F1 ace Lewis Hamilton agrees to race quadriplegic in brainwave-controlled cars

Lewis Hamilton is no stranger to racing F1 cars, with the second-highest number of Grand Prix wins ever (62) under his belt, but we doubt he’s ever experienced anything like the latest race he’s agreed to take part in.

Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) education conference in Dubai, Hamilton agreed to a race in which both he and his competitor will control their cars with just their brainwaves. 

The agreement came at the end of a session at which Hamilton was talking about what it takes to become a champion, and how to use sport to inspire young people. The panel was thrown open to questions from the audience, and Rodrigo Hübner Mendes threw down the unusual gauntlet.

Fighting disability with F1

If Mendes’ name sounds familiar, you may know him from a news story that will make the request seem a little less bizarre. In 2017 he was the first person ever to drive an F1 car using his brain. 

The car had no steering wheel, gear stick, even pedals. Not that any of those things would have made much of a difference for Mendes – he was tragically left paralyzed in his youth after being shot in the spine during a carjacking. 

He now dedicates his life to helping others, as the CEO of a non-profit charity that works to improve education for disabled people.

You can watch the video of Mendes driving the adapted car below. While the experience was clearly an exhilarating one for him, it was also a powerful demonstration of the potential for technology to transform the lives of disabled people. 

It's all made possible thanks to an EEG headset called the Emotiv Epoc+ from Emotiv, which can accurately measure your brainwave signals, and then allocate those signals to commands, allowing you to control devices using your brain.

Of course, utilizing neuroscience in this way is a major advance for disabled people, but it has applications beyond that for the control of electronic devices. While at GESF I used the commercially available version of the headset to fly a drone using my brain. 

Hamilton clearly wasn't expecting the challenge from Mendes, although he did know about Mendes' achievement and was visibly excited about meeting Mendes – and very keen on the idea of the race.

Mendes proffered that the F1 champ could drive normally, but Hamilton said he wanted to use the EEG headset. According to Olivier Oullier, president of Emotiv, another car will have to be specially created because Emotiv currently only has one, but he didn’t suggest that was going to be a problem.

It’s just a verbal agreement at the moment, so there’s still the possibility that Hamilton’s team could stop the race (we imagine insurance could be an issue) but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it happens.

Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.