Lewis, Un­fil­tered

Automobile - - Contents - By Mac Mor­ri­son

When you reach the pin­na­cle of any sport, there will be haters—those who want to tear you down. Few com­peti­tors have had to deal with that more than For­mula 1 su­per­star Lewis Hamil­ton, who af­ter be­ing thrust into the spot­light at a young age has fought through those chal­lenges on the way to be­com­ing a four-time world cham­pion.

THE CHAR­TERED JET lands at Inyok­ern Air­port just be­fore noon on the Mon­day be­fore Christ­mas. For­mula 1 world cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton, just three weeks re­moved from the 2017 sea­son fi­nale and not two months since he clinched his fourth world ti­tle, dis­em­barks from the rented plane along with a half dozen or so friends. Fol­low­ing a cam­paign that saw him win nine races to bring his ca­reer tally to 62 (sec­ond only to Michael Schu­macher’s 91) and claim his 72nd pole po­si­tion—the all-time record ahead of Schu­macher’s 68 and the late Ayr­ton Senna’s 65— it’s a bit in­con­gru­ous to see Hamil­ton hang­ing around this small desert air­field 145 miles north­east of Los An­ge­les. For the 32-year- old Bri­ton, though, it’s the fi­nal stop on his 2017 work sched­ule af­ter fly­ing in from Los An­ge­les, where he spent sev­eral days in busi­ness meet­ings. Now, on his way to the Vail, Colorado, area, where he owns a ranch dubbed the “MEGAZONE,” his MERCEDESAMG em­ployer has re­quested he make a de­tour from be­gin­ning his va­ca­tion in order to shoot some pho­tos along­side his cham­pi­onship-win­ning race car and the com­pany’s forth­com­ing Project One hy­per­car. The com­pany of­fered us a rare chance for some one-on-one time with the driver for­mer McLaren team­mate Jen­son But­ton re­cently dubbed “the quick­est guy that has ever driven a For­mula 1 car.”

What’s the big ac­tiv­ity dur­ing your va­ca­tion?

LH: Well, the next few days, we snow­board. We do snow­mo­bil­ing. We do night paint­balling in the snow.

It’s just chill­ing out. A lot of gam­ing. We play a lot of video games, a lot of board games.

Which video games are you into?

LH: “Call of Duty.”

Not rac­ing or car-re­lated games?

LH: No, I don’t play those games much, re­ally. The one I just played this year is the new “Gran Turismo,” which is sick. It’s re­ally, re­ally f ****** good. It’s crazy to see be­cause I had the first one, and to see it de­velop and how it is to­day, it’s su­per-im­pres­sive.

I’ve got the steer­ing wheel and a pro­fes­sional seat setup where we’re go­ing to­day [in Colorado]. So we’ll have it set up, and we can play two-player. I’m ex­cited about that.

At this stage of your ca­reer, what do you think of the per­cep­tion of you as por­trayed by the tra­di­tional F1 press? You catch a lot of flak from Euro­pean me­dia for some of the things you do dur­ing your per­sonal time, like jet­ting around the world to var­i­ous events be­tween races and hang­ing out with other celebri­ties, like Justin Bieber.

LH: I think it’s al­ways been the case since I’ve been in For­mula 1. There’s al­ways been neg­a­tiv­ity, but, I mean, I gen­er­ally don’t tend to fo­cus on that. I think when I started to do these dif­fer­ent things, peo­ple def­i­nitely com­mented on it and had opin­ions about it. Then they would say [I’m] not fo­cused. It was a lot of work to kind of break the mold, break the shape of [what] peo­ple would ex­pect a rac­ing driver to be. This is a new day and age, and I’m the new. It’s not for oth­ers to de­cide what I am as a rac­ing driver. It’s for me to dis­cover and kind of watch it un­fold. I think it’s been cool be­cause I’ve been do­ing these dif­fer­ent things and then I turn up and win, so they can’t say, re­ally, any­thing. It’s just that I think we’re all a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, and we should all strive to be dif­fer­ent and shouldn’t shy away from it. But there are peo­ple in the world that tend to crawl into their shell and feel that they need to be a cer­tain way be­cause peo­ple ex­pect them to be that way.

Do you feel like you get more or less or the same amount of that crit­i­cism com­pared to in the past?

LH: I don’t know, and to be hon­est I don’t ever read the stuff. I re­ally don’t care. Zero f **** is the term that I use. I know I’ve got my clos­est peo­ple around me. I’m still close to my fam­ily. Still have the same val­ues as when I started out. Of course, peo­ple that tune in to­day, they see me at the top. They only see the suc­cess. They don’t see ev­ery­thing that I’ve done to be where I am to­day. Peo­ple def­i­nitely don’t ap­pre­ci­ate that. Some peo­ple don’t. I’m just try­ing to get in as much as I can in the time that I have whilst not los­ing per­for­mance. Then I have other things to move on to when I stop rather than be­ing stuck where I cur­rently am, which I would pre­fer not to be.

Speak­ing of other things to do, your aunt died from can­cer in 2012, and you’ve made a point be­fore about how that im­pacted you …

LH: Def­i­nitely. We all go through some ex­pe­ri­ences that … they talk about build­ing char­ac­ter and help­ing you pri­or­i­tize and re­di­rect your fo­cuses. I think for me with my aun­tie, I think it was re­ally [the case]. I mean nat­u­rally when some­one tells you on their deathbed that they had been plan­ning to do these things and then they’ve run out of time—I imag­ine how that is be­cause a lot of peo­ple do that. My mom and friends have worked day in and day out and sac­ri­ficed things for the fu­ture, and then when you run out of road, you don’t get to do those things. It was def­i­nitely sad to see that, and just in that mo­ment my aun­tie made me prom­ise I was go­ing to live life to the max and do ev­ery­thing and not hold back.

How does that man­i­fest with you?

LH: Not wait un­til I’m 40 to go ski­ing. She was like, live in the now and not ... ob­vi­ously have a bal­ance in the now and in the fu­ture, but live now, so for me that’s a mas­sive high­light. That’s what I’m go­ing to do. You just never know when ... I’m still of the mind­set you just

never know when your day is up. A best friend of ours here to­day, her friend just got a call yes­ter­day from the doc­tor say­ing that the friend only has one month to live. When that hap­pens, what are you go­ing to do? Hope­fully that doesn’t hap­pen to any of us, but it does hap­pen in the world, and ac­ci­dents hap­pen, s***. I just want to know that if [my time is] cut short that I did ev­ery­thing up un­til that point in my life that I could.

How do you man­age to do all of the globe-trot­ting and other things you do be­tween races yet still main­tain peak per­for­mance in the car?

LH: I think I’m just used to it. My friends al­ways say to me, “I don’t un­der­stand where you get the en­ergy,” be­cause I do usu­ally have a lot of en­ergy. I’m do­ing a lot of things. I think it’s re­ally about how I’m able to switch off be­tween the jobs or be­tween rac­ing. I can com­pletely com­part­men­tal­ize it, put it in the box, wait, close the drawer, wait un­til I need to fo­cus on it. It doesn’t drain me.

Is that a key point you’ve learned about hu­man per­for­mance over the years? LH: I guess it’s through trial and er­ror. I’ve put tons of time into train­ing [in the past] and then found it’s ac­tu­ally been worse for my per­for­mance if I don’t do any­thing else and only train ev­ery sin­gle day, with no other stim­u­la­tion men­tally.

I per­form worse [with that ap­proach], so then it’s just about bit by bit tak­ing it to here and di­vid­ing that 100 per­cent bat­tery life you have. Di­vid­ing it a cer­tain way across the dif­fer­ent things that you plan on do­ing. Have some re­main­ing so that you can use it for the rac­ing. Do you know what I mean?

In terms of di­vid­ing that en­ergy, how much of your down­time is spent re­view­ing data from the race­track?

LH: Yeah, yeah, that takes a lot of time. All the flights that I’m on, the long flights, I’m study­ing. When I’m in my ho­tel room, I’m study­ing. When I’m at the tracks, I’m study­ing. When I go back to the team’s fac­tory, we’ll have a meet­ing, and they’re con­stantly send­ing me files and emails re­gard­ing car setup. All these dif­fer­ent things, and we’ll go back and forth about setup, things we tested with, things that we might want to try. Then all the changes I make through the week­end. I wouldn’t say they use what I dic­tate, but I lead it. I make a gen­eral de­ci­sion in that re­spect. Mod­ern F1 teams col­lect so much data. How do you sort it all out in limited time?

LH: I have an en­gi­neer who’s got mas­sive con­fi­dence in me. He knows there are times I come in and I’m like, s***, I’ve got four op­tions of things to change. I’m not quite sure which ones they are, but this is my prob­lem, or this [other thing] is my prob­lem. Then we have that dis­cus­sion; can we use that one or that one? The ma­jor­ity of the time, for like 90 per­cent of the time, I come in and I’m like, I need this. I’ve got this un­der­stood here. Change, you know, one [mi­nor] set­ting lower or what­ever it may be. That just comes with ex­pe­ri­ence.

Grand Prix cars are in­cred­i­bly com­plex; is there one item in par­tic­u­lar you ab­so­lutely have to get right ev­ery week? LH: There’s not one point. There are so many pieces to the puz­zle that have to come to­gether. So tires are cru­cial, tire tem­per­a­ture, tire us­age is of course cru­cial. [But over­all] on-track setup is ev­ery­thing.

It’s like, if I ex­plain it like roads, you got a road that’s this length, this length, this length, and longer. You want to set the car up on the one that can go the fur­thest, ba­si­cally, in terms of po­ten­tial. You know what I mean? Some­times you go on the wrong road with the setup and you limit your­self and you just can’t take it any fur­ther. Most times you just hit a wall, but if you get on the right path for the setup, it’s a longer … this is a re­ally bad us­age of ter­mi­nol­ogy, but it’s a longer road, so you can re­ally push the car fur­ther and ex­pand more and ex­tract more from it.

Do you ever stop and look at your ca­reer, 11 years in, and think—sur­real might not be the cor­rect word here be­cause ev­ery­body’s life is sur­real in a lot of ways …

LH: Sure.

But the re­al­ity is, your stats are pil­ing up year af­ter year, and you still ap­pear to have

a long way to go be­fore you stop. Do you al­low your­self to sit and smile about this stuff now, or are you sav­ing those thoughts for when you’re fin­ished in the sport?

LH: Yeah, I think for me, I think af­ter I did the last race of 2017 and it just didn’t stop, there was no mo­ment to stop. I just had days and days and days and days of PR events. I was at the fac­tory, in the wind tun­nel look­ing at the new car, the en­gi­neers talk­ing to me about how the new car is go­ing to be. Can’t stop for a sec­ond, re­ally. Ob­vi­ously now I’ll go away to­day and these next days I’ll be off for, so I’ll be sit­ting down, but I still don’t ever—of course when we talk about it, I’m like, it’s crazy how far we’ve come.

But I don’t know. I think my am­bi­tion kind of over­shad­ows it or clouds it be­cause I’m just su­per-am­bi­tious. Done one thing. I’m mov­ing to the next thing. It’s just a tick, you know what I mean? It’s oh, wow, I’ve achieved it. It’s just now the next fo­cus. It’s re­ally, I’ve found a long-last­ing game of chess, but there are lots of check­mates along the way.

To your ear­lier point about max­i­miz­ing ev­ery day, though, you do seem to ab­sorb it as it hap­pens, yes? LH: You know I have a check­mate in lots of dif­fer­ent things, mov­ing to the next, what’s next, how can I bet­ter it? How can I grow? I’ve got so many things that I want to achieve, and the only ques­tion is—it’s not a ques­tion of if I can do it. It’s a ques­tion of time. I’m in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate to do the things that I do. Look where we are to­day.

I’m land­ing on the frick­ing plane this morn­ing, and I’m think­ing to my­self, this just doesn’t seem real. It’s lit­er­ally a frick­ing dream that I live. Be­cause grow­ing up in Steve­nage, sit­ting watch­ing a TV show with my mom and not hav­ing—we’d walk down to the bus stop to take a bus to town be­cause we didn’t have a car. It’s just crazy to think I have cars now. It still doesn’t—even for my mom when she comes and sees the things that we have, even for her it doesn’t feel—it just feels weird. I don’t think I men­tioned she had jobs and strug­gled so much. Now we do things, and it’s, I don’t know, it feels good, but it just feels very sur­real.

So that was the right word then.

LH: Ev­ery sin­gle day it feels sur­real be­cause it just doesn’t feel like it changes. I like that it does feel that way be­cause if you get used to some­thing, you get com­fort­able with some­thing, then it’s eas­ier to take things for granted. I don’t feel like my fam­ily gen­er­ally does that, so that’s all about the peo­ple around you, grounded peo­ple. [I am] very, very, very care­ful who I se­lect to be around me. I don’t have any weak-minded or neg­a­tive in­di­vid­u­als. I just get the most pos­i­tive, lovely, real peo­ple around me.

If you could talk to your­self at 10 years old and at 22 years old when you came into F1: Know­ing what you know now and what you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, what mes­sage would you de­liver to those younger ver­sions of your­self? LH: I look back at my­self, and I meet kids now that are so much more ad­vanced than I was at their age. I was very, very timid, very, very much in a co­coon when I was younger. I didn’t hang around with kids on the week­ends. I was su­per kept to my­self, quiet. Yet I was still mis­chievous and out­go­ing and [a] dare­devil. What I would just say to my­self as a young­ster and what I would like to do for my kid [one day] is ul­ti­mately, a hu­man is like a plant grow­ing, and you have to nur­ture the plant, you have to keep it wa­tered and help it grow and give it light and those kind of things. Al­low it to blos­som in its nat­u­ral form, and a lot of par­ents to­day … I’ve got cousins who are be­ing pushed by their par­ent to do soc­cer, and of­ten I think a par­ent’s job is to pro­tect, but they can also be quite re­strict­ing. Or teach­ers or what­ever, things force [kids] in an un­nat­u­ral di­rec­tion. What I’m say­ing is, for me I felt that I was held back when I was younger in terms of grow­ing as a char­ac­ter, as a kid.

Was that the system you were in, or … ?

LH: Just lots of things. It was school, it was pres­sures of not liv­ing a kid’s life—which I’m grate­ful that I went through, but I would just say I would some­how get the kid that I was and try and en­cour­age him to be brighter and grow faster. By the time I re­ally kind of grew into un­der­stand­ing who I was, I was frig­ging in my 20s, you know? There are a lot of 18-year-olds I see now or 17-year-olds who are so much more, who are al­ready there, know­ing what they want to do or know­ing who they are, what kind of char­ac­ters they are. So that’s great to see. AM

GROW­ING UP IN STEVE­NAGE, SIT­TING WITH MY MOM AND NOT HAV­ING— WE’D WALK DOWN TO THE BUS STOP TO TAKE A BUS TO TOWN BE­CAUSE WE DIDN’T HAVE A CAR. IT’S JUST CRAZY TO THINK I HAVE CARS NOW.

For­mula 1 cham­pion Lewis Hamil­ton’s rac­ing ac­com­plish­ments are among the best of all time. As for the rest, he doesn’t care what any­one thinks.

WILD LIFE Hamil­ton’s MercedesAMG du­ties in­clude as­sist­ing with devel­op­ment of the Project One. De­spite his jet-set­ting sched­ule and an im­age crit­i­cized by some, we found him to be open and en­gag­ing dur­ing our in­for­mal chat.

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