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Back down to business - exclusive Lewis Hamilton Q&A

25 Aug 2016

As his social media posts have shown, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has enjoyed his summer break. This weekend at Spa, however, the hard work begins once more - and for the championship leader it will be just that little bit harder, thanks to the engine change grid penalty he is set to take. In a wide ranging interview ahead of the Belgian round, we spoke to Hamilton about how he turned his 2016 season around, how he’s always been targeting a fourth world title, and how being a little eccentric can make life more fun…

Q: Lewis, for the first part of this season it didn’t look so good for you - then you turned it around again. What did it ‘not looking so good’ do to you?

Lewis Hamilton: Well, you sometimes have difficult moments in life that go down to your core - and it is there that you find your strength again to climb back out of that hole that you might be in. There are some who choose to stay in that hole, but that’s not me: I am a fighter! I wouldn’t say that I always get out of it, but I try my hardest. (laughs)

Q: Has it ever crossed your mind that you could be past your peak, physically and/or mentally? It’s surely the ultimate fear of all athletes…

LH: Never. I’ve never had that thought. I don’t know if I’ll ever have it, but right now I feel nowhere near that.

Q: But after 25 years of racing doesn’t your head need a longer holiday?

LH: Well, I live a pretty busy life. I am always occupied with something and very rarely is my mind at rest to chew on something like feeling tired - or you could also say bored. Yes, there are definitely days when I think, ‘Phew, I’ve got to pull back - just for a little bit,’ but I pull through such moments. Sure, there will be a time when I will stop and have all the time in the world, for things like playing golf. One day there will be time to waste time on a golf course. Right now it would be a pure waste of time for me - but there will surely come a time when I have that time to waste. Now, spending six hours on a golf course - and I don’t get anything from it at the moment - would be a waste. It is not every day that you go to bed feeling that you’ve achieved something, but in general I try to make sure that I maximize most of my days.

Q: Your helmet design appears to hold some sort of secret message: four red stripes and in three of them a golden star - obviously your three titles. But the fourth stripe is empty. Is that a reminder every time you put on your helmet that there is still something waiting to be done?

LH: That is true, wow. We started out with that design and over time I broke it up and suddenly I thought it would look good with a star - and then another star came, and now another star came. And then I divided it into four - and yes, probably subconsciously I divided it into four stripes and only three stars. I also like to see it as a deck of cards - right now I have three Aces and I am working on my fourth Ace. And then I go for the Kings, and so on… (Laughs)

Q: Some people might see you as being slightly eccentric. Are you?

LH: How would you define eccentric?

Q: Unusual or odd behaviour on the part of an individual…

LH: That’s nice. I like that. That’s kind of cool. That sounds like being the complete opposite of dull! I think I always knew that I have it in me since the start of my career, but then it is always a question of how much you are allowed to bloom. I was very lucky in that respect. (Laughs)

Q: Whom would you call eccentric?

LH: Well, if it is that what I think it is, then definitely Prince was eccentric, James Brown - a lot of artists. They probably have the most freedom to blossom. Yes, it also brings a lot of problems with it, with whatever experiences they are going through, but you see what they are - which I think is a good thing. Let’s add another name: Eddie Murphy. You don’t think he is eccentric? Well then think about the strange things he wears - those purple, tight leather trousers - and then saying the craziest things. Or take Karl Lagerfeld - probably not so much to the outside world, but he is hilarious. He reads tons of books and has a very paramount view on things. And then his look: if that is not iconic and eccentric I would not know what is.

Q: You have ‘star qualities’ and you mingle with others who also have them: young, successful, thirty-something global millionaires who owe everything to their own abilities. Is it there that you find an emotional home?

LH: If I think about it, yes, that’s pretty accurate. I am sure I know people who have inherited it, but the majority is people who have earned their position through their own abilities. It is probably the case that with some you share values more than with others. That goes for the artists, or fashion people, or sports people that I know. Like, for example, Serena Williams - we both owe a lot to our parents, but if you then don’t deliver you will end up nowhere. So yes, it’s our own ability that got us to where we are now.

Q: Racing has made you rich. What does money mean to you?

LH: Real wealth is love, is family, is good people, is good relationships. We all have the need for things and all money does is give you the possibility to purchase more things. For me, I always did things for the love of it. I remember my dad coming into my room when we signed for McLaren asking, ‘What kind of percentage do you want to do with me?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about - I just want to race’. Yes, it is nice to have fantastic holidays, to travel to all these beautiful, different places - and if I didn’t have enough money I couldn’t do all these things - so yes, money has a certain importance, but it is not the important thing in life.

Q: What about saving for the rainy days? Are you making ‘wise’ investments?

LH: First of all, I would hate to have been saving for, let’s say, when I am 50 and then not making it to 50, not having enjoyed life. (Laughs) So I live my life - a really good life! I don’t need more - I am not using all my money, but I am also not saving every single penny.

Q: It shows…

LH: …but I invest in things that I know.

Q: Like what?

LH: Cars. I invest in property and some art. I invest in my music, which is what I love. I have never lost money.

Q: We have seen lately that you don’t take defeat without emotion. What forces are working within you when you get beaten?

LH: Honestly, I have always believed that I am emotional with my heart and my sleeve. I probably didn’t have as much control over my emotions when I first started, but now I do. I just channel it. But naturally it depends on what scenario you are facing. It is always a painful experience as you put your heart in what you do - and what you love - and when you do not succeed due to your failure, even if you had practised, it’s gut wrenching. And if then something happens with the car, it is an unfortunate and sad moment. But you move forward and put all that negative energy into positive energy towards the next race. And since then I have won every single race.

Q: Coming to this weekend, from your nine Spa starts you’ve had two victories and you were stripped of a third, while your team mate Nico Rosberg has never won here. Is that a good sign that you will extend your lead in the standings here, or will your engine penalty scupper that?

LH: So you have looked it up - people usually try to speak with me about two wins here! (Laughs) And that Nico has never won here doesn’t make any difference to me - what he has or has not achieved has no impact on me. He is quick here and he will be quick everywhere we go. I just focus on my job. I love this track, particularly if there is good weather. I will start from behind - but I have done my homework.

Q: Isn’t starting from behind your favourite position?

LH: You know what - there is a reason for that. I had a really bad go-kart when I started and always had to start last because it was so bad - and then I drove through the field. I hope I still know how to do it. With 25 years’ experience I should manage! (Laughs)