CEO’s November Message – Hugh Chambers

Monday 23 November 2020

Success at the very highest level of sport is always hard to achieve. Name your sport and your discipline – from badminton to boxing, skiing to surfing, we have all heard the stories of the battles against the odds, the 10,000 hours of practice and self-sacrifice, as well as the pure singled-minded determination to keep on coming back again and again to produce ever greater achievements.

Here we are in November 2020, rising in unison to applaud our seven-time Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, who has reached glorious new heights, reset the bar and shows no sign of stopping there. And at the same time, we are looking back 25 years to an event that still resonates around the world – the crowning of Colin McRae as the WRC World Champion of 1995. It would be Colin’s only drivers’ title, and yet his legacy lives on undimmed, a true star.

I had the good fortune to work with Colin, as well as his World Champion peers, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg, and through that observed something of their makeup. Later on, in F1 I worked with Jacques Villeneuve at B. A. R and Jenson who was still several years away from his title winning year. They all had something in common, in that they didn’t accept the conventional view of the world and were not afraid to upset a few people in their mission to succeed.

Their method of execution was wide ranging, from the genial humour of Petter to the louche indifference of Jacques – but they all firmly believed that there was no one better than them at driving that car on that day. These drivers also have one other common measure – they were world champions but once – and without doubt most deserving of more crowns, with Colin probably top of my list.

To win for the first time must be a relief, but it spurs one on to reach that nirvana once more so that same win can also be agonising. At the risk of stating the obvious, you may well be the best athlete in a given sport, but you still have to beat the others. Doing that when you have a target on your back is even more difficult – and when it is perceived that you have the best car, an uncomfortable psychological catch-22.

For me the mark of greatness, beyond the statistics of wins and championships, is the display of resolve and commitment that is needed to keep striving for better when you have already won so much. “If anyone sees me go near a boat, you’ve got my permission to shoot me,” Sir Steve Redgrave famously declared after winning his fourth Olympic gold in 1996, and then went on to win another one in Sydney four long years later. I got to know Steve quite well during the Olympic programme in 2008-12 and he always had this agitated state that there was more to be done and things to be achieved.

Listening to Lewis on BBC Breakfast as he reflected briefly on his record-breaking year and thanking all around who have helped him, his eyes really lit up at the thought of the future. He clearly plans to be racing again next year, and with the same gritty determination that has signified his career to date; who would bet against him taking an eighth title?

And yet one feels that for Lewis racing is but one chapter in the book, with a lifetime of other off-track achievements yet to come. There is no doubt his efforts are being recognised and applauded – being named the most influential black person in the UK, topping The Powerlist 2021. We are truly fortunate to have an ambassador for Britain who has the ambition to use his reach and influence to make change for the better.

Whilst Lewis grabs the global headlines, we have much more to celebrate right through the ranks of the sport, including new World Champions in Junior Karting with Freddie Slater, and in Senior Karting with Callum Bradshaw. Whilst in the World Endurance Championship Mike Conway lifted the crown with his teammates; and the British engineered Aston Martins led the field after taking victory at Le Mans.

And we have one more major FIA title to decide in the form of the World Rally Championship. With one round to go, starting on the 3rd December, we have a nail-biting finish with our own Elfyn Evans holding a 14-point lead over Sébastien Ogier – a man with six WRC titles and, rather like Lewis, an unquenchable thirst for more.

Let’s hope Elfyn can complete the 2020 clean sweep of CIK, WEC, F1 and WRC for Britain. Of course, all of these extraordinary achievements have been played out against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic, and it is not over yet. It is the resilience of the UK motorsport community that not only produces more World Champions than any other country globally, but also has the determination to keep the sport running and growing.

There are early signs to be optimistic for next year, and we will do all that we can to get us up and running and competing safely and securely. For the remainder of 2020, I hope that you and your families stay safe and healthy, and that we can all look forward to seeing friends and family before too long. Take care.

Best wishes,

Hugh Chambers

CEO, Motorsport UK