Lewis Hamilton Reflects on His Next Step
Lewis Hamilton is far from finished with Formula 1.
“It’s not forever, but something inside is telling me, ‘You’re not done yet. You’ve got to keep pushing. You’ve got more to do, more to achieve,” the seven-time champion said in an interview.
He has just one year left on his contract with his team, Mercedes, but will start talks with Toto Wolff, the team principal, during the winter on a new deal. Although it is hard to imagine that either side will walk away, it does raise the question of Hamilton’s future. He will be, after all, 38 years old next season.
In 2021, after coming within three seconds of winning his record eighth title, he was far from challenging for the championship this year. But he has no intention of stepping away now.
“It’s going to be hard one day, stopping racing,” Hamilton said. “I’ve done it for 30 years, and it’ll be 30-plus years when I do eventually stop. Luckily for me, right this second, it’s not now.”
“My dad and my brother, they’re like, ‘Yeah, keep racing forever,’ because they’re racers. For my mum and my sister, I can definitely sense they want me to do whatever I want to do,” he added.
“They can also see how tiring it is, that it weighs heavy on you. Sometimes when I go around to my sister’s house I just pass out on the couch.”
If Hamilton feels that way, why carry on? “Because there’s no doubt that I love what I do,” he said. “I really do love the challenge every weekend, how we, as a team, show up every weekend.”
Over the past few years, Hamilton has become more than just a driver. His voice has become powerful in speaking out about diversity and pushing for change.
In June 2020, the Hamilton Commission was started to increase the number of Black people in motorsport.
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Hamilton helped Mercedes set up Accelerate 25, a five-year program that also commenced in 2020, aimed at ensuring that 25 percent of all new starters on the team come from underrepresented groups.
Last year, Hamilton founded Mission 44, a charitable foundation seeking to transform the lives of young people from underserved backgrounds by narrowing opportunity gaps in education and employment.
The fuel for Hamilton’s fire was the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
“I really wasn’t expecting that day,” Hamilton said. “I hadn’t cried for a long, long time. Probably the last time I’d cried before then was when my auntie [Diane Hamilton] died of cancer. I was with her for the last two weeks. I remember trying to be really strong for her kids.”
“Then there was George Floyd. The whole thing was devastating. It brought up these things I experienced when I was a kid that I didn’t get to really share with anybody.”
Formula 1 showed its support in the fight against racism and inequality by starting the #WeRaceAsOne initiative. Hamilton urged drivers to take a knee before a Grand Prix.
The death of Floyd particularly resonated with Hamilton.
“It was when he shouted out for his mum,” he said. “That one breaks everybody because you can relate to that no matter what your skin color is.
“Then for me, there were moments I was in fear, when I was on the receiving end of the experiences I had, when I was beaten down by this man and his son, for example, and wanting to also scream out for my mum or dad, and they weren’t around at the time.”
Hamilton said that after the death of Floyd, 2020 “was probably the first time I was ever really heard” in speaking out against racism and a lack of diversity inside organizations.
More than two years later, he said there were still many barriers. He is hoping “it’s not going to be like this for much longer.”
“If I don’t bring up these difficult conversations with people, they won’t get discussed or tackled, or energy from organizations won’t be put into creating more inclusivity,” he said.
“Spending the time having those conversations and what it means and how positive it could be for everybody, it takes time. It’s a constant job to have them.”
Hamilton feels he is making progress, but the demands on his time conflict with his commitments to Mercedes.
“I would say that over these last few years I’ve been slowly peeling back the layers, but it’s not easy to do that when you’re in the limelight,” Hamilton said. “It’s really, really not easy to have so much growth in the spotlight. You make so many mistakes. Nothing prepares you for this journey.
“There are days where I don’t feel like I’m doing enough, days where I don’t feel like I’ve got to do more, and then there are days where I feel like I’m failing people because the problem is everywhere. It’s far bigger than me. I just have to keep reminding myself to stay on course, to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Hamilton knows he has the support of his fellow drivers. That was particularly the case in July when Nelson Piquet, a three-time champion in the 1980s, used a racist term to describe Hamilton in an interview he had conducted a few months earlier.
It led to widespread condemnation from inside Formula 1.
Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren said Hamilton was an inspiring figure who deserved respect for what he has achieved.
“Currently on the grid, he’s the biggest name in the sport,” Ricciardo said. “From that, he has grown awareness of his ability to reach out, encourage and inspire.
“You can have a platform but you need to want to create change, and he’s very vocal, he feels strongly about it and, obviously, he can certainly relate in a lot of situations.”
Ricciardo said the experiences encountered by Hamilton allowed him to speak out openly.
“That always helps,” he said. “It’s authentic, it’s genuine and if anyone has a back story, it’s easier to follow.
“Obviously, when someone sees a figure like him be open about topics that maybe aren’t necessarily very open, it just has a bigger impact. Kudos to him for being bold enough to go and put himself out there.”
It is why, when Hamilton and Wolff discuss a new deal, it will be about more than money.
Despite a difficult season on track for Hamilton, Wolff said his driver “is very good at sensing what’s right for him.”
“We have those conversations regularly, not particularly about a contract extension, but more where we are heading as human beings and what our objectives are,” he said. “We have that constant discussion.
“I was in no doubt that a down year like this would not trigger him saying goodbye to Formula 1. He is too strong, too resilient and too determined to say, ‘The car is not good enough and that’s why I’m going’.”
Hamilton knows he has so much more to achieve, on and off track.
“There’s a reason why I have as much energy as I do, that I’m still able to train with the intensity that I do and have the dedication that I do,” he said.
“At some stage, I will want to have a family and that will be my full focus, but right now, being in Formula 1 with Mercedes is it.”