Formula One’s new chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, has emphasised the huge importance Lewis Hamilton plays in the sport as both a driver and a role model.
Domenicali praised Hamilton for his stand on equality and diversity. He stressed the world champion was an example for other drivers and in contrast specifically condemned the behaviour of the Russian driver Nikita Mazepin, who in December posted a video of himself appearing to inappropriately touch a woman in the back seat of a car.
Domenicali takes over from Chase Carey, who was chief executive of F1 after the sport was purchased by Liberty Media in 2017. The 55-year-old Italian has a rich history in F1: he was part of Ferrari’s team when they took six consecutive constructors’ championships between 1999 and 2004, and took over as team principal from Jean Todt in 2008 – the last time the Scuderia won the constructors’ championship. He left the team in 2014 and since then has been president of the FIA single-seater commission, in addition to joining Lamborghini as chief executive in 2016.
Last season when Hamilton took his seventh world championship, matching Michael Schumacher’s record, he was already the sport’s most globally recognised star. His forthright stand against racism raised F1’s profile even further and was instrumental in it adopting its We Race As One initiative.
“Lewis is an incredible driver, an incredible man and an incredible athlete,” Domenicali said. “But there is more than that. He has given F1 a different dimension that is beyond the sport.
“Lewis is a massive ambassador for F1. He is also an ambassador for other values and issues that are really relevant. Lewis is really very important to F1 because he is embracing other values and bringing them into the discussion, and putting his face to issues out of the normal sport.”
Domenicali said he wanted all the drivers to embrace Hamilton’s example as a positive image with which to engage new fans, as opposed to Mazepin’s behaviour. The Russian, who is bankrolled by his father, will drive for Haas in his debut F1 season this year and Domenicali said he intends to speak with all the drivers at the first round in Bahrain to emphasise his expectations that they reflect well on the sport.
“I would say that it was pretty clear what Mazepin did was not acceptable,” he said. “We need to make sure that in the discussions that we will have that they understand we cannot joke about certain things. It’s not possible. They are too important not to understand they are role models that they have to embrace.”
Hamilton has yet to sign a new contract with Mercedes for the 2021 season. He has been with the team since 2013 and won six of his seven titles with them but negotiations remain ongoing. Domenicali stressed how important it was that the British driver joined the grid this year to attempt to surpass Schumacher’s record.
“I really hope that we can have this announcement soon because what he’s going to fight for this year is something that from a sporting perspective is incredible,” he said. “I can imagine the pressure and the dynamic on how he wants to reach this new record because that would be an incredible story to tell.”