He has won five World Championship titles powered by Mercedes-Benz – and is still going strong. His fans worship him. There is no doubt: Lewis Hamilton is the rock star of Formula 1 drivers.
“One day I want to drive for your team and become Formula 1 world champion!” said Lewis Hamilton to McLaren team boss Ron Dennis at a motorsport gala. Dennis must have been quite taken aback at the time, as Lewis Hamilton was only ten years old. Twelve years later, the time had come: Hamilton lined up on the grid for the McLaren Mercedes team in 2007 and even secured second place in the World Championship at the first attempt. One year later, aged 23 years, nine months and 26 days, he became the youngest Formula 1 Champion in motor racing history at the time, dethroning the previous record holder, Fernando Alonso. Since 2013, Hamilton has been racing in Formula 1 for the Mercedes-AMG works team and won four more World Championships between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, too, he is once again challenging at the top of the world rankings. It is no exaggeration to say that Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG have dominated the top level of motor racing for the last five years.
"It is only when you do something with true passion that you become the very best."
Such a dizzying rise with one record-breaking success after the other is no accident. As well as good fortune and talent, it is down to an absolute will to win. “I want to beat everyone,” Hamilton admits in an interview with Mercedes me Magazine. “It doesn’t matter what I’m competing in, I also want to beat my best friend in basketball. I’ve had that my whole life.” That sheer desire for pole position has been part of Hamilton since an early age. His father helped him a lot in that regard: “When I had just started karting, my father would go around and see who was the fastest kid, the champion. He’d stand at the corners and find where the kid braked, and then set me a mark which was two meters past that spot and tell me, ‘You’ve got to brake here.’ I did that so many times, and came off track every time until I got it right. That’s why I’m one of the latest brakers.”
The strategy of “trial and error,” common among many in the world of motorsport, was not so popular in the Hamilton household. “We had a completely different mentality to those kids who never had to worry about having a bad race because they had enough money to keep going. For us, there was only a certain amount of opportunities, and we had to make the most of it.” It is still the case that there is little leeway for errors today. “You can’t brake too late, for example, because you’ll lock up the tire or go off and crash the car. There’s a lot riding on any mistake. You have to take millimeter steps. It’s like cracking a code.” Lewis Hamilton’s paternal grandparents emigrated to Great Britain from the Caribbean island of Grenada in the 1950s. Lewis Carl Davidson was born in Hertfordshire, a county north of London, in 1985. “We came from really humble beginnings,” says the 34-year- old, who still remembers during every race the sacrifice his family made for his career. Especially his father, who had several jobs at the same time to finance his son’s expensive dream. “He never knew whether all that work would ever pay off,” Hamilton says.
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Once the major success finally arrives – bringing the big money with it – it is very easy to lose focus. Suddenly the pace is no longer right, the fighting spirit subsides, the motivation drops. Not so with Hamilton. Quite the opposite. What drives him is not the millions in his bank account or the fame. “It’s not about the success or the money. Picture an iceberg: the part of it below the sea level is ten times the size of the part you see on top. Above the sea level is the success that you see, and below is all of the hard work. But people don’t see that. That’s why shows like X Factor are so successful – people just want to be rich and famous like that (snaps his fingers). But ultimately, that doesn’t really last. Especially in sport.
In addition to years of extremely hard work, Lewis Hamilton has a further key to success: the irrepressible urge for self-expression. And it is as entrenched in Hamilton’s DNA as his blood group. Working on himself and self-optimization are a constant work in progress. And, after all, why should he stop when he is in the fast lane? Isn’t that when it is the most fun? Isn’t that the ultimate emotional kick? The greatest feeling of happiness? His mantra “I drive with my heart!” surely also represents the self-confident admission: “I can’t do anything differently!” – because it is only when you do something with true passion that you become the very best. And the very best, as we all know, is the enemy of the best. That has nothing to do with perfection – Hamilton is still a long way from that, according to his own assessment. But it very much has to do with developing step by step, completely individually, improving and always aiming for new, perhaps even more adventurous, goals. That involves a great deal of courage. And character. That was the only way for the “firebrand of the track,” as the media liked to call him, to become one of the most successful Formula 1 drivers in the world. And the one with the greatest sex appeal. A true rock star, you could say. And in all honesty: the fact that Hamilton occasionally touches one of his rivals with his car in the heat of the battle is the nature of high-octane motorsport in particular.
Despite the many victories, Lewis Hamilton has not become egoistic, but has stayed human, with a lot of heart and empathy. He takes care of his family and friends and thinks it is high time to give some of his happiness to others. That is why he is involved in numerous charitable causes.
What also helps him – besides his positive attitude in life – is his faith, which he publicly professes. On his neck, for example, he
has a “God is love” tattoo, and on his back a large cross, along with the lettering “Still I Rise”. This maxim also adorns the back of his helmet. The phrase could easily be regarded as his motto for life. Or perhaps that applies more to the tattoo above his heart? There, a mighty lion’s head is resplendent, together with the phrase: “Powerful Beyond Measure”. And it is exactly that unbroken self-belief that characterizes the winner.
Photography | Mikael Jansson
Text | Ulrich Lössl