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Lewis Hamilton called Serena and Venus Williams his biggest inspirations when he was looking for role models growing up

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  • Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams are three of the greatest athletes of all time.
  • When Hamilton was looking for role models as a child, he found two in Serena and Venus.
  • All three overcame racism and working-class backgrounds to break through in wealthy, white sports.

Growing up, Lewis Hamilton didn’t have any Black role models in motorsports, so he turned to the world of tennis for role models.

In a Time cover story by Sean Gregory on Serena Williams, the seven-time Formula One champion spoke about what Serena and Venus Williams meant to him when he was growing up.

“They were the two most inspiring sports figures for me,” Hamilton told Time. “Especially growing up in my sport, where I’m the only person of color, seeing these two prominent figures, also the only people of color, really gave me a lot of confidence that I can do something similar. It’s not impossible.”

The similarities between Hamilton and the Williams sisters go beyond just the color of their skin. 

Not only did the three future champions break through in white-dominated sports, but they also rose to greatness without the wealthy upbringing that gave most of their opponents a leg up in their early years.

Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, and Hamilton are now considered by many to be the GOATs of their respective sports and two of the greatest athletes of all time in any competition. Venus is also arguably a top-five player of all time, with seven Slams on her résumé. 

Hamilton is still fighting to change the look of his sport

Twenty-some years after Hamilton first started watching Serena and Venus while living in public housing in London, he is still the only Black driver in the history of F1. However, he also knows the problem extends beyond the faces of the sport.

In an interview with Insider, Hamilton’s boss, Toto Wolff, the team principal and CEO of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, admitted he had not considered the entire team’s diversity until Hamilton posed a simple hypothetical question to his boss.

“Lewis said to me, ‘Imagine you are going into the paddock and you are the only white person, how would you feel about that?'” Wolff told Insider.

“Well, that will feel odd. And then he said, ‘Have you ever thought about your skin color?’ I haven’t thought about my skin color. It has never had any relevance for me. So that is something — we are in this media spotlight. We are a glamour sport. We need to be responsible in changing that and making it a more diverse environment.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Hamilton said he was jarred looking at a photo of the 2019 Mercedes team celebrating their sixth straight championship and noticing the lack of diversity.

“I zoomed in on them, from the F1 Instagram,” Hamilton told WSJ. “I’ve been here 15 years, 14 years — how has it not changed? I was really sad about it. I was frustrated and sad.”

Lewis Hamilton (far left) celebrates with his team after winning the 2019 championship.

Lewis Hamilton was left sad at realizing how little diversity there was on his own team.

Charles Coates/Getty Images


After Hamilton’s conversation with Wolff, the team started an initiative called Accelerator 25, where the team wants at least 25% of all new hires to be from underprivileged backgrounds. 

Thanks, in part, to Serena and Venus, Hamilton is now in a position to make these changes and inspire the next generation looking for athletes to inspire them. 

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