On Pole: Character


Last time we spoke about Formula One, I asked a question: Have you ever been touched by such a generous or honorable display of sportsmanship?

Of course, I was referring to none other than Lewis Hamilton’s behavior on track when he honored his word to his own detriment. If you’re unfamiliar with what he did, I encourage you to read The Profit of Honor post here about the Hungarian Grand Prix. 

When he was interviewed post-race, Hamilton said, 

I want to win the championship the right way and I don’t know whether that will come to bite me on the backside or not. I think today really shows, hopefully, that I am a man of my word. I am just as much a part of this team as anyone and I think we’re working together better than we ever have. In life, you do good things and good things do come round back to you.

This show of honorable sportsmanship in the face of so many athletes who are simply focused on their performance and not their platform touched me. In fact, as the rest of the Formula One summer break continued, I found myself returning to Hamilton’s words and actions that day in Hungary. 

There’s a humility that goes along with a position of greatness. Hamilton has displayed that humility time and again. It’s not a false humility, either. If it were false, then the actions would not jive with the words. For Hamilton, his words merely back up his actions. He has skin in the game, as it were, and in the Hungarian Grand Prix, he got a little nicked up and beaten down. 

Today I’m going to focus on the last portion of what he said:

In life, you do good things and good things do come round back to you.

This, dear readers, is a statement of faith. When I heard it, my immediate response was hope, hope that Hamilton’s humble and honorable act would not come back to bite him, but would, in turn, be the foundation upon which he could build his platform. 

Every athlete who achieves any sort of greatness within their sport is given a platform. Whether they ask for it or not, they’re looked up to. Looked up to implies the metaphorical platform. It’s difficult to be held so high because we all of us have feet of clay. However, even with faults, foibles, and peccadilloes, an athlete can stand on his or her platform and be a laudable example of what it means to be a champion. 

Needless to say, I find myself cheering for Hamilton. I want him to win because I want the sacrifice he made in Hungary to be honored thusly. After the race in Baku, I confess, I was so disappointed in Sebastian Vettel’s behavior that I began leaning toward Hamilton to take the championship. (Don’t know of what egregious behavior I speak? See this post.) Now Hungary solidified my opinion. I’m full on rooting for Hamilton to win the season. 

Since the Hungarian Grand Prix, we’ve had two Grands Prix back to back- one at Spa-Francochamps, Belgium, the other at Monza, Italy- and, to my delight, in both Grands Prix, Lewis Hamilton has started and finished first, putting him three points squarely in the lead for the World Championship. Furthermore, he set a world record at Monza by achieving his 69th on pole (first place in qualifying) position. That’s the most pole positions any racer has ever accrued in the sport. 

Singapore's Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino and the Gardens on the Bay.

Singapore's Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino and the Gardens on the Bay.

The next race is this weekend in Singapore. This, dear readers, is perhaps my favorite race of the season. In fact, I love the Singaporean Grand Prix so much, it plays a pivotal part in the plot of my first novel. I anticipate it every year. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world and it affords a very special race as it’s driven at night. Singapore, which is arguably the second city of lights, is spectacular at night with the Gardens on the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands all aglow in modern metropolis splendor.

Point being, dear readers, if I was excited about the Singapore Grand Prix before, I’m positively all aquiver now, counting down the hours until the tires officially hit the tarmac. 

I don’t know what the future holds for Hamilton or Vettel or the 2017 World Championship. I won’t be so naive as to say that I think Hamilton is a shoe in for the victory, but I do think it is fitting that a man who has shown himself so willing to demonstrate the behavior of a champion is now steps closer to achieving another championship.

Do you think character in an athlete is more important than sheer performance in his sport? Do you think there’s a connection between character and championship? Do you, like me, find yourself rooting for an athlete when you continually see acts of humility and honor from him?