Lewis Hamilton: How the Formula 1 champion wants to change the world.

2 November 2020

Think you know Lewis Hamilton? Be surprised. We speak to the six-time Formula 1 champion about his personal and professional efforts to change the world for the better – in short: his attitude towards life and what matters most.


Lewis Hamilton: How the Formula 1 champion wants to change the world.

2 November 2020

Think you know Lewis Hamilton? Be surprised. We speak to the six-time Formula 1 champion about his personal and professional efforts to change the world for the better – in short: his attitude towards life and what matters most.

A man and a car

Hamilton poses with the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS - the electric S-Class. Image: Easton Chang.

We met Lewis Hamilton in Melbourne in the week building up to the 2020 Australian Grand Prix, which would have been the start of the new Formula 1 season, and for Lewis, the start of his bid for the 7th World Championship – a new record. Later that week, after the interview, the race was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it wasn’t our intention to profile the star racer Lewis. Instead, we spoke to him about his personal and professional efforts to change the world for the better – in short: his attitude towards life and what matters most.

Lewis, let’s go directly to the heart of things: What drives you? 
Well, I love discoveries. I love learning things. And I love learning things I didn’t think I could do. When I was growing up, people told me I couldn’t do things. Couldn’t be a racing driver. Couldn’t play an instrument. At school, teachers told me I was never going to be anything. Each time I learn something new, I’m drawing from that and proving people wrong. Even when I got into Formula 1… Still today, people tell me: “You can’t do that!”

But you can… 
Yes, I can. I think I’ve proved wrong everybody who ever doubted me. And I’d love to continue doing that. My mind is free. I’m not good at everything, but I try. I’d like to try everything while I’m here on this earth. And I’m very competitive, so I generally get half-decent at things when I practise them. And I just think you gain knowledge when you learn a new skill, a new instrument, or see a new place. You gain understanding and knowledge. And knowledge is power.

Do you remember a moment when you realised your words have power, that they make an impact on others? 
I see it all the time. When I meet people, at a gas station or just on the street. Friends and family – people on social media constantly message me. Some of my team members have gone vegan now, too, as I did before. The other day in Amsterdam somebody came up to me and said, “You’ve changed my life!” That’s very surreal. A little overwhelming sometimes. Just by writing or personally taking action, you can impact the life of another. It feels incredibly rewarding, and it’s been amazing to get that kind of response from people.

You’re showing a new side of Lewis Hamilton to the public: taking a stand, fighting for nature, fighting for animals. How new is this for yourself? 
I’ve always had empathy for nature and animals, it’s not a new development – I’ve had it my whole life. But I haven’t always been conscious of it necessarily. I just wasn’t aware of it so much. Until I’m sitting on a flight or at home and looking at Instagram, and an image or video pops up of animals being killed in Asia, the UK or Europe, and I think: “What am I watching? What is this?” Ultimately, I think we’re all quite ignorant of these things. I grew up eating all the things everyone eats. Putting stuff in my mouth without really knowing where it came from.

Where does your relationship to animals come from? 
When I was born, my parents had just got a Labrador dog. He was by my side every day until I was eight. When he passed away, it was one of my most devastating days until that point. I had cats, I had dogs. I’ve always been a lover of animals. Then, when I was in my late teens, when I started to hear about people killing animals to use their fur for clothes… I never bought anything that had real fur on it. A bit later, I started to see the real impact that we’re having. Social media has made it a lot more visible. I took action to go vegan and not contribute to that industry anymore, and personally I felt a million times better, so I wish I’d done it before. But ethically, I feel great every day that I’m not contributing to that industry and want to use my platform for people that are listening and watching to highlight it. Bit by bit, even if it’s one person a year, that’s already making a change. Now I’m constantly looking for “What is your purpose? What can you give back? How can you help make a change?” We are not here for nothing.

What’s your purpose, Lewis? 
It took me a long time to realise I have this amazing platform. I never thought I’d have nearly 15 million followers on Instagram. I never thought something I’d post could change somebody’s life or somebody’s day. If I post a picture saying, “Don’t give up, I know it’s tough”, people write back, “Oh my God, I was on my last thread today, and you just lifted me up. I needed that.” When I started to really realise the power of that platform, I started to think to myself: “Okay, I have got to start channelling the right messages – meaning, positive ones. That’s what I want to be a positive guide, not just somebody posing for pictures, or posting irrelevant things. 

Lewis Hamilton

“I want to be a positive guide,” says Lewis Hamilton. Image: Easton Chang.

Do responses such as those give you the energy you need to keep going?
Even if I didn’t get a reaction from anyone, that wouldn’t stop me – it’s just how I’m wired. I like to think that I’m having a positive impact. I think we’re all trying to discover our purpose and each year I discover more of mine. Having a really positive impact on people’s lives, sending out positive messages and helping to educate people, all while trying to constantly educate myself. I don’t know everything. I’m still reading about things and discovering things on the way, but everything I touch in general is moving in the direction of sustainability. I’ve been pushing it and being vocal about it.

Mercedes-Benz has set itself ambitious goals towards a sustainable future and emission-free mobility by 2039. Are you happy with that? 
It’s about being sustainable and circular, recycling things. It’s great seeing Mercedes moving forward in using sustainable materials in cars, moving forward with electric cars. Or the fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger, who has pushed to use more recycled fabrics. Or getting my collection out and working towards 100 per cent sustainable materials. With everyone I’m working with, I’m trying to do that. Of course, everyone has their right to their own opinion, so there are people that think differently and that’s their choice. I’m not forcing it upon them. For myself, I wish I’d had the education of what I know now – I wish I’d known it ten years ago, or more.

Does that urge explain why Australia’s recent wildfires moved you so much? 
At the end of 2019, I saw the news about the fires, the devastation and how it affected people who live in Australia, but the animals even more so. After Christmas, I heard that 1.5 billion animals had perished within a year. I couldn’t get my mind around that number. I was devastated by it. I felt helpless. I was on my break and asked my team what I could do in order to help. Can I fly over there now? I ended up donating to support the effort. But my mindset was: when I’m in Australia, I want to take a day and see where that money is going and get to see the people that are affected first-hand. When you drive into the mountains, you notice that all the trees are black and burned – as far as the eye can see. There has been a regrowth, so some grass is starting to reappear and some green back on the trees. I got to meet a couple of animals that were affected by it and these amazingly beautiful people who are dedicating their time and their lives to those animals. They are really the heroes and the inspiring ones. After seeing them, I felt some hope for the future.

In how far are you pushing for change in Formula 1? 
The first thing people will say is, we travel around, fly to different locations and drive cars that emit CO2. So, you’re conflicted the entire time, but that’s the business. And whether I’m in it or not, it will continue. That’s just how business goes. But I have a powerful voice within the business. Changing it from within is my goal. Leaning on Mercedes really helped me – supporting their movement of not only being the best car brand but being the most sustainable. For many companies, being sustainable was once just a box-ticking exercise – “We recycle paper” or something – but it’s now becoming more and more of a priority within these businesses. It’s still not number one, but slowly with the pressure from outside and climate experts, it has started to be pushed to a priority within organisations such as Formula 1. Now, Formula 1 is starting to take action.

Meaning what precisely? 
Massive amounts of plastic are left in the regions where we race over a weekend. So, I encourage the teams to recycle and to not use plastic – it’s these seemingly small things that ignite a thought process. Positive things come from it. I’d like to think that I’ve been a part of that mindset change and I would be proud if that were true.

If you imagine yourself in the future and look back at this moment, what would you be the proudest of? What would stand out? 
If I look back in 20 years’ time, the racing part will be only one aspect of my career.

You’re kidding, Lewis. You will be remembered as a legend of racing!
Well, even though what we’ve achieved right now is pretty big, it’ll be the smallest thing in my mind in the future. My goal is to help change an industry to accept diversity and to be forward-thinking, and to move towards a greener outlook. My goal is to continue to succeed because that gives me the platform – the step on the ladder to shout as loud as I want, and project views and knowledge, while having the power to change things. It hasn’t been a diverse business or sport since I’ve been here and since way before me. I’ve been here 14 years and diversity is still not written big. 

A man in a car

“I can win any number of championships, but if I don’t succeed in encouraging the industry to accept diversity and move towards a greener outlook, it will all be for nothing,” says Hamilton. Image: Easton Chang.

Could you explain that, please?
When I retire in the next three or four years, there won’t be another black driver or Person of Colour in the sport for some time. Could be 10 years, could be more. And it’s not only that. It’s catering. It’s marketing. It’s engineers, mechanics, travel-team – literally across the board. The pool from which they recruit is not diverse enough either. So, there is still a lot for me to do. I can win any number of championships, but if I don’t succeed in that area, it will all be for nothing.

By Hendrik Lakeberg