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Not your 'average' F1 driver - Hamilton talks fashion, friends and future

10 Sep 2015

No one can question Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One credentials - 40 Grand Prix wins, two world titles and counting. More divisive is Hamilton’s off-track persona - the clothes, the showbiz friends, the tattoos, the rich boy’s toys... Is it all about image, or just Lewis being Lewis? We sat down for an exclusive chat with the reigning world champion in search of some answers…

Q: Lewis, you are always sharply dressed, styled down to the smallest detail. The question that immediately arises is how much vanity is there inside Lewis Hamilton?

Lewis Hamilton:
Vanity? As in ‘vain’? Ha, I’ve never had that question. I am not even sure what you mean by that. So no, definitely not inside me.

Q: Then let’s try this one. Do you watch yourself in a mirror or shop window when you walk by?

LH:
Oh no.

Q: Then you would say you are not particularly vain…

LH:
Of course when I enter the paddock I am very conscious to have my cap on right - and my glasses - but otherwise I am laidback. So it is not vanity at all. It is probably more a sort of confidence and knowing that I don’t have to please anyone. I think I can pull off more things. I love fashion. And in that context yes, I would say that I take pride in my appearance - particularly as I am photographed all the time. But I want people more to know my heart - where I am coming from…

Q: But most people who see you don’t really have the chance to get to know your heart. They only see your physical appearance…

LH: …but if I dress down it doesn’t mean less heart. It is better that when I am passing by, let them look.

Q: How much time do you spend on your styling and who is defining it? Do you have a master plan on how to look and when?

LH:
I think I have a master plan! I choose all the clothes that I am wearing. I choose all my styles. But I have people who help me because I hate shopping. I have people who make me aware of what’s in. Finding your own style and being comfortable with it has really been a journey. And gradually I found my own way. And right now I am happier than ever in terms of comfort. I am more comfortable in the paddock than ever before.

Q: Who is the fashion designer you most admire?

LH:
Well, my favourite two designers are Roberto Tisci and Olivier Rousteing. Olivier - he is of my age and we sort of have a similar background - really hits my fashion nerve!

Q: Spending money on things and regretting it later - is that something that’s common for you?

LH:
Very rarely. I am very conscious of how to spend money. I think about it a lot before I buy. And when I buy I am sure.

Q: So you are no impulse shopper?

LH:
No, not at all.

Q: What is your fashion soft spot?

LH: Ha, I would say shoes. I am no chick, but I have a lot of shoes - almost any kind of shoes. I have no more space in my apartment! Yes, there are trainers that have not been touched, but that is the exception not the rule. I also love to go to fashion shows.

Q: Your race overalls are obviously still your number-one look. What is second best?

LH: Ha, difficult to say. I have so many. But one thing: the overalls could be cooler - they have been the same for so long so I wish they could be different.

Q: Go on… Now is your chance to make the case for a more stylish driver outfit!

LH: It is a sport, yes, but why not have two looks: one for the real racing, and one that we wear for public appearances - a more stylish look and less about safety. Wouldn’t that be great.

Q: If you were given the chance to design something, what would you love to design?

LH: Actually I’ve never really designed anything - I don’t know if I am good at that. But I am very good when it comes to customizing things - like cars. When I choose a car I customize it for me and in doing so I push the people into doing creative things that they’ve never done before. I ordered a motorbike from MV Agusta. They had never changed the shock (absorber) colour - and I had them redo the shock colour and now they use my version. Or when I customized the plane - usually they have 46 inch seats, but they do have 50 inch seats in the (Bombardier) Global - and now they do it because I gave them that idea. Yes, these are small details, but I do give a lot of time to details. And products get better. I would not say I am out there to design jeans or clothing, as I have never tried, so I don’t know if I would be spectacular at that. But when it comes to customizing things I am right there!

Q: Tattoos: have you ever regretted one?

LH:
No, I have none that I regret. I love every single one of my tattoos. The one that I got very recently is my favourite - the eagle. I got it again at Bang Bang in New York.

Q: Many of your tattoos have religious motifs. Are you religious?

LH:
Yes, very much so.

Q: Beyonce Knowles famously said that she is so lucky in life because of her grandmother’s and mother’s prayers. Who prayed for you?

LH:
I don’t know. I went to a catholic school, went to church a lot when I was young, and I go to church now - as many Sundays as I can, sometimes even on a Wednesday. And I pray every day. So I don’t think anyone must be praying for me. I think God gave me a good start in life.

Q: It seems that every free minute you have you spend in the company of artists or fashion folk and Hollywood celebrities. Is that where your social home is?

LH:
My social home? I have a lot of music friends, but in the end my best friends are those I have from school, some 20 odd years ago. We try to get together as often as we can.

Q: Is the Hollywood showbiz set a place where you learn? How they represent themselves?

LH: I don’t look at Americans on how they represent themselves. If there is something we could learn - or not exactly learn, but absorb - it’s that America is great at putting on sports. They make it big - more like a festival than a sole sports event. But otherwise, no. The way I am is the way my dad has brought me up. My dad was incredibly professional. He would always bang on at me to be professional. I have inherited that from him.

Q: You are a global citizen, but do you have a particular city that inspires you?

LH: Definitely - but not only one! Everyone loves Paris - so do I. And Tokyo is one of my favourites. My top three: Paris, New York and Tokyo. You can take a lot of inspiration from these places.

Q: But if you were to think of settling somewhere after your F1 career, where would that be?

LH: I used to think in the Caribbean. I love the Caribbean. So most likely it would be the Caribbean. I think that life would get quite a lot slower there. But I also think about a place where on one hand you have the hustle and bustle of a big city and then on the other hand you have the beach - and then immediately Los Angeles springs to mind. But in the end I don’t think that I want to live there - so why not Hawaii? I think I might retire to Hawaii! Yes, it is a long way away from everything else, but I guess it would be worth it. No family visits too often! (laughs)

Q: How do you manage to live two lives at the same time: the race driver and the social butterfly?

LH: That is not easy, believe me.

Q: Then where do you take your energy from?

LH: I don’t know, but I do have a lot of energy…

Q: Do you sleep a lot or are you one of these lucky people who are satisfied with five hours?

LH: I don’t sleep a lot. Five hours is okay - but I would take more if I could get it. But in reality I don’t sleep a huge amount. But the energy level in me is very high. I always have some sort of feeling that I am missing something. That’s why I get up early. I get a lot of energy from the people around me. There are so many things I extract energy from. But the longer you are in this job the more you have to learn to balance energy. It comes naturally to me.

Q: You read that Lewis is here, Lewis is there - and sometimes you read that Lewis is at a race…

LH: Ha, yeah. Who said that you only should do one thing in life? That you are in one box and that is the only box for you? People tend to put people in that position - you are a Formula One driver only and that there is nothing else left and right. Like with Kanye West: you are a rapper and nothing else. But then people camp in front of the shop that sells his trainers! These shoes were gone in seconds. I love that concept - and I am inspired by that. It helps me being open to more opportunities - to be in more than one box. I want to be at least in two boxes!

Q: Who is the most important person in your life?

LH: Me personally, I come first. Then my family - my mum, my dad. I think your mum always comes first. Not that she is more important than your dad, but mum is the comfort zone.

Q: If you weren’t racing, what else would you do?

LH: When I was a kid there was nothing other than racing. Just racing. But it could have gone so many ways. I could have become a completely different character. Who knows, I could have been in trouble! I also could have been in a band. But in the end I have always been very sporty so, I definitely would have tried to do something there. And, of course, music was always something that I wanted to do.

Q: Are you talented?

LH: Musically?

Q: Yes.

LH: You might find out at some stage! Well, Formula One is what I am best at. That is where my natural ability is. And if I thought about becoming professional in anything else I would have to work one hundred times harder to be as good as I am in this sport. You know what I mean? But that’s not to say that you only have one talent. You have many talents and it is just a question of how much work and effort you put into it. It is just like building up muscles. My racing muscles I have been working on for 23 years - but in other areas I would have to learn to strengthen ‘muscles’ again!

Q: How big a part does winning this year’s championship play in your future life plans? More titles means more fame…

LH: I am at a point in my life where I know that I have a certain amount of years left in Formula One and I am conscious of what will be beyond that. I look at people like Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and David Beckham - sports stars who have continued to rise beyond their active careers and created businesses and futures for themselves beyond sport. Now I am in a phase where I am trying to build foundations to be able to do the same. In terms of winning this championship, I don’t know what effect it would have on my future life. What I do know is that it’s been my desire since I was a kid to emulate Ayrton Senna - to get these three world championships. That was always my target. If I get these three titles, that would be fantastic. If I think it over, it actually has to be at least three! That is what I am working on.

Q: Would you let anybody stand in your way of that elusive third title?

LH: I don’t let anybody stand in my way, ever. The only person who could get in my way is myself - and I won’t allow that!

Main image: © Sutton Images. All other images: © Lewis Hamilton