'When I am racing in my Formula One car today, what keeps me motivated is I think in my back of my mind just how hard my parents worked.'
'My dad having four jobs, my step mum giving up all of her money, every bit of income she had went into my racing so that's a huge commitment for, for particularly, for a woman who is coming in and that's not actually your son, to devote your life and your earnings, your hard work to help a youngster go somewhere.'
He is racing’s biggest name and one of the fastest drivers of our generation.
This month, CNN Beijing correspondent Matt Rivers sits down with Formula One favorite Lewis Hamilton as he meets his fans in China.
The three-time World champion talks about the challenges of being the first black driver in F1, why he credits his family for his success, what was his first car, what he says to his critics who say that he’s not focussed on racing, how many more years does he think he has in F1 racing and what does he think he will do after that.
Where does the motivation come from? Year in and year out, the pressure never ends, its one race after the next, after the next, what keeps you going? I mean you’ve won three championships, what keeps you going?
There’s that, the deep-rooted heart of it all… It's my family who helps strive to get me to where I am. But I think it's the will to want to be the best or the search for perfection is really something that drives me. So, every year, the car’s evolving, the target is always moving and you never going to hit target. So, every great lap you do, you never do it perfect.
You come back and you find out that you could have done a tenth faster here or there, and so I love that chase. And every year I want to come back and be stronger and better and continue to show my abilities, you know, this is a gift I was given and something we worked really hard at.
You’re known as a bit of a globe trotter. You’re all over the place, not only with the F1 Circuit of course, which takes you all over the world but then also your personal life…where do you have the energy to go, from country to country, time zone to time zone, how do you have the energy to do all this?
My friends ask me the same thing, and I don't know. I just have a lot of energy. I have almost an abundance of energy, I just keep going and try to cram in as much as I can. I think I've very conscious of how long or short a career can be. My age obviously, I am not the youngest driver anymore, but I'm making sure that I live and live to the maximum.
And another thing that keeps me very motivated right now is, and you know if I were to ever consider stopping, is a bunch of these fans that come and travel around the world, who almost, not depend on me, but they want to win just as much as I do. And it's like this journey, this bond that we've created, I could never have imagined, and you know, when I feel the pain on the race weekend when we don't win, they feel exactly the same. They're right there with me.
When I come out of the gates of the track, or come out of the car, they are right there standing with me. They feel what I feel and they feel the ups and downs. It's an unreal connection you have and journey that you share, so they also spur me along, to keep going. I'm like, we want this fourth world title this year so that's what we're all gunning for.
You have all that energy, you’re obviously all over the place and naturally that brings criticisms sometimes. What do you say to critics who say he doesn’t focus enough on racing, he’s too all over the place? What do you say to people that say that?
I'll probably say to... I mean I don't really have much to say to critics, I mean, I respect that they have a job and also I respect you know, that they only have a certain amount of information and unfortunately, perhaps not always the most crucial information, but all I can say is look at my results. My results speak for themselves.
You know, what we've done to get to Formula One and what we've achieved in Formula One I think is great and for me, it doesn't matter what you say about me. It's not going to stop me from racing, it's not going to stop me from being who I want to be and who I am. It's not going to, your words cannot penetrate me the slightest, so continue to write what you do, good or bad news is good news, so it doesn't bother me.
What was your first car?
It was a mini. A mini, and it was actually my mom's. My mom was the first one that drove and then I got one.
It was second hand but it was really in great condition and my dad helped me get the car. I remember having my first car, it was just the greatest thing, having that freedom to go around and do things. It was incredible.
How's your road driving?
I'm really good on the road. I mean, I get paid to go fast, so I don't actually need to go fast, it's kind of a cool thing. I'm generally cruising to some great music and particularly on a day like this, window down, roof open if there's a roof and enjoying, enjoying time you know. I do hate being in traffic because I feel like so much life gets lost.
How much your upbringing, you came from a modest upbringing, you weren’t handed anything. How much of your upbringing do you credit for the person you are today, and your success?
I think, equally, probably all of them. I mean in the driving side, that's definitely, that hunger of coming from where we came from, being on the race track just like this, but pretty much every other driver that I was racing against, had you know, better equipment, more money to be able to spend on it, and it was just me and my dad. And, also at the beginning we weren't really welcomed so just gave me more fighting spirit. And I carry that into my racing today.
I still, when I am racing in my Formula One car today, what keeps me motivated is I think in my back of my mind just how hard my parents worked. My dad having four jobs, my step mum giving up all of her money, every bit of income she had went into my racing so that's a huge commitment for, for particularly, for a woman who is coming in and that's not actually your son, to devote your life and your earnings, your hard work to help a youngster go somewhere. It's quite incredible, so when I get into the car today, I don't take it for granted, even though I'm now here, well planted, I do not take it for granted. Because so much work went in.
You said earlier that when you were a kid, you weren’t really welcomed at first. What does that mean? What do you mean by that?
Well, we were the only black family that has ever been in Formula One, so, I mean in motor racing at the time, my 23 years of racing, we never came across another black family so when we first arrived there, we were, I always relate it to this movie I grew up watching, Cool Runnings ... it's like my favorite movie.
The Jamaican bobsleigh team. And they first arrived, there's a scene when they first arrive at the top of the hill they pull off their crap sled, which is exactly like mine and my dad's go kart. Me and my dad pull this go kart out of the back of this, of our car, and everyone else had trailers and stuff, you know, camper vans and we look around and everyone's looking at us like "What the hell are they doing here?" and it was exactly like that movie, you know, where they are like what are you guys doing here?
But we showed up and we outperformed people and that really upset people and eventually they got used to it.
Does that make you proud?
So proud! I love that!
I mean when you look back at that, that’s got to be…
I love that because obviously people often shy away from things like that. People shy away from adversity and I really admire people who face it head on and don't let people or things drag you down and continue to move forward and aspire. And so many people, so many inspiring people around the world.
You know, I race on a huge team and people work so hard on my team. There’s so much work that goes into the background. But yeah, I mean, that spurs me on. I'm like, I love a challenge.
The biggest name in Formula One, how important is it for you to kind of spread the brand? I know you’ve talked about wanting to push more into the United States, you want to grow the brand overall. Do you see that as a personal responsibility?
Well I mean, no one else is going to do it for me, that's for sure. I think ultimately it's whatever you put into it. I think for me, growing a brand is a different time in life, you know. You know, Formula One will one day stop and when I do stop, what is there beyond? And the only thing I have beyond is my brand, you know, and there's other things I'm obviously into, the weight of what I help hopefully build whilst I'm in Formula One will carry me a certain distance afterwards. And open doors or help things elevate afterwards and I don't want to stop and not have something else great to move onto, something else that's challenging. So that's really what it's about, building.
But I think there's, Formula One is, whilst it goes to these countries but only for once a year, you know, it's an exciting moment for ten days and then it's gone for a whole year. So, I think Formula One has so much space to grow in different places, particularly, we need the street circuit here in Beijing for example. That would be epic, it’s the biggest city in the world, there's such a big following out here and it has more of a chance to grow out here so that's what I'm hoping for in the future. At least hope whilst I'm in Formula One, that's something like that happens.
And ten years down the road, what does Formula One look like if you had your way, how has the brand grown, what is different?
I think Formula One hopefully is more accessible to fans. When you go to Grand Prixes, it's packed with fans so it's more fan engaging. It's more of a, more of an event, people are more passionate than, even than they are now. You got to have, fans need to be screaming like JJ's here and girls are screaming for him. Fans need to be screaming for their racing drivers somehow, so they've got to show more character. When you're driving you got a helmet on so it's really important that when you're out of the car that you are somehow able to show your face because people don't, you know, not able to see it when you got your helmet on.
I think they've got to bring the sound back, the cars have got to be, these go karts they will, they race wheel to wheel and we need Formula One to be much closer and I think, hopefully in ten years’ time, that's where Formula One, somehow needs to be. It can be technical, it can be advanced as it is today, can be even back to road cars but it's got to be wheel to wheel. Close, close, heavy racing that keeps you even more on the edge of your seat than you are now.
How many years are you going to stay in F1? How many more years you got left?
I don't know, I mean I'm the fittest I've ever been which I would not expect at 32. I would expect I would have been fitter when I was, when I got to Formula One. But I've prepared myself better than ever, I'm more calm in my, in myself, even more confident in myself and my own abilities which is hard to believe because I already had such confidence as a kid as all these kids do. I've carried that from a kid but I don't know, I'm going to keep going until the day I get in the car and I don't feel the love.
I think in the sense of, like, if I get in the car and I feel this is a job, like jeez I got to get in the car and drive then I think that's the time to stop. But also bearing in mind, unlike other sports, there's only 20 seats so there's some drivers hold on to keep a job and get paid, you know, and meanwhile there are drivers coming through and there's only 20 seats as I said, so every year you stay that's one less option for a kid and most likely they are at the peak of their championship in the lower range and this is their chance but no opening comes up.
So I'm conscious of that, I'm not going to hold a seat, I don't want to be, necessarily be someone that can look back and say actually I was in the way of that young kid, he could have come through and done well, so you know, I'll stay my fair amount of time that I feel like I've earned and deserved and you know, then I'll leave.
You said once racing is done, your career is over, you want to make sure that there’s other things you can move on to. What are those other things, what are your interests, what are you going to do when racing is over?
There's a lot. Well, at the moment I'm traveling around doing, juggling as many balls as I can right now but as soon as I drop this one, which is the biggest ball that I'm carrying right now, it's going to open doors for other things. I mean, I'm very much into fashion, I love acting, I don't know if I'm actually any good at it, I love music... and kids are really the deep-rooted heart for me. So, I think kids are the future so I want to do something with kids. Whether it's underprivileged kids in certain rural areas, for example like here, who won't have, perhaps won't have the chance to get out to do something spectacular, whether it's in sport or whatever it is, education I think is a huge, huge area that needs to be attacked around the world, particularly in third world countries.
So, I want to get involved in that, you know, dedicate my time to making a difference. Racing, I don't feel like I'm particularly making a difference in a sport. Of course, it is, and I feel like I can make a difference in a sport, encouraging young kids, but I mean on a broader scale, outside for, not people who want to be racing drivers, more outside of the world.
I feel like when I stop, when I'm at the Pearly Gates one day, I want to be able to say I helped these guys or I encouraged these guys to do something or I made, I was a part of something that helped the world, you know? It's cool to be able to give something back.
And last question, is it fun to be Lewis Hamilton right now?
It's super fun. It's so much fun, I mean, jeez. I get to travel, I just flew here, I get to travel. I get to see all these different cultures and I get to meet all these different people. I get to try all their foods, it is a roller coaster ride every single day. And I really, pretty much every single day, I have to just count my blessings because I don't know when it's going to stop.
Don't know when it's my last day. But, I really am so grateful for, as I said, what my family did to help me be where I am today, for the work that, other people that have helped me be where I am today and for God giving me the opportunity and giving me the ability to have this platform, to encourage these young kids in these cars.