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How Formula 1's Lewis Hamilton Became Part Owner of the Denver Broncos

Formula 1 superstar Lewis Hamilton and Starbucks chair Mellody Hobson have been friends for over a decade.
Formula 1 superstar Lewis Hamilton and Starbucks chair Mellody Hobson have been friends for over a decade. Netflix via YouTube/Starbucks
When Formula 1 superstar Lewis Hamilton joined the Walton-Penner group, which won the bidding war for the Denver Broncos, plenty of fans were puzzled. After all, Hamilton is a Brit whose love of football is rooted in what Americans call soccer, as opposed to the variation played by Russell Wilson and company.

The cover story about Hamilton in the September issue of Vanity Fair solves that mystery by going into detail about his close connection with Mellody Hobson, the co-CEO of Ariel Investments and board chair for Starbucks, who preceded the driver as a member of the Walton-Penner Group, as well as her famous husband, Star Wars creator George Lucas. Additionally, the article, penned by Chris Heath, reveals Hamilton's friendship with a true NFL icon.

Unfortunately, that icon is Tom Brady, arguably the most despised opponent in Broncos history.

Heath's piece was completed prior to the announcement of Hamilton's participation in the Walton-Penner group amid a push to diversify the ownership collective; Hamilton, Hobson and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are Black. However, Hobson is described as a "soon-to-be part owner of the Denver Broncos," and she's quoted at length in the context of a recent career crisis experienced by Hamilton and the way he dealt with it.

On December 12, 2021, Hamilton and one of his chief rivals, Max Verstappen, were tied in points for the Formula 1 championship, with the victor to be determined by whoever finished ahead in the season's final race, staged in Abu Dhabi. But as the contest was near its conclusion, Hamilton experienced trouble with his car, and while he still was positioned to come out on top, a weird ruling by a race official that was subsequently characterized as "human error" allowed Verstappen to emerge triumphant.

Little did Hamilton know that Hobson and Lucas, a huge motor-sports fan (his 1973 commercial breakthrough, American Graffiti, climaxes with a drag race, and multiple Star Wars sequences, including the speeder chase in 1983's Return of the Jedi, hint at his love of Formula 1), had traveled to Abu Dhabi for the competition. The reason for their presence was Hamilton, whom Hobson had first met when Lucas took her to the 2007 Monaco Grand Prix and told her about "a rookie Black driver" who had "just broken into the top ranks for the first time in the sport's seventy-year history." Hamilton describes Hobson as "a big sister, a mentor, and generally, 'one of the most inspiring women I've ever met in my life,'" as well as someone who can relate to being among "'the first and only one' to achieve what they've achieved."

"We've bonded over that," Hobson told Vanity Fair. "I remember he gave this interview with Gayle King on the CBS morning show a couple of years ago, and he said, 'Being the first and only Black anything is a proud and lonely walk.' And I literally stopped. I had chills and sort of welled up. I knew exactly: proud and lonely...it's how it feels."

Hobson describes Hamilton after the decision went against him in the Abu Dhabi race as "stunned. Like shock. He's asking the same question over and over again. 'What happened?' I grabbed him by both shoulders. I was like, 'You did everything right.' I kept saying that to him. I said, 'It wasn't you. You did everything right.' And he just literally said, like four or five times: 'What happened?'"

Hamilton also apologized to Hobson for the long trip she and Lucas had made only to see him fall short. Her response: "That's why we came — in case you lost. We didn't come in case you won."

Instead of erupting in a rage over the official's ruling, Hamilton reacted with incredible grace, keeping his anger and confusion to himself, prompting Lucas to say: "Heroes are bigger than champions. Lewis just earned hero status."

"It's very, very surreal to grow up watching Star Wars and have Yoda's dad say very positive things about you," Hamilton told Vanity Fair. He agreed to spend the holidays with the couple in the Caribbean, and Hobson was among those who counseled him against retiring in protest over what went down. As she recalled, "I just kept telling him things like: We make no decisions in times of great anguish or pain. You have to just sit with this, and it's going to be hard and uncomfortable. But there's nothing to be done at this moment. So do nothing."

In the end, Hamilton returned to Formula 1, and even though, at the age of 37, he's old for a top-flight driver, he's thinking about extending his contract with Mercedes, his racing team, beyond its current expiration date of next year.

If he does, Brady will be cheering him on. "I think he's an artist," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback said to Vanity Fair. "I think when he sees the racetrack, he sees it different than everyone else does. Like any great athlete, you have your unique way of doing things — everyone else looks at something one way and you look at it a different way. And you create strategies and you execute under pressure in ways that other people can't."

Yes, this quote suggests that Brady is talking about himself as much as Hamilton, and that won't endear him to Broncos boosters. But luckily for Hamilton, Denver doesn't play the Bucs this season, so he won't suffer from torn loyalties now that he owns a piece of the Broncos.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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