but the message that Extreme E is promoting carries more importance and interest to Hamilton.
Extreme E has its own scientific community and legacy programme to help investigate and acknowledge the rapid climate crisis, and has also implemented plans to make sure the series is doing all it can to minimize impact while visiting areas ravaged by the effects of climate change and what can be done to help undo the damage that human activity is doing to the planet.
From renovating the RMS St. Helena, a former cargo liner into the paddock and base of operations for the series, transporting all freight and featuring on-board laboratories, will allow Extreme E to race in remote parts of the world ravaged by the effects of climate change.
Aside from the obvious environment inspiration behind the founding of Team X44, the importance of a black man founding a motorsport team cannot be overstated. Hamilton has openly discussed the lack of ethnic minorities in motorsport and through initiatives such as his own Hamilton commission, he plans on changing this.
“The truth is, people of colour and female team members are hugely underrepresented within the paddock and in factories too”, Hamilton explained in a recent interview.
Mercedes AMG recently published its own diversity statistics, revealing that only 12% of its workforce were female, with 3% of the total workforce being of ethnic backgrounds.
Having a black team founder in high-profile motorsport is rare. Hamilton is using his voice and influence to not only promote a positive environmental message, but also show that ethnic minorities are able to hold positions of power in a sport that can sometimes feel overwhelmingly White is just further proof of the good Hamilton is doing for motorsport – not just for Formula 1, but beyond.
“At first, I thought my success could help to change [the racism I experienced in my career], to show that someone who looked like me could have a career in motorsport,” said Hamilton earlier this year. “But I soon realised it was not good enough for me to win if nothing in the background of the sport changes.”
“Looking at team photos at the end of last season [in F1], there were very few people of colour. It seems if you are male and White then you take centre stage and Black and female engineers are virtually non-existent.
“I often get asked about where the next Black driver is coming from, but it isn’t just about the drivers – after all we are just a small part of the sport. The truth is, people of colour and female team members are hugely under-represented within the paddock and in factories too.”
“Extreme E is an exciting new sustainability initiative, and this is a great opportunity to be involved from the outset as a team founder. I’m excited to play a different role in this new series, one that brings my vision for a more sustainable and equal world to life.
“Extreme E really appealed to me because of its environmental focus. Every single one of us has the power to make a difference, and it means so much to me that I can use my love of racing, together with my love for our planet, to have a positive impact.
“Not only will we visit remote locations facing the front line of the climate crisis, we will also work closely with these locations and leading climate experts to share our knowledge and leave behind a positive legacy in each location which goes far beyond the race track.
“As Founder of X44, I am looking forward to building my team around important values such as sustainability and equality. None of us are perfect and we all have improvements to make, but I am excited to use our platform to highlight the most serious issues facing our planet and the solutions we can all be part of.”
Overall, Hamilton’s involvement in the series is not only good for Extreme E and helps promote the new electric series to a whole new audience, it cements that Hamilton isn’t just here to race cars fast, he is here to change the way we see the world for the better.
* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Inside Electric.