Lewis Hamilton says fight for racial equality helps him on the track

Lewis Hamilton believes his pursuit of racial equality has fuelled his competitive spirit and given purpose to his life beyond racing. The Mercedes driver is locked in his toughest Formula One title fight yet with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen but insists his projects off-track contribute to his focus when racing.

Verstappen leads the reigning world champion by 12 points with five meetings remaining, beginning with the Mexican GP next weekend. Hamilton, a seven-time champion competing since 2007, is attempting to take a record eighth title.

Last year he was outspoken in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in calling for F1 to address issues of race and diversity within the sport. After winning the Tuscan GP Hamilton wore a T-shirt on the podium drawing attention to the shooting of the black medical worker Breonna Taylor and has since created and put £20m into his own Mission 44 foundation, aimed at supporting and empowering young people from under-represented backgrounds through education and employment.

The work has energised him and been an incentive to carry on racing, having signed a contract with Mercedes for another two years.

“This year I’ve not been drawing on past experiences, I’ve been drawing on feeding off this energy of doing this positive work,” he told Sky Sports. “I noticed that last year and it was a part of that last year. Getting on the podium so I can give Breonna that voice, it was a super drive for me.

“So now it’s the work that I’m doing in the background and then I’m turning up and I’m enjoying this job. Is it helping me race? I think so. It’s like my new drive and I feel like it’s giving me more longevity because it’s a lot of work we have to do. I feel like it also gives my life real purpose. Racing is not a purpose, it’s something you do.”

The championship battle is increasingly tense. Verstappen is competing for his first title and the pair have seriously clashed on track twice already this season. Hamilton, however, cited his work off track as contributing to his ability to remain psychologically strong as the season enters the title run-in.

“Now I feel like I have a mission in life and it’s not about just winning championships and races,” he said. “That’s all cool, but actually being able to make an impact to help youngsters coming through. Mentally, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and that’s been a real big part of it. I’ve been strong mentally for a long time anyway, but I think that’s solidified me even more. I don’t get distracted by any of the stuff that’s happening here, I arrive and I do what I love doing. That’s been a positive.”

Despite the high stakes and the potential flashpoints to come, Verstappen has insisted their relationship remained one of mutual respect. “We’re not exactly going to have dinner together, but that’s fine,” he said to the Gentleman’s Journal. “You have that competitive spirit and we always try to beat each other on track, but also try to respect each other off track as well. So far there have been some tense moments, but overall it’s been all right.”

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