SHARP & Mercedes-AMG
Within the constraints of motorsport, to be a maverick presents its own share of challenges. How does one act independently, or behave differently than the usual or expected way, all while following the guidelines of a particular racing league or circuit? But, it is challenging the status quo and applying a maverick mindset, that sets winning racers ahead of the pack, allowing them to adapt, surprise, and most importantly get ahead of their competitors. The maverick mindset is apparent at Mercedes-AMG, a brand built upon a passion and obsession to innovate, and drive performance.
So, ahead of this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, Mercedes-AMG presented a “Mavericks of Motorsport” panel discussion with Canadian racecar drivers, Demi Chalkias and Marc Lafleur, alongside Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team Driver, Lewis Hamilton. The panel discussion aimed to highlight how these mavericks of motorsport are pushing boundaries on and off the track.
Sir Lewis Hamilton is a seven-time F1 champion — six of those won driving for Mercedes — and Demi Chalkias and Marc Lafleur are both past winners of the Pirelli Sprint GT3 championship. Hosted by Kayla Grey, the trio defined their maverick spirit and mentality, illustrated how it fueled milestones within and outside of motorsport, demonstrated the influence of technology and innovation on their achievements, and discussed the importance of diversity and inclusion within motorsport and beyond.
“I’ve always just been a risk taker,” Hamilton said, “I was always in trouble at school just because I always went against the grain. I don’t take orders very well. When I did join the team, Niki Lauda, who god rest his soul, was a great, great friend… he didn’t really say a lot of good things about me. But we sat in the room and started talking. He’s like, ‘Oh, there’s so many similarities between us. You’re very, very much like me.’ I was like, ‘No shit, I’m a driver.’ I want to win.”
From its founding, AMG has long been the brand for those who tear up the rulebook. When parent company Mercedes cancelled all motorsport activities in the 1960s, engineers Hans Werner Auftect (A) and Ehardt Melcher (M) continued development of racing engines in Aufrecht’s hometown of Großaspach (G). That engine went on to win ten races handily, and AMG soon made a name for itself for both championship-winning racing machines and ferociously quick F1 cars.
Formula One is of course the pinnacle of the brand’s motorsport activities, but AMGs compete at multiple levels. In the Canadian Automobile Sport Club (CASC) GT3 series, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 bristles with aerodynamics and horsepower, the brutish 6.3L V8 under its hood capable of producing 550-700 hp.
“Being a Maverick, it definitely means carving your own path, being the first to do something,” said racer Demi Chalkias, the first woman to win a CASC GT3 championship.
“I was the only woman in my racing series when I started. I was the only female to win the championships that I have. I was the first female to race in the series that I have. I’m still the only female in my class that’s competing and I’m in contention for my third championship there.”
Being a pioneering female racing driver was far from easy. Chalkias ended up dropping out of university to chase her passion, waiting tables to make ends meet. “Seven days a week, I was washing my work uniforms in the back sink of the restaurants, because I didn’t even have time to do laundry.
“I’m hoping that through my journey, I’m creating somewhat of a blueprint,” Chalkias added, “I have a niece who’s go karting and I think of her often when I’m doing this. And it’s carving that path for her and for everyone alike that’s coming through.”
Chalkias also works as a coach with those new to the racing circuit, including entrepreneur and CASC 2022 GT3 rookie of the year Marc Lafleur. Lafleur came to motorsport recently at the age of 31, but his previous success in breaking down barriers in the business world helped carry him to the championship in 2022.
“If you want to accomplish great things, you’re going to have to blaze your own trail,” Lafleur said. “We live in a world now where it’s kind of like, this is what you should do. This is how you should live life. And if you do that, you’re going to accomplish normal things. But if you want to do something great, you have to break the rules.”
Lafleur founded and grew an e-commerce platform in 2016, selling it in 2021 for $16.7M. That journey didn’t happen without mistakes and failures. “I’m honestly just as proud of my failures as I am my successes… failure was just one of the chess moves that you made your way to finishing the game.”
As Hamilton joined the discussion, Lafleur was also quick to note the F1 champion’s huge influence in increasing diversity in motorsport. “Without what you’ve been doing and with Mercedes, I don’t think you’d be in a situation where you have two black men and two women on a panel on a platform like this. There’s still a long way to go.”
For his part, Hamilton was quick to shrug off the maverick label, but emphasized the priority he places on using his platform and influence to drive change. “Ultimately, for me, I don’t really care to be remembered as the greatest or one of the greatest in my sport. I feel more passionate about being able to look back at the sport in 10-20 years and see that it is more diverse, more accepting, more inclusive.”
He did nod to his role as someone who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes. “There’s a lot of work. But if you see at Mercedes, we’ve got the LGBTQ flag on our car as a star, I have that on my helmet. Wearing that in Saudi, woo, I didn’t know if I was going to get out.”
“I know everyone says that it’s kind of cliche, but I kind of liked this whole idea of a ripple effect. You look at a river and you drop a pebble and you create the ripple effect. That’s a part of my job, I think,” he added, “That’s part of my purpose here.”