(REUTERS) - Lewis Hamilton dedicated his superlative Belgian Grand Prix pole position lap to "superhero" Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther film star who died after a four-year battle with colon cancer on Friday.
"A superhero died last night," Hamilton, the sport's only Black driver told reporters on Saturday (Aug 29) after storming to pole in his Mercedes with the fastest lap ever recorded around the Spa-Francorchamps track.
"That was really weighing heavy on me today." Boseman's work celebrated African-American pioneers and culture.
His best-known role - King T'Challa and his crime-fighting alter ego Black Panther - came in the first major studio-backed superhero movie with a mainly African-American cast.
The second-highest grossing movie worldwide in 2018, it was hailed as a milestone for racial diversity.
"I remember when I was a kid, Superman was the hero," said Hamilton, himself a vocal advocate of diversity and racial equality since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
"He didn't look like me but I still thought Superman was the greatest. So when Chad became a superhero in Wakanda it was such a special day for so many people," added Hamilton, who met Boseman on a few occasions.
"To see the first Black superhero come out… ah, man, everyone was just so proud.
"I can imagine a young Black kid looking up and seeing that it's possible to be a superhero now." Hamilton, on 88 career victories, could overhaul Michael Schumacher's 91 wins this year and become, statistically, the greatest driver in F1 history.
It has left Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff recognising parallels between Hamilton and the inspirational roles, played both on and off film, by Boseman.
"I think definitely Lewis has the possibility of becoming the greatest champion in Formula One," said the Austrian.
"He is very much carrying that energy and also the responsibility that he wants to continue to be a role model and an inspiration for the many other people that look up to him."