THE PROFIT OF HONOR
This year’s Formula One season has really been chock full of all sorts of upheaval. We’ve had the tit for tat between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel as they contend for the World Championship. We’ve had the wacky humor of Daniel Ricciardo with his shoeys and his ‘keen as a 24-pack of mustard’ comment (see this post). We’ve had two incidents of Vettel thinking he drives a bumper car rather than a F1 racer. We’ve had records broken and new ones set. We’ve had podium upsets. We’ve had podium firsts. And, perhaps, most importantly, we’ve had podiums with Sir Patrick Stewart (see this post).
Now we’re in the middle of the three week summer break, and I’ve been reflecting on all that has gone down during the first half of the season. Fortunately, the last Grand Prix in Hungary provided a bit of an unlikely encapsulation of some of the things I prize most highly in any sport that I watch.
I appreciate when an athlete has striven to make his or her sport about more than the end game results. That may seem almost unheard of in the selfie society we now find ourselves in, where the value and worth of a person is seemingly embroiled with the exterior image they project. In sports, that 'exterior' image includes statistics, performance, and accolades. Popularity and fame seem to go hand-in-hand with the person who wins the most games or races regardless of his or her behavior. If they win the game or race, it’s okay if they behaved like a jerk, right?
However, when an athlete reaches the top of his or her field, it is tantamount in importance that they realize the platform which he or she now possesses. But, as is often the case, said personages do not.
Point being, behavior matters. This is not exclusive to sports, but it has bearing on what I want to highlight today: sportsmanship.
What is sportsmanship?
According to the OED, a sportsman is: a man thought to practise or exemplify the ideals of a particular sport. And from that definition, the OED takes us to sportsmanship: the performance or practice of a sportsman; skill in, or knowledge of, sport; (now esp.) conduct characteristic or worthy of a sportsman. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary expounds on the notion of conduct, defining sportsmanship as conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, a graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.
What’s the unifying characteristic between these definitions?
Behavior. Conduct is just another word for behavior. A good sport conducts himself/herself according to a code that exemplifies the ideals of the sport itself, yes, but that also demonstrates respect, humility, responsibility, and performance, all which will lead an athlete into a position of leadership.
This Formula One season has shown many examples of sportsmanship: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
For the bad, or ugly, if you will, I think it best to look no further than the infamous and ignoble behavior of Sebastion Vettel on track in Baku (see post here).
However, if you want the good, the Hungarian Grand Prix two weeks ago gave us two prime examples.
First: Redbull. They started the weekend with great promise going into the race. However, they had quite an unexpected and unfortunate upset on the very first lap of the race. Max Verstappen collided with his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, on the second turn of the first lap, a maneuver which forced Ricciardo to retire less than five minutes after the start. The normally affable Ricciardo was so upset, his outrage could be heard over the team radio, “Was that who I think it was? F*cking sore loser.” Ricciardo went even further. In an interview when exiting the track, Ricciardo threw down the gauntlet: “That was amateur to say the least. It’s not like he was trying to pass. He doesn’t like people passing him. It’s just frustrating, it was not even an overtaking move. It was an emotional response. Inexperience is too kind. It was just immaturity. Let’s see if he acts his age or like a man about it and admits his error.” Rather than waffle in potential offense at being called a sore loser, immature, inexperienced, and puerile, Verstappen owned the full blame of what happened, saying, “Of course, it’s never my intention to hit anyone especially not my teammate, especially with the relationship I have with Daniel… so, this is not nice and I apologize to Daniel, and to the team. I’ll speak to Daniel in private and we’ll sort this out.” It takes a big man to admit culpability, and it takes an even bigger man to forgive an offense. Daniel Ricciardo accepted Max’s apology, and I have every certainty that things will be better when the team returns from summer break at the end of August.
Second: Lewis Hamilton. The longer I watch F1, the more respect I gain for the Mercedes driver and three time world champion. When Hamilton proclaimed that he was the world champion and needed to behave like it at the end of the devastating Monaco GP in 2015 (see post here), he wasn’t spewing empty words. After what went down at the Hungarian Grand Prix this year, it’s obvious, whether he’s the reigning World Champion or not, he carries the weight of that personal responsibility and ethic into every race he drives in.
Having qualified in fourth on the grid, behind Ferrari’s Vettel (1) and Raikkonen (2), and his teammate, Bottas (3), Hamilton set an excellent pace during the race, better than his teammate’s. Through a portion of the race, the team radio went out and Hamilton couldn’t convey his desire to be allowed a shot at overtaking Raikkonen. This is not an uncommon maneuver in F1. If one teammate has better pace than his leading teammate, the team leaders will often make the decision to have the better paced teammate pass his own teammate to put pressure on drivers from other teams. When Hamilton could finally communicate with the pit, he asked to be allowed passed Bottas so he could have a shot at overtaking Raikkonen for second. However, he clearly stipulated that if he couldn’t, he would drop back and return third position to Bottas. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I heard that, I thought it was lip-service. Not that I wanted to doubt Hamilton’s word or anything, but this was a pivotal race for him. He needed to rack up points against Vettel in order to contend for the World Championship this year. If he has the option of finishing third, that’s a wee sight better than finishing fourth.
The race progressed and Hamilton did not overtake Raikkonen. All the while, Bottas was in a rather precarious position, too, with Max Verstappen putting on the pressure from fifth. The final lap is seemed like Hamilton would not honor his promise. However, at the last, moments before the finish line passed beneath his tires, Hamilton dropped back and let Bottas take third place. He kept his word, even at the expense of accruing points toward the championship. He conducted himself in the exemplary way of a champion; he did not win, not on paper, but he demonstrated something more profound and often not seen in the sports’ world: character. Hamilton showed respect for his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, as well as his team. He maintained a sense of fair play throughout the race. He showed tremendous graciousness even though he didn’t win.
For a man who has lamented some of the behavior of other drivers because it purveys a poor example of the behavior of champions, Hamilton shouldered Atlas’ burden and showed the world of racing how it’s done.
That, dear readers, is the profit of honor. We profit from their honor on the track because it enriches the sport. And, just as Hamilton so easily segued from racing to life, I believe it easily follows: we profit from honor in the doing of even the smallest of deeds because it enriches our lives.
What do you think? Does Hamilton’s behavior demonstrate good sportsmanship? Is he an athlete to look up to in his sport? What about Verstappen? Do you applaud him?
Have you ever been touched by such a generous or honorable display of sportsmanship? Tell us about it. We all need encouragement that there are still those in the world who do the right thing, even when it costs.