LEWIS HAMILTON, THE ENIGMA
Lewis Hamilton does not avoid the media – but he doesn’t always open up about what he thinks, and how he feels either. But when he does, it is well worth paying attention
By LIVIO ORICCHIO and DAN KNUTSON
“SOME DAYS I am guarded and quiet,” Lewis Hamilton says. “Some days I am super open; sometimes I am shielded; sometimes I don’t want to talk.”
On this particular day Hamilton is not shielded. He wants to talk and he is super open. He opens his soul to Auto Action about a variety of subjects – not about racing but things that happen off-track such as celebrities, dealing with the media, karma, his indispensable smart phone and more.
LEWIS HAMILTON’S popularity far transcends the racing sphere. He is famous and an idol all over the world even with people who know little about motor sport and care even less about Formula 1.
How does he handle being such a huge celebrity?
“Because I don’t see it like that!” he says. “I just feel like a normal person really.”
But is he conscious that he is famous worldwide?
“I see other people and think that they are more famous,” he replies. “I say, oh, there is a famous person. If I go to an event or a fashion show or if I am walking around, I am like, there is a famous person over there! You generally forget unless you have cameras around you sometimes. If I turn up to a fashion show and all of a sudden the camera is on me, I am like, oh my God! It is very surreal. It does not feel real.
“I was at an event a while ago in New York – Women’s Fashion Week – and Taylor Swift was sitting there. I walked in and the cameras followed me, and I am like, that’s Taylor Swift! I couldn’t believe it.”
Hamilton, too, gets recognized by starstruck people just about everywhere he goes.
“I get that,” he acknowledges. “I have the same feeling with other people. And it does not quite register when other people do it to me. I don’t see it.
“I generally don’t get star struck by other people, but there are some people who I think: I really, really admire that person. I am generally cool about it, but I am like oh my God that is Will Smith! I just watched his movie yesterday. Or I just saw so and so, and I just watched her movie today.
“But when I get home to Monaco, it is just normal. Do you know what I mean? I do normal stuff. I make toast or pasta and sit watch TV and move around boxes and clean cupboards and do all the crap that everyone normally does.”
POSITIVE ENERGY AND KARMA
“I AM very much about energy – positive energy,” Hamilton says. “I am not perfect. My energy goes up on some days. I am very much a believer in energy.
“The people that I have included in my life, it is generally energy related that I sense a good energy about that person, and your relationship builds with them. I generally try to put good energy people around me.
“I love connecting people. One of the coolest things is connecting people. I like calling my friends from here and over here and connecting. I say you will love this person, and I create new relationships and then they create new relationships. I love that.”
“I believe that if I do good and I project well, and then good things will come to me. I think if you are mean and you are rude and devious and conniving, at same stage there will be karma. I believe a little bit in karma, I think things do eventually come around.”
WHAT DOES Hamilton enjoy most during a Grand Prix weekend?
“Driving,” is his natural response. “Basically it gets better and better from Friday to Saturday to Sunday. I love the races and I love qualifying. Practice is less enjoyable but I love it still. But it is not as fun as qualifying and the race.
“In the heat of the moment is when it is most precious – that is why I love those two the most. I hate Thursdays, and to get to a track on a Wednesday I really hate that also because that makes the weekend a Wednesday to Sunday weekend which I dread.”
The reason he hates Thursdays is that is a media day at the track and Hamilton, like the other drivers, does a number of interviews ranging from press conferences with a number of journalists in the room, to facing a barrage of TV cameras and TV reporters, to, as he is here, sitting down with just one or two journalists for a chat.
“I prefer interviews like this,” he reveals. “I dislike group interviews more, and I dislike TV interviews even more. I feel that I can have a conversation with you. But when I am talking to a TV camera what I say goes to thousands of people, and maybe we have a really good conversation but people will have a different opinion about it. I think people project their negativity and insecurities on to other people. So someone might be watching, and we might be having the most amazing conversation, but they are like, ahh, he is lying! Or he is this or he is that. Instead of being their higher self and just accepting that it is a good interview.”
Is Hamilton able to isolate all those things when he puts his helmet on?
“I think so,” he says. “The good thing is when you can get through a Thursday and be on a positive. So you start on a positive energy and hopefully you ride that positive wave through the day if you are lucky. But every now and then you get a curve ball and your mood shifts, and I think I said that and I should have said that. Or someone was aggressive to you. And the challenge then is to turn it back to get back to that positive. That is what I am constantly working on.
“That tool is powerful because it also affects me. If I am driving and have a bad day, the stronger I can make that tool, the faster I can get fast and the faster I can grow. I think I got to a really good place. I love driving the car. That is what I have always wanted to do.”
ON THE PHONE
ONE OF the few times Hamilton does not have his smart phone with him is when he is in the cockpit of his Formula 1 Mercedes.
“I have a lot going on,” he notes. “I like to stay busy, and I always have my phone with me because I’m touch with family and friends constantly. I like to keep conversations going with people, and also let people know that I am thinking about them even though I have not seen them for a long, long time. So I am constantly talking to friends. I have a lot of people I talk to, and then I come up with ideas.
“For example: my mum’s birthday. I wanted to send her flowers, and then I wanted to send her and her friends out to a spa, and then I had another special present that I wanted to give to her. I have things coming up in my schedule, and I am constantly adding or subtracting things. I am talking to my engineer about a couple things about our winter and what we are doing. And that is why I would be completely lost without my phone.”
There are other times when Hamilton is off the phone, including when he visits the Mercedes team base in England.
“I am generally on my phone quite a lot,” he says. “But when I am at the factory I generally don’t touch my phone because I really like to give 100 percent. When I am with my engineers I really give it a lot of focus with them.
“That is probably the one time I least use my phone. Or if I am with my family or if I am with my friends. I set a rule at dinner with my friends, for example, no matter how many of us there are, we put our phones down. The first person to pick up their phone saying, oh I have to call someone, they have to pay the bill. So the phones stay turned down and silent in the middle of the table. This is a new rule I have because nowadays everyone is like this. And I am like, dude I have not seen you for so long, who are you messaging?”
LIKES AND DISLIKES
HE’S A celebrity and very active on social media, but one aspect Hamilton dislikes about social media is the negativity.
“When I was younger I cared a lot – he wrote this, and why did he write that?” Hamilton recalls. “I felt I had to justify my actions and explain myself. But I am in a place now where I know my values, and I know who I am as a person.
“Everyone has an opinion about something. We are in a really shitty time in the world where people are judging everyone. Rather than looking at themselves and thinking what they could do better, they are looking at other people and projecting negativity. Like, that person is wearing that, but not looking at themselves and thinking about what they are doing.
“Me, I generally just focus on myself rather than judging whoever it is. People are going to have opinions. My personal feeling is that is not what is going to define me: how I carry myself; how I am to the people I love; people that I work with; to my family; how I race and approach my job with a full heart. That is for me when I am coming to the end of my life, if I have to look back and God says have you lived a good life? Have you done good? As long as I am able to say: I helped some kids; I lived life to the fullest. And whilst in general we take things for granted, I generally tried to not to take everything for granted, and I am done, I am ready.”
ONE DECADE ON
IT IS a part of Grand Prix racing folklore that Lewis Hamilton’s relationship with McLaren started when he was 11 years old.
At the time, he was an outstanding junior karter, and looked to have a bright future in the sport. But few could have conceived the level of success, and attention, he would enjoy as he grew up.
At the time he was moving through the ranks, winning titles in Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP2, he was still getting as much attention for his colour as for his on-track successes. The son of a Trinidadian father who emigrated to the UK and an English mother, the label of the ‘first black Grand Prix’ driver was warranted – but somewhat ignored the notion that other drivers had, at least in part, somewhat broken that barrier earlier.
Even as a young man, Hamilton played the publicity to his advantage.
“The way I see it, my colour is an advantage in that it’s something people talk about,” he told London’s Telegraph in 2006.
“Being the first black man doesn’t matter much to me personally, but for the sport itself it probably means quite a lot.”
It did not take long for that particular angle to lose at least some of its relevance. Hamilton hit F1 like a cyclone; on debut in Melbourne, he was third, one place behind teammate Fernando Alonso, the double World Champion hired by McLaren, clearly, with a mind that he would take the title fight to Ferrari while Hamilton was still finding his way. In the next four races, Hamilton was second; in his sixth GP start, in Canada, he won. Suddenly, being black counted for little; Hamilton was fast, and was leading the World Championship.
History records that the relationship between the drivers – more accurately, perhaps, the one between Alonso and the team – blew up in Hungary. Over the rest of a bitter season Hamilton and Alonso raced each other to the title, only to be pipped, by a single point, by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton won the title in dramatic circumstances in Brazil the following year. In his second season and a GP driver he was World Champion – and in the following seasons, finished fifth, twice, and fourth, twice, in the WRC.
After six seasons with McLaren he moved to Mercedes-Benz in 2013, replacing Michael Schumacher after his unsuccessful comeback. At the time, some of the British media portrayed the decision as mystifying; McLaren was a racing dynasty and Mercedes-Benz had struggled with what had been, in 2009, BrawnGP. Without management (Hamilton had ended his business relationship with his father) had Hamilton made a huge mistake?
At first, it appeared he might have. Lewis won one race, in Hungary, in 2013 and again finished fourth in the championship. But Mercedes was building a title-winning team. In the following two seasons, he won two more titles, and went close again last year. As if any further vindication was needed, the numbers tell the tale; in six seasons at McLaren he won 21 races. In four seasons at Mercedes he has won 32 races – and McLaren has won none.
At the same time Hamilton had become a global sporting superstar, inordinately wealthy and, for many, the most recognisable racing driver in the world.
And after a decade at the sport’s top level, he shows few signs that the appetite for success is diminishing…
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Date posted: May 25, 2017