Lewis Hamilton, Formula One World Champion, is back in the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race taking place at YAS Marina circuit, which starts this weekend.
But just before getting behind the wheel along with the other contestants, Hamilton – who is also a brand ambassador for luxury Swiss watchmaking brand IWC Schaffhausen – had an intimate talk on Wednesday in Dubai with the brand and a handful of selected guests and members of the media, during which he opened up about his early years of racing, the challenges he faced what he hopes the future beholds.
The British champion, who is currently part of the Mercedes team, started racing at the tender age of 12. Coming from an average working class, Hamilton remembers the sacrifices his family had to make in order to get him and his brother on the race course.
“My dad and my stepmom spent their life’s savings in the first year and it all went into Go-Kart… after that my dad had to have four jobs at one stage and my stepmom was putting all of her money so they couldn’t go on holidays… they didn’t go out ever,” Hamilton said, recalling that his father, while very good with road cars, was no expert in carting.
“My dad was going around being very meticulous, taking notes from as many people who were willing to give us notes, although not many people were, and he didn’t know much about carting but he was really good on his road car, very meticulous in details, cleaning the car and looking after it and he was my mechanic for years and we won championships together, it was awesome,” he said.
Hamilton stated that he never doubted himself during his carting years, but there was a moment or two when he shifted to cars with Formula One.
“Going from a GP2 to Formula One was a huge step for me because it was too technical, there was so much information and I had to learn all these different things, working with engineers from Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge.
“I haven’t been to university and these guys were so smart, so to be able to communicate with them in the way that they speak, or turn what I’m feeling into something they can understand was really tough,” he said.
However Hamilton was always determined to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward. “If I ever had a low moment, the next day I get up with determination and I don’t know where that comes from.”
Yet with the rise of fame and popularity, performance is no longer only judged on the track, and Hamilton said he had learned this the hard way.
“It’s really difficult to just be yourself in front of all the cameras, some people take advantage.
“I’ve raced all those years and was prepared for it all, but there were no preparations for being under the spotlight, in front of cameras, sitting on talk shows or speaking in public, so that was a really transitional time for me. I still mess up today but now it doesn’t really matter, I got three titles,” he said jokingly.
But even after winning three world championships, Hamilton finds that he is still not at the peak of his career.
“I think there is more to come, you’d hope that you’d always grow and become better every year… hopefully I will continue to grow,” he says.
For many year, Hamilton recalls living on a strict schedule, with the priority constantly given to work and training, but after proving to the world that he was one of the best race drivers of our time, he got the chance to get a little comfortable, but not too much, and it has paid off.
“Up until this year I sacrificed everything, it was all about work and training… it was a little too much and I think this year I’ve tried to enjoy myself more and it has actually paid off more, so it’s strange,” Hamilton said.
“This year has definitely been the strongest year that I’ve had in terms of being at peace, I’m arriving and I don’t even know how I’m staying as consistent as I am,” he added.
Having written at least 130 songs in his spare time, Hamilton could qualify for an up and coming artist, and his passion for music is as big as that of cars.
“Last week when I was at home, and I haven’t been home for a while, I spent most of the time in my spare bedroom’s closet recording this music, I was there all day, but I’m enjoying it it’s kind of therapeutic,” he said.
However, Hamilton is not looking – at least for the time being – to have a career in music. To the F1 champion, music is just fun and “therapeutic,” and is something he has grown up around.
Hamilton’s paternal family is from Grenada, a Caribbean country popular for its soca and reggae music. His father is also a drummer, and he started playing guitar when he was 13 years old.
“I love cars and I love music, maybe the same if not more,” he noted.
Yet while he has plenty of popular musicians in his social circle, Hamilton is not in the habit of discussing his music with those from the industry, for a good reason.
“If someone was to come and sit with me and only talk about cars; I talk about that all the time… so if I meet people from the music industry I try to talk about something different,” he said.
But, all is not lost, as Hamilton has played some of his music to relevant people, and the reaction has been “generally good so far. The people I’ve met are very supportive, especially people like Pharrell who are so full of positive energy.”
In the future, Hamilton does not, per say, feel the need to directly give back to Formula One; he would rather do it indirectly through supporting upcoming talented drivers and delving into humanitarian work in general.
“I feel like I have more of an opportunity to encourage young kids to work hard at school and to make better and wiser decisions, to continue to believe in themselves and stay focused on their dreams,” Hamilton said.
“Not only little kids but also underprivileged children… I love working with UNICEF for example I’ve been to Africa and the Philippines and different countries, which I’ve really loved, so that’s where my heart is. When I stop racing that’s how I want to spend most of my time,” he added.
Hamilton does not aspire to have his own race team, but in the future he’d love to “build a car, not a Formula One car but a road car, I like being creative.”
When off the race course, Hamilton – being a car lover – is building a collection of his favourite cars. This includes a Cadillac Escalade, a Mercedes Maybach, a GL and SLS Black Series, a McLaren P1, a Pagani Zonda and a couple of Ferraris. He also has a couple of classic cars like a Cobra 1967 signed by Carroll Shelby.
“I actually found it and he checked it for me before I bought it and suggested that I should get it and then died like a couple of months later. At the moment there are no other cars that I am dreaming of, but I’m always looking,” he said.
At the end of the talk, IWC fired a round of ’10 questions in 60 seconds’ with the champion, and this is how it went:
Time for you moves too fast or too slow?
I want to spend the most time possible with…
Sharks or spiders, what are the most scary?
Spiders, I hate spiders.
When they make a movie of your life who would play Lewis Hamilton
I have no idea.
If I could turn back time I would
Probably as a girl out that I didn’t ask out.
I could always spare 10 minutes for
A cup of tea.
What I’ve always wanted to do but never dared to is…
Nothing, I’ve done everything I’ve dared to do.
My favourite childhood memory is…
Does the word impossible exist in your life?
The most inspirational things somebody ever said to you
“Never give up”, my dad.