In collaboration with Police
It’s tough to be an elite athlete, constantly being judged against your peers.
Having every little detail of your personal life scrutinised in case it is affecting your performance.
It’s probably even tougher when there are only 19 other people doing what you do, and you’re the only one representing the black community in a very white-male-dominated world. But that’s what Lewis Hamilton has been doing since 2007, and through the ups and downs he has turned himself into the most successful Formula 1 driver ever, and stands on the verge of setting new records this year.
His record-breaking 92nd grand prix victory and record-equalling seventh drivers’ championship came in a year where so much had to change. The world was locked down, projects were put on hold and just to compete in F1 required almost total isolation from wider society even as the situation was temporarily easing last summer. But even though Hamilton couldn’t give as much time and focus to other interests such as his Tommy Hilfiger fashion line in person, he doesn’t necessarily want a return to the way things were.
“I wouldn’t want the world to go back to exactly what it was because we need to see changes in so many areas,” Hamilton says. “I think for me what I am aware of, and I am sure of you guys, if you have parents around, you know that the most valuable thing we have is time. Utilising the time, naturally we all are chasing dreams, working crazy hours and trying to achieve something but the most important thing is the memories that you are able to create.
“So I don’t know, striking the right balance, I think in the past for sure, I remember being workaholic, and just that was all I did. There was only a few memory-making moments through the year with the people that matter most to me. And for sure, I want to strike a balance of doing more in the future with that whilst continue to do things I am passionate about.”
“I want to strike a balance of doing more in the future with that whilst continue to do things I am passionate about”
One of those things he is passionate about is fashion. And far from a personal indulgence, Hamilton struck up a collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger in 2018 that has so far featured five collections and stays true to Hamilton’s desire to have a positive impact on the world to offset his racing exploits. Nearly 80% of the latest Fall/Winter 2020 line features organic or recycled materials, as Hamilton targets a fully sustainable collection in the near future. He’s very hands-on in his approach to his Tommy collaboration, which takes time and effort, and even saw him criticised by many within F1 for flying to New York between races in Italy and Singapore for the 2018 launch. But he showed up in Singapore and produced one of the greatest qualifying laps ever seen to take pole position and win the race, further fuelling his motivation to prove people wrong and keep forging his own path.
“I think when I got into this sport it was definitely frowned upon by many – ‘he’s over here distracted by these things…’ And I can tell you it’s not been easy to do those the other things and arrive and do the lap like I did in Singapore but only I know what’s right for me and I felt this is what’s right for me and I usually follow my heart.
“I knew that the things that I was doing I was passionate about, and I was getting energy from it. And it felt great. Of course it felt special to then turn up in a place like Singapore and produce performances like I have. And then it opens up a door. Now I know I could continue to do that however, I have to strike a balance of still be conscious of not taking away from my performances on the track. I will never sacrifice that in future or any time.”
According to his Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, that level of performance is accessed by allowing Hamilton to be himself and not place too many restrictions upon him. Giving him that freedom requires huge trust, and Wolff says the Briton has never given him reason to doubt he can be relied upon to find the right balance between the job and his other interests.
“It was just confirming the way we work together,” Wolff says. “Accepting that he needs a certain framework to function best and we have this clear pact that you’re an adult, you know what you want, you know what makes you a better person, you know what makes you a better racing driver, and for us performance is important. I think he’s never been in breach of that.”
Like many drivers, Hamilton has multiple other interests, but he also has great opportunities as a truly global superstar who transcends his sport. That provides him with a platform that he is working to make sense of in order to use it in the best possible way.
“I love the challenge each year working with this incredible group people”
“I love what I am doing, I love the challenge each year working with this incredible group people, trying to pull out more from them, trying to pull out more from me, and I enjoy that process still so I want to continue with that.
“But it is overwhelming, as I learn more, and I try to educate myself more and try to understand this platform that I now have. And I really want to be efficient with it, I really want to be as impactful as I can with it. I look at a lot of stars, people who have had major success and then kind of fall off but become a bit irrelevant and perhaps when they were in their major stage, maybe they look back now maybe they think ‘I wish I did more with that moment’.
“So I am trying… hindsight is always a great thing, and of course we always look back and say we should do more. But I can’t change the past but what I can do is try to prepare for the future the best way I can. So yes, part of the drive I think is going to continue to be more and more understanding the impact I can have. All of these 20+ countries we go to, how could we do more to help people?
“A young kid came up to me, and after all these years, it’s still mind-blowing when someone comes up because I just feel a normal guy! I was out at the golf course and this kid comes up to me and said ‘I’m from where you are, the things you’ve posted, the things you’ve stood for have really helped me get through things this year’. And I was like ‘woah!’. And the guy was nervous, and I was like ‘Don’t be nervous man, let‘s take a picture! Thanks so much for your support.’ I really don’t take that for granted.”
That moment and impact hints at the wider reach Hamilton has had beyond being a racing driver. He was extremely vocal in calling for racial equality on a global scale as well as within F1, leading to him receiving accolades such as ‘Game Changer of the Year’ for 2020, prior to being knighted. As he embraces his passion for music as well as fashion – confirming in July that he was XNDA on the Christina Aguilera single ‘Pipe’ – he admits his ongoing F1 success actually allows him more time to put his energy into other projects.
“I don’t know how to describe myself. But I would say that there have been multiple humbling experiences this year and I do remember the feeling of not just wanting to be a sportsman. The way sportsmen and women are perceived as just doing that one thing… You know I was wondering all this winning – what does it really mean if you can’t have an impact? If you can’t help change things for the positive?
“I do all these other things now and it’s almost like in some senses whilst [racing] is my primary job and primary focus, when I am out doing those things it’s almost like this is my side job! ‘I also race and drive pretty well!’ But I try to be good at these other things.
“I don’t know what I’d say I describe myself as… I tell you, instead of ‘Sportsman of the Year’ – which is no change from before – to be ‘Game Changer’, to be received and recognised in another genre and another space, that for me is really, really special.
“Ultimately we all have values and most of us I think have good intentions and want to do something positive, and want to have some sort of impact. Whether it’s for your kids, whether it’s for your family, whether it’s for the people that you work with, whatever it may be. To have been received and welcomed on a global scale, I’m really, really grateful.
“So I don’t have title for myself, and I am not going to give myself title, but what I can say is that I am not yet at my full potential and there is more to do. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and there’s a lot more to do.”
In the past, Hamilton’s lifestyle included regularly flying around the world in his private jet to follow other interest in the small gaps between F1 races. But even before COVID-19 confined him to his motorhome at each circuit for weeks at a time, he also had a desire to learn more about the way the world was changing, and sold his jet two years ago while also reducing how often he drives his supercar collection. The likes of his Pagani Zonda, multiple Ferraris, McLaren and Shelby Cobra have been largely shunned as he tries to use electric vehicles where possible, including his own electric Mercedes-Benz EQC.
It’s not just about how Hamilton travels that he has made changes in recent years, either. The way he eats, his interest and understanding of politics, daily habits like using vegan deodorant – there are multiple areas he works hard at. He crosses those over to Formula 1, too. Hamilton cuts out plastics and only drinks water at home, and has been a driving force in his Mercedes team only stocking Jaden Smith’s responsibly-sourced Just Water in its motorhome at race weekends. Don’t expect him to stop there, either, as Hamilton believes he has learned even more about things he can do away from racing to improve his global impact.
“When I moved to veganism, learning about being more conscious about my surroundings; being more conscious of what it is that I am doing here; the reason I’m saying what it is that I am representing. I definitely think this has probably been one of the biggest years of growth for me, because I have had more time.
“In the past you’ve gone from one thing to the next, you are always trying to keep up but you are always behind – on emails, on conversations, documentaries, whatever it may be – so the learning process is just a lot different. This year I have had time to really spend time on learning, on trying to educate myself the best I can.”
“Who would have thought that at 35 years old that I would learn a lot more than perhaps I have in the past ten years?”
That time has come from Hamilton not being able to travel to the extent he usually does. He spent much of last year’s lockdown – while F1 was on hold from March to July – training in Bali, while he regularly heads to the Caribbean for Crop Over, and spent part of 2020 on Sir Phillip Green’s yacht Lionheart in Corsica. The sea is one place Hamilton likes to unwind, learning how to surf and consistently working to improve his skills. Outside activities are the basis of his free time, as his winter training takes place in Colorado at altitude, where he has the self-titled ‘MegaZone’ featuring snowmobiles and other toys. His money was originally spent on cars, planes and property, but Hamilton admits in recent years that has changed, even delaying new contract talks as he didn’t feel comfortable having a focus on his earnings when much of the world was on its knees.
“We’ve gone to places and traveled around the world, and I definitely recognise that as a youngster I was less conscious of what’s happening in the world. I wasn’t watching the news as much, I wasn’t up-to-date with things that are happening.
“This year … I feel whilst it’s been such a difficult year for so many people and there’s so many negatives that have happened to people losing jobs, businesses shutting down and people becoming homeless, and there’s so much struggle that’s happened.
“But then I like to try to look at things always as glass half full, and there’s been so many positives that I hope we will be able to take into 2021. And part of that has been this learning process.”
In going through so much learning, Hamilton admits he’s also trying to find out what comes after life as a racing driver. With residences in Colorado as well as Monaco, New York and London, he has multiple bases to launch the next part of his career from whenever he decides to move on from F1. Exactly what that future looks like right now is unclear though, even for a man who already has other business interests via his own Extreme E team and the plant-based Neat Burger restaurant chain. Neither of those ventures look like providing a similar platform to his F1 exploits, but a fashion brand or a music career just might. Either way, Hamilton has yet to identify which industry he wants to move into next.
“My drive has never been to be a star. I don’t see myself as a celebrity. I’m very, very fortunate, I’ve kind of had everything I’ve ever wanted. The thing that I really want now is more time, more special moments with those close. I want a better relationship with those that are around me, family.
“What I want to do next – that’s something that I’m working on constantly and I’m telling you it’s a really long process. Because the priority currently still is here [in F1], this is what I continue to love doing and I won’t allow my performance level to drop. I’ve got to figure out how I can continue to incrementally improve and that’s not easy at all.
“But what’s next? I think the great thing that Formula 1 has given me and this platform has given me, I pretty much can do anything I want moving forwards. But what’s shown this year and what you see is I do really care about pushing for change for people. If I can really utilise my voice and my time here to have a really positive impact, how big or small that positive impact is depends how much I work and how hard I go at it, whilst being able to do what I do in the racing space.
“When I stop this, I’m not fazed by retiring. I speak to a lot of people and they say ‘You’re a long time retired’ and I’m aware of that. So I don’t want to do it too early and I don’t want to do it too late that you’re on a bad curve and you’re going downhill. I don’t necessarily want that to happen. But I think moving forward I just want to be challenged. I’m always going to be challenging myself.
“There’s going to be some sort of business that I’m involved in, and utilising the voice that I have. Whether it’s speaking out publicly or working in the background with organisations to really move the needle in a big way and not just a little step, you know? I think I have the opportunity to do some really positive things for people out there, so it’s going to take a lot of work.”
But it’s F1 that has made him one of the richest sportsmen in the world, and allied to his huge on-track success it’s understandable Hamilton wouldn’t want to walk away from it too early. In fact, he says he’s now less likely to fully walk away at all, as 2020 provided him with the perspective to understand how he can improve the sport as a whole. As the driving force behind change in F1 last year and a trailblazer on the grid since that debut 14 years ago, Hamilton – who set up his own commission in June to try and improve the representation of black people in UK motorsport – wants to build on the momentum of the past 12 months as he feels the support of many of the drivers he races against on a Sunday afternoon.
“There was a moment that I thought that when I leave, I want to leave on top and that will be it.”
“But what I’ve realised particularly this year, is I think I have a responsibility to the F1 community for what it has helped me create to push for that change.
“If I don’t push forwards and make sure that this Hamilton Commission actually delivers, this sport is not going to be more diverse in the next 5-10 years. So I have got to stay on top of it, I’ve got to be engaged, I‘ve got to continue to keep people in their toes. And I think this year me being outspoken, whilst perhaps some people would perhaps prefer that I didn’t speak out in public and push for certain things, I think that’s my responsibility.
“Getting this sport to be more diverse in the future, I 100% believe I could be a part of that change. And keeping these conversations going is really holding people accountable, and I am not afraid of doing that naturally, as you’ve seen. But if I don’t do it, who will?
“Of course, it’s not solely my responsibility, it’s working with people and that’s why I am super grateful to see a lot of these drivers taking the knee next to me and standing alongside me. Having Seb [Vettel], I think our relationship’s gone a long way, and all of our understanding I think that is awakening this year and understanding what the issues are around us and should we need to do more – it has been really humbling to see these great stars alongside me and us as a sport.