Lewis in the USA: Why winning the title in Austin would mean so much to Hamilton

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For many, one of the biggest gripes about modern-day Formula 1 is the lack of superstars and characters that gave the sport such personality back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The likes of James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna all had a spark both on and off-track that captivated audiences all over the world, helping to take F1 to the masses.

Nowadays, things are very different. Drivers are less able to speak their minds due to thick layers of PR, sponsors that must be kept happy and a fear of treading on the wrong toes. It has depersonalised F1 to some extent, particularly with so few of the drivers seeking the limelight.

Such a statement does not apply to Lewis Hamilton, though. At the age of 30, not only is the Briton standing on the brink of a third world championship, but he has also achieved a celebrity status unmatched by other F1 drivers in recent decades.

As an F1 photographer put it earlier this year, if there’s one person in the paddock you could see making a guest appearance on “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, it’s Lewis.

MORE THAN A RACING DRIVER

If you were to take a random group of Americans – not necessarily those who follow F1 – and ask them to name a driver who will be racing at the Circuit of The Americas this weekend, Hamilton would most probably be the first name out of their mouths.

And quite possibly, it wouldn’t be because of his on-track exploits. “Wasn’t he in Monaco with Cara Delevingne and Gigi Hadid?” or “Didn’t he date Nicole Scherzinger?” may be the immediate answers, having gleaned such understandings from looking at glossy magazines or showbiz TV shows. Frequenting red carpets all over the world, Hamilton has made himself so much more than just a racing driver.

“We all do have personalities,” Hamilton told NBC Sports Radio earlier this week, “But it’s very corporate. We’re always in front of a camera, so it’s hard to show personality, but I enjoy every minute of what I’m doing inside and out.

“The more I connect with, the more fun I have. Connecting is important. I spend a lot of time in the States.”

This is the effect that Hamilton is having. He is connecting with an audience that may not otherwise be exposed to Formula 1 by going beyond his on-track duties.

Earlier this year, Bernie Ecclestone did a joint interview with Nico Rosberg in which he said that he was pleased Hamilton had won last year’s title. Rosberg was understandably a little perplexed by this answer, given that it was he who had lost the championship to his teammate at the final race of the season, but Ecclestone’s reasoned that a Hamilton victory had a wider impact than a Rosberg one would have.

It may have been a little cold on Rosberg, but, as is often the case, there is a great deal of thought behind Ecclestone’s answer. Had Rosberg won the title, he would have celebrated in Abu Dhabi, returned to Germany, and had a relaxing winter with his family. There would not have been much difference to what did happen after he lost the title.

Hamilton, on the other hand, was thrown into a whirlwind of media duties that he embraced. He appeared at events all over the world, and continues to do so. “We’ve got Lewis Hamilton, the world champion, here today,” organizers can say; he loves and lives up to the limelight.

MAKING NEW FANS

Ahead of last year’s race, Hamilton appeared on the TODAY Show alongside his Mercedes car – again, offering an exposure of the sport to non-racing fans. They may have viewed him on there or seen him on a red carpet, then maybe watched a grand prix out of curiosity or even simply googled “F1” to see what came up. Simple steps such as these are how fans are converted.

Having the world championship decided in Austin would be big for F1, given that the USA has traditionally been its problem market. It gives more of a spotlight to the US GP, and offers an increased exposure for the sport all over the country. This is only exaggerated by the fact that it is Hamilton, the celebrity, who is enjoying the success.

But don’t go thinking that Lewis is unaware of the impact that he is having on the sport’s profile in the USA. “Whenever I introduce someone, they’re hooked,” he said. “What’s pole position? What’s fastest lap here? It really is different.

“As I said before, it’s pinnacle of motorsport. It’s above NASCAR… not just driver quality, there are great ones there too. But our physique, we push the limit, and make it so exciting.”

F1 may lead NASCAR in some respects, but in terms of national understanding and exposure in the USA, it lags behind – of that there can be no doubt.

But Hamilton’s wide reach can certainly help the sport to make inroads in the USA. He is more personable and relatable than many of the other drivers on the grid. He is helping to make non-F1 fans aware of what the sport is, and potentially converting them.

BIG FOR AMERICA, BIG FOR LEWIS

Beyond the effect that a Hamilton title victory will have on the sport in the USA, it’s important to consider what the impact will be on Hamilton himself. He loves spending time in America, so much so that many jest this is his ‘second home race’ following the British Grand Prix in July, where he delighted the partisan crowd with a third Silverstone victory.

There is a good element of truth to this, though. Of the remaining races – USA, Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi – Hamilton will feel most at home in Austin.

He has been able to spend more time in the US in recent weeks, and he is a great lover of American culture, so much so that one can even pick up simple influences such as his diction.

Listen to the way he speaks next time he does an interview, and see what similarities you can pick up with the way Americans speak. As an example, the word “car” is typically pronounced in Britain more like “cah”; Hamilton uses a more elongated and American-esque R sound (“carr”).

Americans may have a home driver to support this time around thanks to Alexander Rossi’s arrival in the sport, but Hamilton will still garner a great deal of the support in Austin this weekend. He is the big name; the world champion; the celebrity.

Hamilton’s lifestyle has prompted questions from many in the paddock over the past year or so, but so long as he continues to excel on-track, proving that his adventures away from the paddock do not had a negative effect on his ability, all credit should be given to Lewis.

As he has said himself, he is preparing for life after F1. And to him, that isn’t a life as a team owner or a TV pundit still talking about F1. He doesn’t want to be Lewis Hamilton, the ex-racing driver. He can be Lewis Hamilton, the musician; the TV personality; the fashion designer.

But whatever Lewis wants to do after F1, one would imagine his future lies firmly in the USA.

With an advantage of 73 points, Hamilton will be crowned champion in Austin if he outscores Rosberg by six points and Sebastian Vettel by nine, which is certainly possible.

Failing that, he will undoubtedly then clinch it next weekend in Mexico, but for both Hamilton and the sport, a title victory on Sunday in Austin would be very poignant.

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).