Lewis Hamilton: An F1 street race in Beijing ‘would be epic’

When it comes to racing, Lewis Hamilton likes to do his talking on the track.

But the three-time Formula One world champion, known for his aggressive driving style, isn’t afraid to voice his opinions about the sport’s future direction.

Speaking candidly ahead of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix, Hamilton floated the idea of F1 taking to the streets of the Chinese capital, Beijing.

“I think Formula One has so much space to grow in different places … we need a street circuit here in Beijing, for example — that would be epic,” Hamilton told CNN.

“There’s such a huge following out here and it has more chance to grow out here,” he adds. “So that’s what I’m hoping for in the future. I hope whilst I’m in Formula One that is something that happens.”

The Shanghai International Circuit has hosted F1 since 2004 and has become a favorite stop-off on the calendar.

The Herman Tilke-designed track, shaped like the Chinese character shàng, combines sweeping corners with a 1.2-kilometer straight — one of the longest in F1.

The circuit is popular with drivers but so too is the warmth of the welcome from a relatively new F1 audience.

With hoards of young Asians flocking to the pit lane for Thursday’s autograph session, drivers get the rock-star treatment from fans eager to get a glimpse of their heroes or snatch a selfie.

For Hamilton, who boasts a combined following of 12 million on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the digital connection with fans is important.

It’s also a central mission for new owners, Liberty Media as it looks to attract more millennial viewers.

“You’re going to see Formula One be more proactive and a little bit edgier than it has been historically in driving celebrity and athlete personality,” Sean Bratches, head of commercial operations told CNN in February.

“One of the things we are looking to do in the digital space is to elevate the personalities of the drivers.”

Things are already on the move with teams and drivers granted more freedom to share videos and photos during race weekends.

“You’ve got to show more character,” Hamilton says. “It’s very important when you’re out the car that you somehow are able to show your face because people are not able to see it when you’ve got a helmet on.”

‘Wheel-to-wheel racing’

The 32-year-old, who has 53 race wins to date, would also like to see a return to more competitive races — his Mercedes team won 51 out of 59 races from 2014-2016.

“We need Formula One to be much closer and I think in 10 years’ time that’s somehow where Formula One needs to be,” he says.

“It can be technical, it can be as advanced as it is today … but it’s got to be wheel-to-wheel. Close, close, heavy racing that keeps you even more on the edge of your seat than you are now.”

One suspects that Hamilton won’t be worrying too much if he coasts to victory in Sunday’s race. But with a resurgent Ferrari team fresh from victory in Australia already nipping at his heels and Red Bull not far behind, his dreams are, perhaps, fast becoming a reality.

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