Lewis Hamilton will not forget 2020 in a hurry. It was the year he ripped up Formula One’s record books, became Britain’s noisiest sporting voice in the fight for equality, and one which is set to see him honoured with a trip to Buckingham Palace.
But let us cast our minds back 12 months. After wrapping up his fifth title in six seasons, Hamilton headed for his traditional off-season break in Colorado plotting how to match Michael Schumacher as the greatest driver of all time.
At winter testing, Hamilton’s Mercedes team revealed the Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system which would put the sport’s all-conquering team on another stratosphere.
Indeed, by the time Hamilton, 35, arrived in Melbourne for the curtain-raiser in March, he was the overwhelming favourite to emulate Schumacher’s magnificent seven.
But with coronavirus on the ascendancy, the F1 travelling world landed in Australia facing questions as to whether they should be there at all.
As other drivers shirked the topic, Hamilton made his feelings clear.
“It is shocking that we are all sitting here in this room,” he said. “Cash is king.”
Twenty-four hours later a McLaren mechanic tested positive, the British team withdrew, and the opening round was consigned to the scrapheap. The sport would be sidelined for three months.
The #F1 family ❤️
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 17, 2020
Hamilton received plaudits for his outspoken comments and over the ensuing months, the British driver’s voice became increasingly louder.
The death of George Floyd proved the catalyst. Hamilton so enraged by Floyd’s killing at the hands of American policemen, said he could no longer keep his views to himself.
The sole black driver in F1’s white-dominated world, called out his peers for staying silent over Floyd’s murder. He then marched on the streets of London supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. He hailed protestors for tearing down the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.
“If those people hadn’t taken down that statue honouring a racist slave trader, it would never have been removed,” Hamilton controversially wrote.
“There’s talks of it going into a museum. That man’s statue should stay in the river just like the 20,000 African souls who died on the journey here and were thrown into the sea, with no burial or memorial.”
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) August 3, 2020
The Mercedes driver launched the Hamilton Commission to identify why there are so few black faces in F1’s paddock.
He persuaded Mercedes to ditch its traditional silver livery for black to send out an extraordinary message in the fight against racism.
He demanded F1 bosses allow him to kneel before the start of every race. And when he won his first of 11 victories this season in Austria in July, he performed the Black Power salute on the podium.
He then vowed to spend the rest of his life combating racism.
“We have to continue to push for equality and raise awareness,” said Hamilton. “For me personally, it is going to be a lifelong thing.”
Drawing motivation from his off-track crusade, Hamilton became an unstoppable force on it, winning five of the opening seven rounds.
At October’s Eifel Grand Prix in Germany, he matched Schumacher’s record of 91 wins. Two weeks later in Portugal, Hamilton went one better. And then, in November, he was crowned champion of the world for a seventh time with his best display of the season at a rain-hit Turkish Grand Prix.
Claiming his 10th win from 14 races to draw level with Schumacher’s championship haul, Hamilton was unable to hold back his emotions and he burst into tears.
Hamilton sat sobbing in his Mercedes cockpit, contemplating how a black man from a Stevenage council estate, had matched a tally many thought would stand the test of time in one of the most elitist sports on the planet.
Hamilton was denied the chance to equal another record of greatest victories in a single season (13) after he was forced to withdraw from the penultimate round in Bahrain with coronavirus.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 11, 2020
He returned for the season-finale in Abu Dhabi still feeling the after-effects of the deadly disease.
“I am just happy to be alive,” he said.
Hamilton is odds-on to be recognised with a BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, while a knighthood is also very much in the offing.
Arise, Sir Lewis? It would be a fitting end to a quite remarkable year.