Ferrari legend Jacky Ickx has spoken of his admiration for Lewis Hamilton and has claimed the Mercedes driver’s impact on societal issues could even outweigh his achievements on track in Formula 1.
Hamilton is one of a number of drivers to have used their platform to promote various causes in recent years, with the seven-time World Champion – still the only black driver to have raced in F1 – passionate about increasing diversity and inclusion in motor racing.
In 2020, he launched the Hamilton Commission with the aim of understanding why relatively few black students pursue careers in motorsport and last year established a charity, Ignite, in conjunction with the Mercedes team.
Ickx, who won eight grands prix and the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance event on six occasions in a storied racing career, believes Hamilton’s influence in such areas is a key part of his legacy.
Appearing on former Williams and Ferrari team manager Peter Windsor’s Twitch channel, Ickx said: “Lewis Hamilton is an extraordinary Champion and he was also driving for a fantastic team in Mercedes-Benz. The two together were just a fantastic association and they won everything.
“But Lewis is special in two aspects. He is special [as] the driver he wanted to be all his life, training for it and the successful man having all the possible records.
“But also he’s the first person to involve himself in such a level of interest to defend Black Lives Matter, for example. He’s unique on that aspect and I don’t know which one is the most fantastic in a way.”
The Belgian revealed he has never crossed paths with Hamilton, adding: “I’ve tried to meet Lewis a number of times and I wish to have the chance to meet him once.
“I would say, ‘Lewis, you have been one of the greatest Champions, but what you have done for the human rights of the black community, you are the first one to do have done it and you have done it in such a dimension that I don’t know which quality [is more important].’
“If I had to put [his achievements] in order, is [activism] number one or number two? I am tempted to say number one.
“I wish, one day, I have the chance to meet him because I love the idea to tell him what I feel about it and even more what the black community feels about him. Because I know a number of Africans and they [think] he’s a fantastic ambassador for the African community.”
Reflecting on how outlooks and attitudes have shifted since his own F1 career in the 1960s and ‘70s, Ickx shared his experience of racing in South Africa in the era of segregation with few questioning whether it was the right thing to do from a moral standpoint.
“We all went to Kyalami during the grand prix. I didn’t know anybody in those days who found that totally unacceptable,” the 77-year-old said.
“Only a few people knew about it but we were going there without paying real attention to that, we were going racing and so on and luckily these things have changed.
“But maybe you have to grow up, maybe you have to be more mature but in that period of time, when the colonialism was dying slowly, only few people cared about that.
“And that included me. I was happy to go to Kyalami as life was beautiful, but I must admit I saw that there was [a separate] toilet for black people, some for the [white people] and so on.”