The triple champion opens up about a philosophy that lets him balance intense work with the most incredible lifestyle
That fourth world title slipped through his fingers during a mixed-up 2016 season, but Britain’s most successful F1 superstar is serene as he heads towards his 11th season in the sport. A three-point philosophy taught by a much-missed mentor guides Lewis along a path between intense work and a life most of us can barely imagine. Forget the title blow: he’s in a great place right now – and on track, he’s still as hungry as he’s ever been
Lewis is in a good mood: happy and relaxed. Neither the intensity of a punishing grand prix schedule, nor the fact that the world title has slipped away from him, shows on his brow. He’s able to mentally compartmentalise the many aspects of his life, and so socialising does not affect his training. The late-night recording studio sessions don’t impose upon that moment he pulls down his visor and nails the throttle out of the pitlane. All the facets of his complex character fuse together in harmony.
The teacher who helped him focus his mind was the late Dr Aki Hintsa, the former McLaren doctor whose philosophy has been adopted by a number of F1 champions across the grid. Central to his teachings were three key questions: do you know who you really are? Do you know where you are going? And are you in control of your life? As you’ll discover in this forthright interview, the answer for Lewis Hamilton in all three cases is a denitive “yes”.
When he’s at a grand prix, Lewis’s paddock life is ruthlessly focused. Here he must perform at the maximum, on the limit. Each day is lled with meetings with engineers, TV crews, corporate guests, trainers, nutritionists, PR ofcers and team principals. The hours are divided into minutes and everything runs to the second. Bang on our allocated timeslot, Lewis marches over and offers his trademark rm handshake. He’s on duty, but relaxed, wearing frayed grey jeans and a crisp white top – golden medallion cross on show.
Last year was challenging. There was misfortune with his power unit and nger trouble with his starts, but he still had the pace to notch up 12 poles and 10 wins and force his teammate to ght for the title right to the nal corner of the nal race. And only then did Nico Rosberg win – by just ve points.
F1 Racing: As far as the on-track performances are concerned, 2016 wasn’t too shabby, was it? LH: It wasn’t a spectacular year to be honest, which is kinda crazy when you see that I had so many wins. It was still a successful year for the team in that we won the constructors’ championship again, but 2016 was not the greatest year for me with the drivers’ championship and my starts. But it has been a year of growth. I’m still ghting; still pushing.
F1R: It could have been so different if you hadn’t had the engine blow-up in Malaysia, which clearly affected you. And there was heartbreak and frustration when you got to Suzuka a week later. [An irate Lewis had stormed out of a media brieng with journalists on Saturday evening, and this was followed by a poor start on race day.]
LH: Yeah, absolutely. It was a very trying year and one of the most challenging years for me on a personal level with things weighing heavy on my heart. I think people take for granted that we’re wealthy and successful and make lots of money and that it’s easy, but they don’t realise how hard we work.
It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it doesn’t mean that you don’t work hard. Our engineers work incredibly hard and the weekends are the most intense – 20 incredible weekends. Formula 1 is just so technical now that you need to be…
He pauses, searching for the right turn of phrase…
F1R: On it? LH: On it. On it. On it. On it. Mentally and physically, so yeah, 2016 was up and down, but I’m glad I’m strong enough to bounce back from lots of different scenarios and I take those strengths and those positives from race to race. I genuinely leave the negatives behind and just take the positives.
It’s a familiar phrase that Lewis uses. Back in Sochi last May, F1 Racing was working on a story about why it’s wrong to hate Hamilton. We reected on the taunting and abuse he gets from so-called ‘haters’ on social media and asked him about his reaction to the hostility he receives. His answer? “I just see the positives from it, not the negative side.” It’s all about not worrying about those things you can’t control, but focusing on what makes you stronger. What gives
you energy. His faith. And, of course, his talent. It’s that combination of ability and fortitude that could enable Lewis to become, statistically, the greatest F1 driver of all time.
F1R: You have this relentless charge, and now you’ve eclipsed Alain Prost’s tally of 51 race wins. Is there anything stopping you from reaching, and beating, Michael Schumacher’s haul of 91 grand prix victories?
LH: It’s kinda crazy to think. I arrive at a track and forget those things. I forget the podiums or the wins that I have. It’s only when people remind me. Last year I was saying: “I can’t believe I have 51 wins” [placing him level with Prost] and I also can’t believe Michael had 91! Fifty-one, 91 – it’s still a long, long way away. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that. Jeez.
Last summer, F1 Racing had a rare chance to see Lewis outside the connes of his working zone. We joined him on a two-day visit to the Caribbean, where he spent time racing a variety of machinery at the Barbados Festival of Speed. That included driving a kart in the wet, something he hadn’t done for years. His good friend, former British F3 champ, Marc Hynes, remarked at the time: “I’ve never seen him so happy.” In the Caribbean, Lewis is able to be himself. He isn’t criticised for what he wears or how he behaves. It’s very different from the conservative environment of an F1 paddock.
F1R: You were super-relaxed and very happy when we saw you over in Barbados last year… LH: [Blank look] Oh, I thought you meant carnival! Yes, at the Festival of Speed. The atmosphere is totally different to a grand prix. People forget how big and inuential the islands are. It’s humbling when I go back there, and it’s cool to represent such a large group of people. And even if they don’t like me, they just say: “He’s from the islands so I’ve got to support him.”
F1R: Do you nd that F1 and the paddock environment is too conservative, too establishment, sometimes?
LH: Yes, and unfortunately it hasn’t changed over time. Hopefully, with the new owners, in the next few years they’ll bring new blood and new ideas into it. When you have a company… I’ve watched movies, I’ve read about companies, I know friends in businesses and when the head of a company isn’t doing a job – another one comes in. Or if an engineer isn’t doing a good job, another one comes in. It’s the same with drivers. But in Formula 1 all those people at the top have been the same for the past 50 fucking years! [laughs]
Who’s he referring to? Who from the 1960s is still around today? Ron Dennis, Jackie Stewart, Bernie Ecclestone, the former FIA president Max Mosley? The establishment?
LH: The ideas and approach have been the same and all of us, in our lives, we don’t welcome change. I know my elders don’t. My parents and aunties are less open to change. They say: “This is how we do it and this is how we’ve always done it.” I hope the new owners bring fresh ideas and make it more accessible for fans. That will make F1 even greater.
This question of the establishment also came up in a story we heard him tell in Barbados. It was the time he and his dad rocked up at a kart track and immediately got people’s attention. He said it was like the scene in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings, when the Jamaican bobsleigh team appear with a rusty old sleigh to the shock of the elite European runners, and everyone turns around to ask what they are doing here…
LH: I tell you, it really, really was like that. I laugh because it was just like that. We had a Vauxhall Cavalier that my dad took so much pride in and all that pride went out the window when we started racing. It’s crazy. It’s like taking care of a car, and then you have kids and there’s suddenly shite and food all over the car – you care less because your priorities have shifted. We’d turn up with a kart in the back. It was scruffy, we didn’t have any money – we pulled it out of the back and everyone was looking at us. I swear on my life, everyone was thinking: “What the hell are these people doing here?” And who would have known that out of all of them, week in, week out, I would be the one who turned up here in Formula 1.
God-given talent aside, that’s what hard work, discipline and training bring you. And when you’ve come from nothing, had no money, and you’ve worked your life to achieve your goals, you can enjoy the riches of your success. And that’s what we see Lewis doing through the prism of social media: Ski-Doo racing in the Colorado snow; holidaying on the beach in Mexico with his dogs Roscoe and Coco; hitting golf balls off the top of a mountain in New Zealand; ying to races in his red Challenger jet. Every day Lewis maximises his life, enjoying the time his faith has given him.
“LAST YEAR I WAS SAYING: ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE 51 WINS’ AND I ALSO CAN’T BELIEVE MICHAEL HAD 91! FIFTY-ONE, 91 – IT’S STILL A LONG, LONG WAY AWAY. I DON’T KNOW IF I’LL EVER GET TO THAT. JEEZ.”
F1R: We see you travelling the world, recording music, going from one event to the next. What haven’t you done yet?
LH: [His eyes light up] Loads of things! I’m sure most people would be dreading the end of their careers, but I’m actually excited. It’s like when you have kids, you can’t wait, but you can wait. Do you know what I mean? I’m like that every day. I can’t wait to have a family, but I can. I can’t wait for that next chapter in my life, but I can. I don’t want it to rush by.
I’ve had friends who passed away, and I’ve met kids who never made their sixth, tenth or 15th birthday, and they never got to kiss a girl or go on a plane. I’ve met people from so many different walks of life and I count my blessings every
“I CAN’T WAIT TO HAVE A FAMILY, BUT I CAN. I CAN’T WAIT FOR THAT NEXT CHAPTER IN MY LIFE, BUT I CAN. I DON’T WANT IT TO RUSH BY”
single day that I’m so, so, fortunate. I wasn’t born with any disabilities, I was given the opportunity to do what I love, to travel. I make the money to do whatever I want – and I can’t believe it. I want to make sure I don’t squander that.
My family worked so hard; when I get in the car, I do it for them. I can never pay them back enough. Every time I get in the car I’m representing my cousins and aunties.
He knows who he is.
I’m trying to experience as much as I can. There is so much I want to do and not enough time. That’s why I’m always on my phone. I’m planning all the time. Right now, my whole schedule for the next ten weeks is already set.
He’s in control of his life.
I’m travelling like crazy all the way, in different countries all the time. There are things I still want to do. Countries I’ve not been to. I’m trying to learn the piano, I want to learn a language – it’s on the list of things I want to do. I want to be able to speak uently to a… [inaudible]
F1R: A what? LH: A woman [laughs]! I want to read more; there are so many things. There are things I can do in my time now, which I’m doing, and things I can’t do. I have two lists – things I can do that won’t distract me in my job; and things that go on the second list for the next chapter.
He knows where he’s going.
I love discovering what those things are and I love living the life that I have. I don’t know, you don’t know, we don’t know when it’s our last day here. You hope it will be a long time off, but you could be gone like that. The most important thing is that you’ve made as many great memories as you can with all the people that you love.
Alas, time prevents us from continuing. Waiting for their slot with Lewis at the next table is another journalist, another TV crew, another photographer. Ahead of him are more questions about the lost championship; his teammate; the new tyres. But, for this brief window, we have got to nd out how Lewis thinks – how he operates.
His formative years were all about making that rst big step and getting into F1. And now he’s spent ten years in the sport. He knows what it is he wants to do in his life after F1, but, unlike his former team-mate, Nico Rosberg, you wouldn’t expect him to stop anytime soon. Despite the establishment, the politics, the media and the ‘haters’ – a force within keeps driving him forward. He lives for that moment when the ve red lights go out and he blasts away from the line – to lead the pack into the rst corner. It’s win number 41, 51… 91? And, perhaps, another title. These are the things that make Lewis Hamilton truly happy.
F1 Racing is granted a slice of Lewis’s carefully measured-out time
Lewis is in a reflective mood as he considers his faith, the past, the importance of living in the moment, and the future: “I don’t know, you don’t know, we don’t know when it’s our last day here. You hope it will be a long time off, but you could be gone like that”
Lewis in his office. He says he is always “on it, on it, on it,
on it.” But he knows there is a life beyond F1, and one he can’t wait to embrace. But he’s not ready to step away just yet
Adored by his supporters, with more than 4 million Twitter followers, Lewis hopes F1’s new owners will make the sport even more accessible to its fans