Stephen Hawking has recently claimed there is no need to invoke God to explain the creation of the universe. So, who was it that had his hand over Lewis Hamilton as he skated through the gravel trap at Rivage in the Belgian Grand Prix but came out the other side, still in the lead? Lewis says it was 'The Lord'.
The belief in a divine being is in many ways a comfortable one for a racing driver to hold. It allows for a certain level of fatalism; a 'what will be, will be' attitude that might allow him to be bolder than he otherwise might if he was taking full responsibility for outcomes. You'd surely need to believe it deeply though, with every grain of your being, to enable that; to simply adopt a belief in God as an aid to making you a more effective racing driver would surely not work. The faith would need to come before, or at least be bigger, than the will to be a racing driver.
Alain Prost's big difficulty with racing against Ayrton Senna was, he says, Ayrton's apparent belief that God would always look after him. Prost believed it was this that allowed Senna to take risks that he found unacceptable. Whether Ayrton really did believe that, or whether he projected that idea as part of his armoury, is a moot point, but we shouldn't forget that he was killed in a racing car.
There was always a big disconnect between Ayrton's religious beliefs and his willingness to put the other guy - and himself - in danger if that driver had the temerity to resist him. There is no such disconnect with Hamilton who generally races aggressively but cleanly. As a 12-year-old karting kid, he was asked during an interview why he thought he was so quick. He replied that he didn't know, that he would arrive at a corner and the answer just came and he'd go with it. He gave similar replies when asked how he was so good at second-guessing what the driver he was trying to pass was going to do before he did it. These answers had the overtones of religious belief in them.
But, like Hawking's explanation of the creation of the universe, God is not required as an explanation. That's not the same as saying it isn't God; just that God is only one of a number of candidate explanations. The way Lewis feels the answer only as he arrives at the situation is surely the same way other non-religious but very gifted drivers feel.
Lewis Hamilton © Sutton
One notable point about Hamilton's approach though, is that he is very reactive; he will put himself in situations not really knowing how it's going to pan out, just feeling that somehow he will do the right thing.
This much was apparent just passengering with him in a McLaren-Mercedes SLR around a wet Silverstone last year. It had been raining hard, puddles and rivers everywhere, but the surface was changing by the lap. Yet he would just commit, then let his feel sort out the consequences. Sometimes he'd be surprised, find less grip than he was expecting, just say "whoah!" and rescue it from the edge of disaster. Yes, he was putting on a show, but watching him driving in anger, his approach looks much the same.
But does his faith really play any part in this? There's a school of thought that says so long as you believe that something is beneficial then that in itself makes it so. So if Lewis were to read Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design - out today, incidentally - would it undermine his faith and if so, would that in turn reduce his belief that he could always pull off the 'impossible'? Probably not.
Hawking attributes the creation of the universe as a natural consequence of gravity and that ours is just one of billions of universes. Could gravity also be what allowed Hamilton's escape at Rivage?
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