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Exclusive: Lewis Hamilton on life, celebrity and his enduring passion for racing

24 Feb 2016

Lewis Hamilton’s quest for a fourth world title began in earnest in Barcelona this week as he put Mercedes’ new F1 W07 Hybrid through its paces. In a rare quiet moment we sat down with the reigning champion for an exclusive chat about his whirlwind lifestyle, celebrity status and passion for music – as well as his ongoing rivalry with team mate Nico Rosberg and why he knows he has to raise the bar to stay in front in 2016…

Q: Lewis, even in the F1 off-season you are in the media almost daily: riding with Justin Bieber in LA, skiing in Colorado with Lindsey Vonn, sitting in the front row at the New York fashion show. Are you the only driver who understands that F1 is also part of show business?

Lewis Hamilton: Possibly, possibly. You tell me. It appears that way, right?

Q: Many of your colleagues were hiding over the winter, recharging their batteries. Don’t you need to recharge your batteries?

LH: Yes, I do. I try to find a balance in my life. Sure you need to be recharged and have full batteries for the season, and yes, the lifestyle that I live is definitely different to the other drivers. But who says that it has to be the way they are doing things? My style works perfectly for me. It is all about enjoying every moment. Maybe before you know it my Formula One career will be over and I want to make sure that I look back and can say that I lived it to the maximum, maximum, maximum! That is what I try to do. I enjoy my life. I move as much as I can - get to places and experience as many things as I can - and do my job in the best way I can.  

Q: For you, where do the sporting and show business sides of F1 racing touch?

LH: F1 is a show. Fans are fascinated by the energy of the fight. Sure, they would also like to do what we are doing, but that is of course illusion - it is a bit like watching people in space: none of us will ever go to space. So where it meets is that we are still human beings - just like them - but in a way the projection is that we are some sort of higher species. That makes it a show. A lot of beautiful girls should be here, there should be music, and bands should perform. It should be a big spectacle just like the Super Bowl. Oh my God, that is such a super cool event… 

Q: You were there?

LH: Yep, it was such a cool event.    

Q: Do you think of yourself as a celebrity?

LH: I am pretty sure - and I know a lot of celebrities - that none of them would ever say that they are a celebrity. You don’t wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say: ‘Good morning, you celebrity!’  

Q: There are surely some who do that - and our guess is that you know some of them…

LH: Maybe! (laughs) But in the end I am just a normal person who is doing something that happens to be in the spotlight. A lot depends on your own conscious decision - whether you go to a restaurant where you know you will run into media or not. And if you like the food there - you go. A lot depends on your own movements. And believe it or not I am still surprised when I see images of myself in magazines - still!

Q: When you collected your championship trophy at last year’s FIA Gala, you pointed out that you have been racing for 22 years - so 2016 will be your 23rd. Does it ever get dull?

LH: No, not really. I don’t find it dull. Yes, I am at a point in my life where I say: ‘Oh my god, 23 years is a long time’. But when people come to me asking me am I excited about it, I can’t say I don’t have the same excitement. I imagine me and racing as some sort of marriage: you have to rejuvenate it every year and make it more exciting. Some marriages are boring after 23 years, but some work - you just have to work to make it work. When I got into the car on Monday I was so excited - just like on day one of my racing career and the 23 years simply faded away. I was cheering for joy and turned on the radio so that my engineers could also hear it. I still find it so exciting. Now that I am getting older it is harder to get into shape, it is harder to keep that mental edge - that is a massive challenge.

Q: Does that mean you have to train more than before?

LH: Not more - but it is harder to train. The older you get, the harder it is to do the same things over and over. When I was a kid I was all energy. Now you are doing 20 push-ups and by number 12 you start to think: ‘Oh my God…’ It is getting harder and harder to fight your weaker self! 

Q: What does it take to make Lewis Hamilton happy?

LH: My dogs, good food, great company, great friends, family, music, kids, seeing life, feeling life. Mostly we go through life without stopping for a second to look what surrounds us. I made it a habit to do it every single day - even if it literally is one second - and absorb. There are such beautiful things to watch: when I am flying it’s the earth below me, or a beautiful beach, or a colourful bird. I take pictures in my mind.

Q: At this stage of your life, what would satisfy you more: another F1 title or a number-one song?

LH: Ha, for sure another F1 title. Still. A title lasts for a lifetime - a number-one song does not mean a lot these days. Now you have people with number-one songs who are not even talented.  

Q: So what are your musical ambitions?

LH: It is a challenge rather than a goal. I do music because I love doing it. The moment you start to take it seriously to the point of setting goals, it takes energy rather than gives energy. The moment I feel that I get serious I step back, telling myself: ‘This is just supposed to be fun’. The sport takes energy, so you need to get energy from other places - and if that other place muscles into the ‘serious department’ then you have to think twice.

Q: So there are second thoughts that music could be your ‘life after F1’?

LH: Let me say it bluntly: this here - F1 - is what I know how to do best. Yes there are also other things that I do really well, but nothing compares to that. I know that and accept it. All the other things I enjoy. Who knows, if one day my stuff is good enough you will hear it.

Q: You just mentioned that there are people out there with number-one songs and no talent…

LH: …but I don’t want to be one of those!

Q: Your fight with team mate Nico Rosberg added a lot of spice to the 2015 season. Can we hope for more of the same this year? Another ‘Lewis and Nico show’?

LH: I hope it is not purely a ‘Lewis and Nico show’ - I hope Ferrari gets involved in that show and that we will have fierce competition beyond me and Nico.

Q: What are the chances of that? You did the most laps on day one, Nico on day two - but on both days Sebastian Vettel had the fastest time…

LH: Well, that doesn’t say a lot. How much fuel did they run? What programme were they on? It’s all questions, questions. We will not have an answer until Melbourne.

Q: The much-talked-about friction between you and Nico - how much is reality and how much is media hype?

LH: It is there. But it is a small fire that everybody pours a lot of gasoline on to make it bigger. And then, of course, also me and Nico, we unintentionally pour more gasoline on to the fire depending on who is winning a race. So it is real - a real competition.

Q: Has Nico’s winning streak at the end of 2015 given you any sleepless nights? Any fears that the margin between you has become smaller and controlling him more difficult?

LH: Honestly it was good for him at the end of the year. I had good races - I got the points. I did not do the bare minimum, but I did what I needed to do to finish the year. I didn’t do what I had to do to win the championship because I already had won the championship. If you fight for the championship you have to bring that extra five or ten percent - after I had bagged the title I didn’t need that anymore. I used my energy elsewhere. But now my sole focus is again on winning the title - but Nico also has grown, so I have to accept that he is exceptionally fast and so I also have to lift my bar again. I don’t know how - but that is my goal.

Q: Mercedes start out as favourites to win both titles again. Has the car still got it? Has Lewis still got it?

LH: Difficult to say this early on. We are in the third year of this car and it feels like a constant growth - the car is better again. And that is hard to do, to make something even better that is already almost perfect. Now the question is what have the others done? Stayed the same? Improved more? Who knows!

Q: And has Lewis also still got it?

LH: Yeah. I think I still have it.

Q: So title number four is on your agenda?

LH: I am excited about the race and the fight. Mathematics is not on my mind right now.