Lewis Hamilton is explaining what keeps him hungry – how, despite six world championships, 83 grand prix victories and more money than he probably ever dreamed of, his desire for success in Formula 1 burns as bright as ever.
“The thing is I never got into it for money,” the Mercedes driver says. “Of course it is great that that piles up – no problem. That is a bonus. As long as those things don’t become the lead factor of what I do.
“The core of what I do is that I love racing. I love the challenge. I love arriving knowing I have got these incredibly talented youngsters who are trying to beat me and outperform me, outsmart me, and I love that battle that I get into every single year.
“And I am working with these guys [his Mercedes engineers] who are so much smarter than me and they make me feel smarter. When I am challenging them and proving them wrong so many times, it is unreal.”
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Hamilton laughs and refers to the conversations he has with chief engineer Andrew Shovlin and his colleagues about the complexities of the car.
“It happens a lot,” Hamilton says. “I say something to Shov, and he will say: ‘No, the numbers say this’, and I will say: ‘It’s this and this and this.’ And he will say: ‘Oh you are right.’ It feels so good. There are a lot of things like that.”
Hamilton is in expansive form as he discusses his 2019 season and all matters involved in it. Over the course of the interview he covers:
- Why this season was tougher than it looked
- The demands of F1 and his lifestyle outside the sport
- Personal struggles and his climate-crisis messages on Instagram
- Rationalising the risks in the wake of the death of Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert
- The pain of defeat
- His future
A question of life and death
One of the most fundamental questions any human being can ask themselves is what their life is worth, what risks they are prepared to take to do what they enjoy.
While Formula 1 drivers are confronted with this to some degree every time they get in their car, it became very real for them at the Belgian Grand Prix this year when Formula 2 driver Hubert was killed in a crash shortly after F1 qualifying had finished.
Hamilton was doing his television interviews at the time, and the footage of his reaction when he saw the accident on a screen nearby, the anguish on his face before he cut an interview short and walked away, is chilling.
Hamilton has mentioned the impact of Hubert’s death briefly a couple of times this season. But this is the first time he has talked about it in depth.
“It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen that happen in my career,” Hamilton says.
“I remember quite vividly when I was young [aged eight] I won this race in Kimbolton and Daniel Spence died and that was a tragic time for me as a kid, the first time I had known someone to die. And I was just with him that day.
“That was a tough one. This one, I was doing an interview and I saw it happen out of the corner of my eye and I just knew it was [bad]. And lots of things flashed through my mind.
“I remember watching Ayrton [Senna] when he watched [Roland] Ratzenberger crash and seeing his face. There was a lot of deja vu in that experience.
“A lot of thoughts went through my mind in the evening. I worried about the kid. I know what it’s like to be in F2 and having the dream of being somewhere.
“I thought to myself: ‘The cars are still unsafe.’ Particularly lower down the ranks it’s probably even less safe than it is for us.
“And then there is the question of how much more do you need, how much more do you want? And finding all those balances.
“I’m not chasing because I have to have it, because I love what I do. And I was like, ‘Jeez, I could spend more time with my family’ and all these things that you can look back on.
“I’m sure when it comes to your last day and you’re at the pearly gates – I like to think you’re at the pearly gates – you’re looking back on your life, you’re never asking: ‘I wish I had more money.’ You always wish you had more time. And you probably have a ton of regrets: ‘If only I’d made that decision on that day, I could have spent more time with my loved one’ or whatever it is.
“All those things were going through my mind. But there was never a second I thought I wasn’t going to keep racing. The fear factor never crept in.
“That was an important factor for me. Because I remember when that kid died, when I was eight, one of my best friends at the time quit racing. Fear crept into him and he just quit. For me, I was like, if that ever creeps into me, I know that’s the last legs of my career.”