It’s fair to speculate that Lewis Hamilton polarises opinion, even in the midst of being unveiled as the greatest ever Formula One racer.


It’s fair to speculate that Lewis Hamilton polarises opinion, even in the midst of being unveiled as the greatest ever Formula One racer.


His victory at the Turkish Grand Prix in the middle of November ensured the Stevenage-born speedster equalled Michael Schumacher’s record of seven Drivers’ Championships, having already surpassed the German’s race victory total in October, in another season of unparalleled dominance. By the close of the campaign in Abu Dhabi on December 13th, Hamilton’s points tally was 347, a colossal 123 ahead of closest rival, Valtteri Bottas.

The champ said: “To all the kids out there, dream the impossible! Seven is just unimaginable but when you work with such a great group of people and you really trust each other, there is just no end to what you can do together. “I feel like I’m only just getting started, it’s really weird.”

He may just be correct in that statement. At 36, the Mercedes driver has time on his side – the great Luigi Fagioli was 53 when he scored his final race win at the 1951 French Grand Prix.

Certainly, it’s becoming difficult to remember a time when Hamilton’s grit, speed and desire wasn’t present in the sport. Many believe he truly announced himself at the British Grand Prix in 2008, driving for McLaren. Although he’d already clocked up six victories, dating back to Canada a year previously, his mastery of brutally wet driving conditions to win by over a minute after starting fourth on the grid, set a precedent where he was regarded as the driver to beat.

The world title duly arrived later that year in spectacular fashion, as on the final corner of the final lap in the final race, in Brazil, he overtook Timo Glock to snatch victory from the gearbox of defeat.
After switching to Mercedes in 2014, following a fallow period, Hamilton’s synchronicity with the technicians and mechanics accelerated success beyond all expectations, failing just once, in 2016, as Nico Rosberg pipped him to title glory by just five points. The German realised he would most likely never repeat that feat, and promptly retired from the sport, never to be seen again.

Wind forward and even finding himself struck down with Covid at the start of December was not to dampen the determination and drive for Hamilton, a man who now looks towards new heights, the first of which will be making up the handful of race wins required to get to that magic total of 100.

As far as being the sport’s ‘Marmite man’, his recognition as the 2020 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and upcoming Laureus nomination prove that public swell remains with him. And anyway, Hamilton gives short shrift to the detractors. He will discuss his Knighthood, announced as part of the New Year Honours, he’ll reference all those times he’s arrowed across the finish line in first position, he’ll note the 84 occasions he’s started on the front of the grid and, of course those seven titles. And he’ll point to the fact he is, truly, the greatest ever.

Q: Throughout all your success you’ve always remained calm and controlled. How do you do this?
It’s been a part of my DNA from the start. I’m just not one of those drivers who’s going to go around losing my rag. I do remember back in the day watching Michael Schumacher square up to other drivers and go after them in the pit lane at the end of races, and don’t get me wrong it was great entertainment to watch that kind of thing. And actually, it was exciting for the sport to think that you had these really passionate guys driving cars who could possibly flip at any moment, but that’s just not me, and for the most part it’s not the way others would behave.

We are in a different era and a lot of us have been trained as racing drivers to keep our cool, because when you start to lose your mind in a car you start to lose control.

Q: Off the track, your profile is impossibly high. Do you see yourself as a celebrity?
I know people like to brand me as this celebrity who cares more about image and money and photoshoots then he does his profession, but I can assure you that’s not true nor has it ever been true.
There are no racing drivers who finish a day’s racing on the track, head home, get to bed then wake up the next morning and do the same thing over and over again. We all have lives outside the circuit and of course it’s one of those sports where there is a lot of other stuff going on, and with all the money in the sport, that means big showbiz events.

Half of the places I’m photographed at I’m only there because maybe I’m doing something promotional or working with a charity or something like that – it’s not as if I’m desperate to go out every night and make sure I get my face in the newspapers. That’s just not me.

I am just as connected with nature too, with spending time in the countryside – with others or chilling by myself – as I am in the world of the paparazzi.

Q: Last year you took home the Laureus Sportsman of the Year Award [jointly awarded with Lionel Messi] and you have been nominated again for 2021. How does it feel to be regarded right at the pinnacle of the sporting world alongside so many other greats?
I feel very privileged to have been nominated again. You know it’s such a prestigious award. It’s great to see what Laureus do in their work and you know it’s something that all the great athletes aspire to win one day.

Q: You’ve been nominated in a group that includes LeBron James, Rafael Nadal, Robert Lewandowski, Armand Duplantis and Joshua Cheptegei. That’s a pretty classy group?
Yes, when you mention all the different names, when you look at all the list of great athletes, I feel very honoured to be among them. Just that in itself is an award, to be recognised among those who are doing so great in their sports.

Q: Was there a particular F1 season highlight for you in 2020?
The whole year was a highlight. I enjoyed every single race; the way it started out until the end. I think naturally the race in Turkey was a big highlight, just the way it unfolded, the way it happened.

Q: The Mercedes Formula One team have been nominated again for Laureus, too. What can you say about last year’s car and the team and the support they gave you?
I’ve been with Mercedes since I was 13. It’s a long, long time. I’ve been with Mercedes definitely longer than most drivers and it’s been a privilege to see Mercedes evolve, see the success over those years, and now to be a part of that success and to see them constantly evolving, innovating, moving forward.

When you travel the globe and you see Mercedes-Benz in every corner of the world, in every street, then to know that you are one of their representatives, it’s very cool.

Q: What about further advancements to the car, and looking at the challenges of 2021? Does racing still excite you as much? What’s your mood… your feeling going into the new season?
I feel super. I feel younger than I’ve ever been to be honest. I got back in the car and it was super-easy. The car feels great. The way it’s evolved, it’s another step.

I think there are a lot of challenges we have this year. I think the other teams will be getting closer – we don’t know yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And anyway, the challenge is of trying to raise the bar and be better, no matter what anyone else is doing. When you look at a season like last year, it’s one of the best years we’ve ever had, so how do you beat that?

Up Close & Personal

Q: What’s the best advice you can give for travellers?
Take lots of pictures. Don’t waste the opportunity.

Q: What’s your favourite meal?
I love pasta. A good burger. Right now, I have not had any of that for a long time…

Q: When you’re away from the UK what do you miss most?
I miss the stunning countryside, greenery, and family.

Q: What’s your favourite movie?
I guess my number one movie is Cool Runnings. [The film about a Jamaican bobsled team that against all odds succeeded in qualifying for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary]. For me, that film epitomises everything you need to know about sporting desire, battling the odds, fighting adversity and the opinions of others – it’s a real story of hope.

I love the way as well it has such a real-life ending… I won’t spoil it if you don’t know what happens. Not all sport is perfect and sometimes the fairy-tales turn bad – and that actually just makes the whole thing more realistic, for me.

I know I can’t go out there and win every race, but there’s every chance I’ll win the next one, and that’s all I need to focus me.