Baseball, Family, F1, and Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton

Watching the Giants beating the Kansas City Royals Sunday evening – listening to the Giants beating the Kansas City Royals on TV while doing stuff in the other room would be more accurate – I was struck by the differences in the sports coverage in F1 and Baseball, especially in coverage of the driver’s/player’s family and girlfriends. I know that alot of players wives and girlfriends – here in after referred to as WAGS – travel with the team in baseball, because I have sat near them at games. But the WAGs are almost never shown on television and I don’t think that I have ever seen coverage of, say, a first baseman’s parents during a game.

In F1, the WAGs and parents – and in Hamilton’s case, even his brother – are often shown (one father, driver Jenson Button’s, always wore a trademark pink shirt that was frequently remarked upon; after his father passed away, Jenson even changed his helmet color to pink in honor of his father). One of the reasons is the size, in Formula 1, there are only twenty-two drivers – eleven teams of two drivers each – so the drivers, especially the drivers on the most competitive teams, are covered in more detail than baseball. It is not unusual to see a driver hugging his WAG or family after a race, often when they still have their helmet on. I am not saying that one is better than the other, but the difference is striking.

This may be just be an excuse to post something on Lewis Hamilton who has won four races straight as of last weekend, but I will try to make it as un-Formula One-ish as possible.  In Singapore, Hamilton’s car worked flawlessly while his teammate, Nico Rosberg, had a problem with his steering wheel wiring harness that knocked him out of the race.1 Since then, he has won two more races and is now leading in the Championship by 17 points. With three races still to go out of a total of nineteen, this has been an extraordinary season with more racing than any season I can remember. The primary  characteristic of the season has been the unreliability of  the fastest cars which has often forced drivers into high-risk racing. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton  have come from being impossibly far behind to win races. Hamilton, in particular, has driven more than several unforgettable races. After wandering through the wilderness, he is at the top of his career. As the season has gone on, I have become increasingly invested in Hamilton winning and, I think, it is for several reasons that are only slightly related.

Auto racing is expensive on almost every level and that is a major selection factor towards drivers with rich parents. Hamilton is an exception. He came from a family that was far from wealthy and, as racing became a bigger part of his life, it put big strains on the Hamilton family. Hamilton’s parents divorced and his mother didn’t or wouldn’t go to his races. When Hamilton first started racing, his dad was his racing engineer and manager.

lewis2_1017899iOf course, as Hamilton started racing at higher levels he used professional racing engineers, but even when Hamilton started driving in Formula One at McLaren, his dad stayed on as his manager, Lewis Hamilton 2008 A couple of years ago, maybe four, Hamilton fired his dad and hired an outside agency. It tore the family apart and his dad eventually sued for back pay.

Shortly thereafter, Hamilton left McLaren, the racing team that had given him his first Formula One job and a Championship. He moved to Mercedes Benz. Now Hamilton is leading the Driver’s World Championship and I think a good part of that is because he has become his own person. As painful as it was, Hamilton had to leave home to grow up.As an adult, he has reconciled with his family, not only his dad but also his mom. Hamilton put it best and I’ll end with a quote from him:

I just feel relaxed, all my family are a real positive beam of light for me at the weekend. 

I spoke years ago, when my Dad was my manager, and said I couldn’t wait for the day when he was here just as my Dad. And that’s what you’re seeing. And that’s one of the greatest feelings, having him here. Since the first day I ever got in a kart – I remember the day of my first race – I created a handshake with him. I was eight years old and he was there. That’s one of the most special things. He said today it felt like I was eight years old again attending kart race, when he was watching me.

I don’t know what Dad thought when we started. I was good but I don’t know if he thought that in 20 years time we’d be winning the Singapore GP. I try to imagine his mentality, getting four jobs to get the money to get a crap kart together, to respray it or try to bend it back to shape because it was the oldest kart in world, trying to get some fuel because we had spent all the money on tyres. Going through all that to now be at the pinnacle of the sport, I’m hugely proud of my family, so it’s really cool for dad to be here. I’ve gotta stop there – I’m getting emotional!


1. As an aside, Formula One car steering wheels are complex and everything is controlled from by them,  as the accompanying picture shows. When the wheel has a problem, it is a major problem.

F1 Steering wheel

1 BOOST: F1 cars have an electric-hybrid system known as KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) that regenerates braking energy, then boosts acceleration—at the push of a button—via an 80-hp electric motor. Another feature that increases speed is the movable rear wing that flattens to reduce drag. The wing is controlled by a foot pedal. 2 LAP TIME  3 HARVEST : Regulates the amount of energy “harvested” during braking. The regen system can alter the feel of the brakes, and because these guys drive with exacting precision, they’re picky about tactile feedback. This knob lets them customize.  4 DOWNSHIFT PADDLE   5 MIX: Adjusts the engine’s air—fuel mixture to balance power and fuel economy. F1 cars don’t refuel during a race, but economy is still vital—fuel adds weight.  6 BITE POINT: The race start is critical because the cars begin from a stop and the initial sprint is a prime overtaking opportunity. The bite point adjusts how the clutch engages as the drivers release the paddle, so they can execute a perfect launch. 7 BPF During practice starts, the driver uses the “bite point find” to record the clutch behavior. Engineers use the data to instruct the driver where to set the bite point dial. 8 CLUTCH PADDLE. 9 BBAL Displays the front—rear brake balance, a critical adjustment that drivers make to fine-tune the braking performance. Most passes are done in the braking zones. 10 REVERSE GEAR. 11 SHIFT LIGHTS. 12 LIMITER Restricts the car’s speed to the pit-lane limit, 62 mph. 13 ENGINE PARAMETERS. 14 UPSHIFT PADDLE. 15 TORQUE The 2.4-liter V8 revs to 18,000 rpm and delivers north of 700 hp. That’s a handful in a 1400-pound car, so the drivers use this knob to adjust the engine’s torque curve, depending on track conditions. 16 TYRE Teams use roughly half a dozen different tires that vary in construction and diameter. This dial tells the computer which tires are fitted so it can calculate wheel speed. 17 CLUTCH PADDLE. 8 DIFFERENTIAL Thanks to electronic controls, the characteristics of the rear differential can be tailored for corner entry, midpoint and exit—each with 12 settings. Frankly, we’re amazed that the drivers can detect such minute rear-end differences during cornering events that last for maybe a few seconds. But that’s why they’re paid millions.

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