He is among F1 racing’s biggest stars, with a social media profile that spans not just motorsport, but fashion, showbiz, music and more. No surprise then that, love him or loathe him, many people think they have a handle on Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. But do they? We caught up with the three-time champion for an exclusive chat – to put aside the racing for once and explore the man behind Formula 1’s most public persona…
Q: Lewis, since your childhood days your biggest foe was always time - fighting for tenths, hundredths, even thousandths of a second. But what does time mean for you, the private Lewis Hamilton?
Lewis Hamilton: Time is the most precious commodity. Time is what we are all running out of, what we are all running behind. Using it the best way that you can is very important to me. We all sit in traffic, wait for flights, then we go to bed and think that we have many more days to wake up – but you never know! If you think about that you could easily get depressed, so you’d best live every day as if it was your last. I see so many people who think that they’ll live forever.
Q: If you were free to spend the time your way, what would you do? If you did not have the multitude of commitments that seem to control much of your life…
LH: Actually I am pretty much in control of my time. But the best is spending time with the family. My favourite time is when I go to Colorado at the end of the year. Skiing, having the fireplace around. Wake up in the morning, have some pancakes and then go to the top of the mountain. I also love to spend time with kids. I am godfather to my friend Marc’s little boy. We have been friends for about 17 years – we spend Christmas together every year. His partner is a hair and make-up stylist. She does my hair. And when I do filming or photo shoots she does all that and takes the baby with her. I love that. I love kids and animals – they are untainted spirits. Kids are so pure before they get polluted with all these iPhones and iPads and TV – growing up to be little monsters. We are all like that!
Q: The animal side is covered by your dogs, Roscoe and Coco. When are kids on the horizon?
LH: A long way off! I have so many goals, so many things I want to do. I don’t have time. I already struggle with my dogs. I don’t have time for starting a family. I think this is a decision you have to make. If you take a circle there is only a certain space. I’d have to cut out a big chunk with what I am currently doing to fit in a family. I don’t want to do that. And I have my godson. And he is easier than my dogs. Way easier! (Laughs) And for kids you’ve got to meet the right person – not easy.
Q: Is it a lifetime goal for you, to have kids one day?
LH: I love kids, but it is not in the plan at the moment. As I said, I have so much going on and having a family would sidetrack me.
Q: Is music high on the to-do list?
LH: My to-do list is all about winning this championship. But music is a hobby of mine alongside other interests like fashion.
Q: Will we hear something soon?
LH: That was never a goal of mine when I got started – to put it out. I don’t feel there is a rush. When it is ready it is ready. I am doing new stuff and it is getting better and better. I am constantly growing. But actually I haven’t done music for a couple of months.
Q: Many have the impression that you live your life based more on gut instinct than on what your head might tell you…
LH: …no, I am living out of my heart! I do more of what I feel is right for me than what the mind says. My heart often overrules my mind.
Q: If your heart tells you to stop racing, but your brain objects and craves another title – who will win?
LH: My heart. You know when it is time to call it quits. When I think back seven or eight years, if I had stopped racing back then I would have fallen into depression because I would have nothing. Now I have so many great things going on and you all will see some of them in the next 18 or so months. The day when I eventually stop, I will have so many exciting things that are going to happen. But don’t get me wrong: I am loving driving more than ever right now with this title battle, so I can’t see it happening any time soon.
Q: You are a king of today’s ‘share all’ society. We know when you get a new tattoo, when you are snowboarding, spending time on yachts, who your fashion and showbiz friends are, etc. But despite all this information, we know almost nothing about you. You obscure your real life with thousands of social media posts. Is there a concept behind this?
LH: It is always difficult, how much you give. If you show your vulnerable side, people take advantage of it. The world is selfish. It’s a brutal world, really. If you have a good heart people are quick to try and shoot it down. I give just enough to give a glimpse of what is happening in my life. Those people who are close to me don’t have to follow social media to know. But I also see that there is a lot of love in the following – but equally a lot of hate, envy, like a disease. I don’t think that people mean to have it, but it creeps up on you. I have been in a place where I had envy, but I feel I never thought: ‘Hey, I want this, I want that!’ I am excited about many things, but there is also the negative side of that. Like [people think]: ‘I deserve that more than you…!’ I try not to show too many pictures of my plane because people get angry. Then you see Floyd Mayweather with piles of cash on the table and people love it – that is strange and weird. Maybe it is a substitute for a hole inside. I don’t know. That is why I try to be attached to the real happiness inside. Isn’t there the saying that if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it?
Q: So you are not the person who sits there watching his piggy bank getting fatter?
LH: Ha, no. But I understand that the concept of wanting more is very strong in humans.
Q: But can’t ‘more’ also be a positive thing?
LH: Of course – wanting to know more, wanting to see more. More experiences. This year I will climb Machu Picchu and go diving.
Q: Do you ever have a dull moment?
LH: Yes, I do. Sometimes when I am doing appearances, or filming. That is zero miles per hour! (Laughs) But yes, I have dull days where I am challenged mentally. When it’s a sad day and you feel like sh!t. When you think that you have not accomplished anything. There are moments when I feel that I am not moving forward. Sometimes I go to a bookstore and wish that I had read more – since I was 16 I’ve been saying the same thing! That makes almost 16 years! I wish I would continue with my piano lessons, learn languages – so many things. Then you see terrible things and wish you could help more, make a bigger change than you really can.
Q: Isn’t is also true that humans believe the resources this planet gives us are inexhaustible…
LH: …look how we treat this fantastic planet earth, how we treat the animals. We don’t have to eat meat. We have to learn to have more respect for the environment. All this pollution of the air, the killing of the seas – all that has to stop. This Hurricane Irma was a sign – and all that will happen is that they will spend six billion or whatever the figures are and go on living as if nothing had happened. No change.
Q: What do you do when you have a mentally challenging moment?
LH: I go training. To get clear. And listen to music. That takes my focus off everything. I just put my phone on. When I am running I am just searching for new songs. Sometimes I go on Apple or Spotify and go on a playlist and see the newest stuff. I grew up on reggae, then I got super focused on hip hop and nothing else. But then I started to play the guitar and realized that you can’t play any hip hop song on the guitar and that was the point when I started researching the Beatles, The Rolling Stones – a lot of rock and roll. These days I have Luciano Pavarotti on my phone, I have Jimi Hendrix – the widest range you can imagine.
Q: Your skin is kind of your ‘message board’, with all your tattoos. We all know the lion’s head, the compass, Michelangelo’s Pieta, the cross with angel’s wings – all big and powerful. Which tattoo is your most precious?
LH: ‘God is Love’. Three words say it all.
Q: You are a very privileged person, and one at the very top of your game. Yet you seem to appreciate all that – you don’t take it for granted…
LH: I take every day as a blessing. I meet so many people who are struggling. I sometimes go to hospitals seeing kids and their families going through very difficult situations. So I try not to take everything for granted. There are only 20 seats in Formula 1 – and I am at the top of the field. I have the chance to live this amazing life, see amazing things – and I don’t know why good things keep happening to me – or why a kid hardly six-years-old has a tumour in his brain. I don’t know why, so I always want to make sure I show gratitude. Without that I would get lost.
Q: When did this life philosophy of yours start to take shape? When did you start thinking the way you think today?
LH: Ha, I think it comes with age doesn’t it? But I also still have wild times. And it is good. I know people my age who are in relationships, are married, have kids and somehow have given up. I think you have to still be a free spirit. I feel I was a late bloomer! I missed a lot of my schooling when I was younger and when I came here at 22 I still was something of a kid thrown into the deep end. In my late twenties and early thirties I realized that I am making big steps forward…
Q: …and learning pretty fast! Maybe a late bloomer, but a quick learner?
LH: Yes, maybe. I am trying. But you can’t speed up the process of growth. I am learning so much about myself all the time.