Lewis Hamilton interview | ‘Impacting youngsters is more rewarding than winning’

By S. Dipak Ragav
BATTLE ON: Racing against a passionate younger generation is something Hamilton relishes. (Source: AFP)

He is the most decorated driver with 100 Grand Prix wins. He has seven world titles and is already the greatest Formula One driver statistically. Even as he fights for an unprecedented eighth title, the Mercedes driver is eyeing something bigger — to make the sport more diverse and inclusive.

In a media interaction on Tuesday, the reigning World champion spoke about his activism, his legacy and this year’s close title battle with Max Verstappen.

How important is the work you are doing on inclusivity and diversity for your legacy?

Legacy is something that I have struggled to contemplate because you don't grow up thinking about legacy. You grew up with dreams and aspirations of achieving something great.

But you don't think of what it would look like after, right? So I just have not thought about it a huge amount. I think when I was younger, it was about: I would love one day for people to recognise me as one of the best drivers.

But what I realised in these past couple of years is that we have this societal problem all over the world. I realise that I have an opportunity and platform to be able to spark change. I mean, I have already achieved so much. I'm generally happy wherever I am, but moving forward, when I look back in five, ten years, I want to be watching TV and seeing a diverse pit crew. When I look at the images of the teams at the end of the year, I want to see a diverse paddock. I want to see Formula One looking more like its audience.

Also read: Hamilton says thrilling season convinced him to stay in F1

Hopefully, I will know that I have been a part of that and that my time in the sport wasn’t just about winning the titles. It is actually about changing the course and changing the direction of what’s going on, which I am not necessarily sure too many drivers in the past have been privileged to be a part of. That’s the thing I will be most proud of.

After years of domination, how does it feel to be locked in such a close battle with Max Verstappen?

It's exciting and intense. Of course, different championships weigh differently on you because there's a different journey every time. And I think these last two years have been very heavy in terms of the whole societal push for diversity and inclusion. Working on how we address that, how you can be allies... that's where a lot of my time and energy has gone. It is as time-consuming as trying to win a World championship and even more important. So trying to find a balance between them has been a challenge.

It has been a very close fight this year and over the last few races, Mercedes has been the faster car than Red Bull. How do you see the rest of the six races unfolding?

It's been a super exciting championship. It started strong and then we had this real bad patch of difficult races. A lot of points were left on the table from both sides.

It’s crazy we have six races left and we are still close. We went to the last race and I don't understand why we were quicker than them (Red Bull) because they have developed [their car] for longer than us. So they should be ahead.

But some tracks might work better for us than it does for them. Next up is Mexico where they usually are stronger than us because of the high altitude and it affects our engine in a different way than theirs perhaps.

Also read: Turkish Grand Prix | Hamilton mitigates grid penalty with strong qualifying run

There are all these different challenges that we have faced but not every weekend is perfect. Last weekend, Valtteri [Bottas] got the win. It's good [we] moved ahead in team points but I lost ground.

It is an emotional roller-coaster because one minute, you are in the championship lead and feel great. And then in the next meeting I am behind, and I'm conscious because I have lost a championship before by one point. So I know how valuable every single point is but I am driving on the edge of my seat and driving with my life. I am giving it absolutely everything.

Does a close battle motivate you further?

Absolutely. I mean, the close battle has made a huge difference this year. When I was younger, that's what I loved most and I think that's what fans love. To see two teams so close in performance makes me happy because it means that I can make even more difference, even if it's only that 1% in the split-second decisions you can make. That has inspired me very much this year. I'm fighting against youngsters who are passionate and hungry. Of course, I'm having to dig deeper all the time, [but] I love being reminded of that every day every weekend.

 

How do you manage to raise the bar every time after all the success you have had over the last few years?

Yeah, that's not easy. The way that I have managed to do this is through constantly challenging our processes and just communicating with my engineers, how we can stay tight as a unit, continue to inspire each other, better use our time, understand and prepare better for every single race.

In my personal life, it's like, how do I manage my energy. I am finding things that make me happy, things I love doing. So working on this project, working on Mission 44, is something that brings me joy. I love the fact that what I'm working on can potentially have a real tangible impact on young kids for the future.

And I'm already seeing it. For example, my team has gone from 3% diversity last year to 6% already. I expect to see the same steps in the next few years, So, that brings me a lot of happiness and lets me know that I also belong. And this is where I belong and there is a lot of work to do.

Winning championships is a good thing, but impacting youngsters is way more rewarding than any championship. But we also want to win the championship (laughs).

What will an eighth world crown mean to you?

I have not stopped to think about it because we are constantly moving forward. (It is) the next race, then training, you are in recovery, you are in the next engineering meeting and I haven’t stopped to think, and I don't even know if I can imagine how I would feel.

I think when you get these results when you break records, it is more of a perception thing. It is cool for a short period. Yeah, it’s nice, winning championships. But it's more [about] how people see it.

It's a different thing when you're in it as opposed to being outside. But knowing that, I just never thought that I would be where I am. I could only ever dream about having seven titles. So the idea that I could potentially have an eighth, which no one's ever had before, it's just mind-blowing.

I would just hope that it would reflect well on kids, who are out there watching, who see things and say that it's not possible because it has already been done, or the impossible is impossible. But it is not. Hopefully, that (the eighth crown) just proves that with hard work, dedication, teamwork, perseverance and the never-give-up mentality, miracles and great things do happen.

So that's what I hope it sparks and, hopefully, you'll see that we have a more diverse Formula One paddock and more diverse teams.

How has Petronas, your team’s title and technical partner, helped maintain a competitive advantage over the years?

Through sheer hard work, determination and focus. Just fully driven on data and innovation. We have the best testing lab and testing bench for developing products. We have a little lab that's at every single race of the year even on race weekends where samples are constantly being taken from the cars. We continue to push the limits with our engine. We work in different climates, mostly in high pressure, high temperature environments. So it's the perfect place for us to be able to develop those.


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