By Gabriel Araujo
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Sao Paulo’s Interlagos circuit has become a stronghold for fans of seven times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and honorary Brazilian citizenship has made him even more of a ‘local’ hero.
The 37-year-old Briton received the honour from the lower house of parliament this month as congressmen highlighted his deep connection with the country where he won his first title in 2008.
That grew after his remarkable performance at Interlagos in 2021 when the Mercedes driver unfurled the Brazilian flag and took it onto the podium after one of his greatest races to victory.
Since his arrival this week in Brazil, which has not had a driver competing regularly in F1 since 2017, Hamilton has visited the Congress in Brasilia, a slum in Rio de Janeiro and a public school in Sao Paulo.
An outspoken defender of equal rights and campaigner for diversity, Hamilton has also regularly voiced his love for the South American nation.
“I want to learn more about the country, I want to learn more about its people,” he told reporters ahead of Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix, while also trying to speak a few words in Portuguese.
Hamilton’s remarks have further pleased his already large fan base in Sao Paulo and even the head of the state’s executive branch said he would be cheering for him this weekend.
“He has captivated Brazilians like me, who see Hamilton as someone who uses his fame for the fair causes of the world,” Governor Rodrigo Garcia told Reuters on Saturday.
The Briton, knighted by his own country, has won three times at Interlagos and in 2008 pipped local favourite Felipe Massa to the championship after the Brazilian had won the race.
Hamilton also holds late Brazilian triple world champion Ayrton Senna as his boyhood idol.
Senna, who died at Imola in 1994, remains one of Brazil’s greatest sporting heroes with a new and shining 3.5 metre high statue on display at the circuit this weekend.
Street vendors outside the circuit are selling blue Senna caps along with black Mercedes ones.
“He’s a pretty good driver and almost like one of us, a Senna supporter,” said Adailton Nascimento, 50, who arrived at Interlagos sporting a Mercedes T-shirt to support Hamilton after travelling more than 1,500 km (932 miles) from the centre-western town of Cuiaba.
Andrea Borges, a 43-year-old lawyer, said she was cheering Hamilton even more now he had been made an honorary citizen.
“What he’s done last year (with the Brazilian flag) was incredible,” she said. “Having him as an honorary citizen is incredible — not just because of the driver he is, but also for everything he stands up for.”
(Reporting by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Ken Ferris)