I know what he meant. The dichotomy of what he witnessed in India near the palatial, purpose-built circuit was a challenging concept and sight to see. Abject poverty near a major investment manifest in a world-class racing circuit. Lewis Hamilton said:
“I’ve been to India before to a race which was strange because India was such a poor place yet we had this massive, beautiful grand prix track made in the middle of nowhere. I felt very conflicted when I went to that grand prix.”
As you can imagine in this day of least common denominators and the mobocracy of social media, this didn’t go down well. It prompted an Instragram post from Lewis defending his comment:
“Hey everyone. I noticed some people are upset with my comment on India.
“First off, India is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The culture there is incredible. I have visited and always had an amazing time however whilst it is the fasted [sic] growing economy it also has a lot of poverty.
“My reference was that a Grand Prix there felt strange to drive past homeless people and then arrive in a huge arena where money was not an issue. They spent hundreds of millions on that track that is now never used. That money could have been spent on schools or homes for those in need. When we did have the race, nobody came because it was too expensive most likely or no interest. However I have met some amazing India fans.”
The backlash was enough to prompt his boss, toto Wolff, to enter the swamp of acrimony.
“It is once again unbelievable to me how the words and the meaning of Lewis get spun out of context in this way,” said Wolff in a statement.
“He spoke with empathy about India and the painful contrast between wealth and poverty that we face while travelling the globe as sporting ambassadors. He did not criticize the nation and his words were those of a thoughtful and considered champion.
“The only fault here lies with the people who have twisted his words to mean something else entirely.”
I’ve read some comments on his initial statement as well as comments regarding his clarification and now I’ve read comments about Toto Wolff’s rebuke. They all sound the same. They all read the same. They all share similar threads of hothouse logic fashioned for effect and little understanding and empathy.
The arguments that caught my attention were centered around the hypocrisy they felt Lewis was displaying in patronizing the concept of poverty as he travels the world in his private jet and lives the life of a Formula 1 champion.
Everyone’s entitle to their opinion but we are all talking about a kid who slept on a couch in Stevenage. A kid whose father worked two and three jobs to fund his son’s karting efforts and did everything he could to build a career for his son and garner the attention of a top team to help them.
Lewis came from very little and while it my not be a direct correlation to the kind of poverty he saw in India, he understands the two worlds of having little or nothing and having a lot. He is also a man who, with his father’s help, managed to display the very real and possible mobility between poverty and wealth creation through hard work, talent, timing and hustle.
That could be a difference in what Lewis saw while in India, not just poverty but no opportunity to move out of that poverty for a host of complicated reasons while a looming palace of speed and opulence was just a mile down the road.
India, like many nations, has areas of wealth and industry and areas of abject poverty. I believe Lewis was faced with those two worlds within a few miles of each other and it impacted him. I agree with Toto, Lewis was sharing that impact.
What I do not agree with is the denigrating words and comments about his wealth as being some sort of vehicle of gross hypocrisy. He worked his tail off and missed a majority of his childhood trying to catch a dream he and his father shared. His brother faces serious life challenges as well and they both experienced life with divorced parents which can bring its own challenges.
I couldn’t be happier for Lewis’s success and I hope it inspires other young drivers, who may not have the inviable position as a Lance Stroll or others, to work hard and create the mobility and upward move from poverty to sustainable living and yes, dare I say, even wealth. To work your entire life for a goal, achieve it and then reflect on the disparities of life is not a crime and nor is it hypocrisy. All nations have their challenges and I suspect India is no different but that doesn’t mean Lewis has an axe to grind with India or its people.
Hat Tip: Sky Sports F1