Lego’s new Speed Champions series for 2022 is pretty great across the board, and covers a wide gamut of cars — from oldies like the Ferrari 512 M prototype and Lamborghini Countach LP5000 Quattrovalvole to new stuff, like the Lotus Evija and Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Likely the most popular addition to the roster will be the Mercedes-AMG W12 E Performance, Merc’s F1 challenger from 2021, sharing a pack with the Mercedes-AMG Project One hypercar. It also comes with two minifigs, neither of whom are who you’d expect.
The F1 car pictured on the packaging wears the #44 of Lewis Hamilton’s car on its nosecone. However, Hamilton himself hasn’t been immortalized as a minifig to go with the set. Rather, there’s a pair of generic yellow minifigs in the box — a driver and mechanic — which has disappointed some fans. Outwardly it looks like Lego’s failed at pretty basic representation here, though there are some details worth noting that may explain what’s going on.
First, Lego also includes an optional #77 number plate for the W12 — you can see it in the above image — for Valtteri Bottas’ car. Lego has made F1 kits for decades now, but it doesn’t always include the appropriate drivers. Most Ferrari sets from back in the day had a generic, balaclava-covered dude, while others — usually bigger kits depicting the whole garage, or including both cars — had minifigs for both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, or Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa, complete with their actual helmet designs.
This isn’t Lego’s first Mercedes F1-licensed set, either. One came out back in 2016 with both cars, but that one also lacked Hamilton’s likeness as well as that of his then-teammate, Nico Rosberg.
Second, while it’s not clear what the terms of Lego’s agreement is with Mercedes-Benz, you’ll notice neither the Formula 1 logo nor Hamilton’s nor Bottas’ name appear on the box. Some drivers retain rights over their likenesses, so it’s quite possible here that Lego simply couldn’t or didn’t want to pay for either one. We’ve reached out to Lego for insight on that, and will update this with whatever we learn.
Now, you might wonder why Lego didn’t include a Black minifig, licensing aside, in the interest of representation and inclusivity. Which really, really matters for the toys that kids play with. But the company’s official line — one that’s drawn criticism over the years — is that it uses yellow-colored figures because yellow is a “neutral skin color” that doesn’t represent any one race or ethnic background. More lifelike skin tones are given only to “characters we didn’t create,” the company says. From Lego’s own webpage about this topic:
We want to inspire the builders of tomorrow – that means kids from all around the world! We want every one of our fans, wherever they live and whatever their own skin colour, to imagine themselves as part of the action. When we invented minifigures almost 40 years ago, we chose yellow because it’s a neutral “skin colour” – nobody in real life has bright yellow skin, so LEGO® minifigures don’t represent a specific race or ethnic background and nobody is left out.
While we’ve made some minifigures that aren’t yellow, they’re usually based on characters we didn’t create. We try to make them look just like those characters so kids can play out the story at home.
The history of minifigs and the colors Lego uses for them is surprisingly interesting and involves precisely the sort of cultural insensitivity you’d expect from a Danish company that’s been in business for more than 70 years. I have a strict “don’t link to Quora” policy when I write things, but Lego buff David Eaton — who’s explained quite a bit of Lego history on the question/answer site, it must be said — lays it out in detail here. The TL;DR is Lego actually used several different colors for its pre-minifig people before it settled on yellow, and it was really only the toy company’s deal with the NBA that ultimately forced it to reconsider things.
In short, there are probably several reasons why Lewis Hamilton isn’t included in the Lego set along with the car he drives: money, precedent, and Lego’s own need to justify a decision it made decades ago likely among them. These things are often complicated and the answers, rarely satisfying.
Update Feb. 3, 2022 at 10:40 a.m. ET: A Lego PR manager responded to our earlier query with the following explanation:
In the case of LEGO Speed Champions, the intent of the product is to celebrate the cars. The characters included add play value and role playing possibilities, and are not intended to represent any real world personalities, which is why we use yellow minifigures in Speed Champions sets.