It was announced on Monday morning that Lewis Hamilton has, at long last, re-signed with Mercedes-AMG for the 2021 Formula 1 season. The seven-time World Champion has been technically unemployed since the end of 2020 and the seat that was assumed to be his was the last unaccounted for on this year’s grid. Having held out so long in negotiations, the single-season contract will now technically run for less time than it took to be secured over the prior year.

There were rumors (including from 1996 F1 champion Damon Hill) that the delay was due to Hamilton wanting a veto over who would be his teammate, which Mercedes categorically denied today. The team announced that Lewis’ new contract does include a new, joint commitment—in financial and in operational terms—to diversity, saying “A significant part of the new agreement builds upon the joint commitment to greater diversity and inclusion in motorsport that was made last year by Lewis and Mercedes. This will take the form of a joint charitable foundation, which will have the mission of supporting greater diversity and inclusion in all its forms in motorsport.”

Hamilton last entered contract negotiations in 2017, when he signed with the team for three more seasons at an allegedly eye-watering expense to them. However, last year he started making it clear that he was thinking about life beyond F1, saying there was no guarantee that he’d return unless he could find a better balance of life in the sport. Being forced to miss the Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID seemed to reignite Hamilton’s feelings about F1, after he found it ‘painful’ to see George Russell driving his car as a stand-in. 

Hamilton’s social activism increased massively during 2020, in particular campaigning against racism and in support of Black Lives Matter. He attended several protests and petitioned the FIA and FOM to include a demonstration against racism at the start of each Grand Prix, with mixed reaction from his fellow drivers but full support from the Mercedes team. When the FIA adjusted rules to prevent Hamilton from repeating a protest on the podium (wearing a shirt with “arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor” printed on it) the team printed Black Lives Matter on their official face mask for him, to circumvent the restriction to only wearing team gear and after testing, both Mercedes cars were repainted black to show their support to Hamilton’s cause.

Mercedes and Hamilton have been working on diversity initiatives across STEM in schools and a commitment to fully diversifying their organization by 2025, alongside Hamilton’s own Commission to investigate what can be done to promote greater diversity across all aspects of motorsport. His new contract, however, takes that further with the commitment to a new, joint charitable foundation. 

As part of the announcement, Hamilton said that he saw that as just as important as continuing Formula One’s most successful partnership between driver and team. “I’m equally determined to continue the journey we started to make motorsport more diverse for future generations and I am grateful that Mercedes has been extremely supportive of my call to address this issue. I’m proud to say we are taking that effort further this year by launching a foundation dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the sport. I am inspired by all that we can build together and can’t wait to get back on the track in March.”

Hamilton isn’t only supported by his team in that. Newly appointed Formula One boss Stefano Domenicali has praised Hamilton’s commitment to diversity and role as a voice of the sport, saying he not only wants diversity efforts to continue in the 2021 season, but for it to be expanded. For drivers like PR-unfriendly Haas signing Nikita Mazepin, Domenicali is determined to drill home that Hamilton’s approach is the desired one, saying he intends to summon the drivers together at the earliest possible opportunity to tell them they have to be role models and leaders for the sport.

Formula One will return in March, following some calendar reshuffles already affecting the schedule.

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