Lewis Hamilton won a record-equalling seventh world title at the Turkish Grand Prix, but you won’t have seen a picture of him holding the championship trophy.
It remains one of the most curious aspects of F1 that the champion does not get his prize when he wins the title, something which sets the series apart from the majority of sporting competitions.
As a quick test, try and think what the F1 championship trophy looks like (it’s hard, as it is so rarely featured prominently at events) and then contrast to how quickly your mind conjures up images of other sporting trophies. The enormous Stanley Cup, the golden FIFA World Cup, the Vincent Lombardi trophy, you name it, you can picture them. Even the sight of the winner of the Masters slipping into a crisp green jacket is legendary — it is as synonymous with golf as Tiger Woods walking down a green in a red shirt on the final day of a Major.
While they all look great, they are special because we associate them with victory — they are handed out immediately after a champion has been crowned. We seem them in every picture, on every newspaper, in every tweet, in every video montage about that winning athlete or team which will ever be made from that point onwards.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for F1 and its World Drivers Championship Trophy, to give it its official name. It doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page, which is a baffling thing for the year 2020 and for a sport which is so frequently trying to make itself relevant in the modern sporting landscape.
It’s a shame, too, because it’s a beauty. A towering silver jug with gold lining, featuring the name of every champion dating back to the inaugural championship in 1950. Bar it being featured behind Hamilton in an interview he did for F1 after the Turkish GP, it was nowhere to be seen as Hamilton celebrated moving level with Schumacher’s seven world titles. That was a truly historic achievement but at no point did Hamilton get his hands on the trophy.
Here it is, for reference.
That’s Hamilton holding it in 2015 at a post-season gala, hosted by racing’s governing body, the FIA. It’s not just for F1 — trophies are handed out for numerous events under the FIA umbrella and Hamilton will receive the 2020 trophy at a similar event at the end of this year.
It’s why if you do a quick google of ‘F1 World Championship Trophy’ you will simply see people in tuxedos or suits holding it — contrast that to the human emotion you can find with a similar search of any of the trophies (or jackets) mentioned above.
The official explanation the FIA gives is that at this stage of the season there could still be protests lodged by rival teams that affect the outcome of the championship. While that’s true, the same argument isn’t applied to the presentation of podium trophies immediately after each race and before the official result has been set.
Think back to the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix. Hamilton finished that race third but was clearly set to get a penalty for his clumsy collision with Alex Albon on the final lap. He still visited the podium as protocol mandated, before visiting FIA race director Michael Masi and the stewards, where he was penalised and relegated down the order. Several hours after the TV broadcasts had ended, Carlos Sainz and McLaren took their place on the podium for a delayed celebration.
A similar incident took place at that year’s Austrian Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen had barged past Charles Leclerc on the final lap to win. Verstappen had celebrated on the podium, before both men went to see the stewards afterwards and the official result of the race hung in the balance for several hours. Verstappen kept the win, but it was strange that doubt existed when the majority of viewers had seen Verstappen celebrate with the trophy.
If anything, the post-race podium is the thing which should be delayed, given how quickly official punishments can be handed out after an event. Potentially championship-altering appeals have been rare. In 1999, Ferrari was briefly disqualified — handing Mika Hakkinen and McLaren the championship — from the penultimate race of the season, the Malaysian Grand Prix, only to be reinstated later that evening. In 2007, McLaren appealed Sauber and Williams for fuel irregularities the week after Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen had won the title — which could have altered the result of the Brazilian Grand Prix and made Lewis Hamilton champion — but it came to nothing.
While awarding a new champion his trophy immediately would be the sensible and normal thing for F1 to do, it also makes sense given one of the questions so many sports fans wrestle with — how much is success on a driver over his or her machine? To award a trophy in such a sterile environment does little to promote the driver side of that debate. It also does little to support the idea F1 and the FIA are no longer obsessed with some of the outdated traditions they have clung to for decades.
It is remarkable to look back at Hamilton’s first championship, at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, which he celebrated with his team in the paddock while the man he defeated, Felipe Massa, stood on the podium as the winner of the race. That provided one of the iconic F1 moments of the modern era, with a tearful Massa thumping his chest in front of his home crowd, because it was raw and emotional. It is in those moments athletes deserve to get their hands on the thing they have competed for.
This season, Hamilton will receive his trophy at a virtual event, streamed live by the FIA, in mid-December.