Hamilton on top with new black helmet as F1 roars back

Spielberg (Austria) (AFP) –


Lewis Hamilton unveiled a new 'Black Lives Matter' helmet design on Friday as Formula One roared back to life in the Styrian Alps in opening practice at the belated and surreal season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

The six-time champion, who has been an outspoken supporter of the campaign for equality and diversity since the death of American George Floyd last month, revealed the statement helmet before climbing into his Mercedes in anger for the first time this year.

His new helmet is predominantly black and the branding includes a logo for 'Black Lives Matter', the anti-racism campaign that sparked worldwide demonstrations following Floyd's death, under the knee of a police officer, in Minneapolis.

Hamilton's Mercedes W11 car was also running in revised new black livery, instead of the team's traditional silver, with a message to 'End Racism' on the halo.

"For a long time, we've been planning for the livery change for the car, for the (driver) suit change and I have also designed my helmet in black," said Hamilton, speaking on a video released on social media.

"Normally, my helmet is white, my suit is white and obviously the car is in silver…. This is why – it's the whole reason that the helmet has changed its colour and the suit and the car.

"It's supporting equality, above all, and just really continuing to solidify that important message as we currently have 'the mic' and people are starting to listen. So, it's an opportunity to push that message and really hold people accountable.

"It's not good enough, even if someone says to you 'we've been doing something' or 'we've been trying'. They need to try harder because it is still a big issue that the world is fighting 60 years later, after Martin Luther King was fighting for it and gave his life."

Hamilton was slow to join the early fray in earnest on Friday in first free practice, not clocking a 'timed' lap until 30 minutes into the 90-minute session, but he swiftly went top of the times half a second clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

McLaren's Lando Norris was a second adrift in third ahead of Ferrari-bounf team-mate Carlos Sainz on the damp track at the Red Bull Ring, following overnight rain.

The action signalled the return of Formula One for the first time in seven months – albeit behind closed doors and under strictly regulated conditions -- after the original season-opener in Australia was cancelled in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.