B/R Exclusive: Lewis Hamilton on Titles, the Future and Why He's Driving Better

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2015

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain thumbs up celebrating his victory at the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the 'Sochi Autodrom' Formula One circuit in Sochi, Russia, on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Lewis Hamilton is within touching distance of his third Formula One world championship title. He heads into the 2015 United States Grand Prix 66 points clear of nearest rival Sebastian Vettel and 73 ahead of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.

If he's 75 or more points ahead of both after Sunday's race, the title will be his for the second year in a row.

It seems the whole F1 world is thinking about the result he needsbut speaking in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, courtesy of Mercedes partner Epson, Hamilton insists he's looking at it from a different perspective.

"I'm close? I don't really know," he mused. "People have been talking about what I've got to do in order to do it, and I'm not really taking any notice of it to be honest."

"We've got four races to go, so for me what's most important is that I want to win the championship, of course, but I'm not in a hurry as suchas long as by the time I come across the line in Abu Dhabi [the final race] I've won, that's all I want."

Lewis Hamilton crosses the line at last season's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become a double world champion.
Lewis Hamilton crosses the line at last season's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become a double world champion.Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

A third world title would see Hamilton match the achievement of his childhood idol, the great Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna.

He equalled Senna's tally of 41 race wins at the Japanese Grand Prix this year (victory in Russia took him past that mark), and we asked if the thought that he may soon have the same number of world championships was playing on his mind in the run up to the United States Grand Prix.

"It isn't, but I'm sure if I do...my goal was always to get to Formula One, to do something similar to Ayrton. And then I won the first championship, and..."

The first title came at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.
The first title came at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix.Oliver Multhaup/Associated Press/Associated Press

"The way I am, the way I'm built, I'm like, 'I'm grateful for what I have, and if it's the only one I getbecause with F1 you have to be in the right car as wellI'm just grateful for the one I have, because not many people get to have that,'" he added.

"Then I got my second, and I had the same feeling. Now I'm fighting for my third; it just feels very surreal to think that I'm fighting for a third championship, I'm in a team that I love, with a car that I love driving."

Hamilton went on to talk about his decision to leave McLaren at the end of the 2012 season to join Mercedesa move that, at the time, didn't appear wise.

McLaren had a long history of producing race- and title-winning cars, and Hamilton won four races in 2012 driving the quick but occasionally fragile MP4-27. Mercedes, having returned in 2010 as a works team, looked a long way away from being able to fight for the championship.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg celebrate Mercedes' second title at the team headquarters.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg celebrate Mercedes' second title at the team headquarters.Steve Etherington/Getty Images

But in the years since, the two teams' fortunes have taken very different paths; as McLaren approach the end of their third winless year in row, Hamilton has led Mercedes to a second consecutive constructors' titleand he's happy to have proved the doubters wrong.

"I just can't believe my fortune in terms of how blessed I've been, in terms of making the decision, against every single person that had an opinion about it, the decision in terms of where to go," he said.

"I came to the team, and I made the right decisionand if I'd stayed there [at McLaren], I would still have my one championship."

But the switch to Mercedes didn't just open the door to greater success on the track. McLaren have a reputation for keeping their drivers on a relatively tight leash; the switch to a more relaxed Mercedes team offered him the kind of freedom he craved to explore the world away from Formula One.

In doing so, Hamilton has become the sport's first true global celebrity. Comfortable and recognisable in the most star-studded of crowds, his desire and willingness to embrace life away from the race track has won him legions of new fansincluding many with no prior interest in motorsport.

It has also given him the opportunity to meet and befriend countless big names from the worlds of film, TV, music, fashion and sportpromoting Formula One as he does so.

His loves of fashion and music are particularly well-documented, and Hamilton appears in the showbiz columns as frequently as he does the sporting pages.

Speaking of the difference between being a McLaren driver and a Mercedes driver, Hamilton was very openand he left no doubt that he is now in a much happier place.

"I tell you, it's night and day," he sighed.

"You know, when I was at McLaren...Formula One's very corporate. You sign up for Formula One, you pretty much sign your life away. You do everything; you walk and talk the way you're asked to. So in my move, it was really an adventure in terms of discovering myself, and I wanted to really be in a place where I could be myself and express myself in my own ways.

"In Formula One, you're limited in the way you can express yourself, so I've got more time now in my personal time to be able to do things that I like. I love clothes, I love fashion, I go to these fashion shows and they're amazingI was at one last nightand I'm just experiencing different things outside of sport.

"So I'm really, really enjoying it and living in my element right now."

Hamilton at the Balmain H&M Fashion show with "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star Kylie Jenner ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix.
Hamilton at the Balmain H&M Fashion show with "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star Kylie Jenner ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix.Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

But some fansand the occasional former driverhave been critical of the way Hamilton enjoys this sort of lifestyle. Speaking to Gary Chappell of the Express, 1996 world champion Damon Hill suggested Hamilton needed to focus more on being a racing driver and less on "all the fruits of fame."

It's a charge the Brit has had to contend with on numerous occasions, but the championship table and Hamilton's performances on the track suggest his globe-trotting hobbies are not adversely affecting his day job.

Asked if he thought being a happier man away from the circuit made him a better driver on it, he was emphatic in his response

"Absolutely," he asserted. "Absolutely, it's just freeing my mind, being able to get away. Being able to focus on my job but also have outside interests really helps me be, all round, a better driver than I was before.

"As sportsmen and women, you focus so much on your craft and your training, and there's a point at which it's too much; and there's a point that it's too little. You have to find the right balance, and for every single individual it's different, but I've finally found my balance and I'm arriving and driving better than ever."

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his 42nd career win at the 2015 Russian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his 42nd career win at the 2015 Russian Grand Prix.Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The 2015 world title may or may not be in the bag, but in March next year, it'll be a fresh start and a blank canvas for everyone. Whether Hamilton arrives in Australia with three world titles to his name or just two, the competition from other teams, most notably Ferrari, should be greater.

But the battle within his own Mercedes team may soon be that little bit fiercer as well. Team boss Toto Wolff has spoken enthusiastically about three-car teams in recent weeks, and, though it's highly unlikely we'll see them in 2016, they remain a possibility a little further down the line.

With a view to this potential future, we asked Hamilton who he'd want alongside himwith the exception of current team-mate Rosbergin his ideal three-car Mercedes team.

"Well, I'd pick...the best drivers I'm aware of are Fernando [Alonso] and Sebastian," he pondered. "Or, I would say, Daniel Ricciardo. Maybe me, Sebastian and Ricciardo."

Lewis Hamilton's dream team.
Lewis Hamilton's dream team.Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press

"They're easy-going drivers, and I think we'd have a great rapport."

Not all drivers would want the best alongside them; Michael Schumacher famously enjoyed being the undisputed No. 1 throughout his career, and Alonso also likes to have the lion's share of his team's attentionsomething Hamilton appears to have considered when choosing his dream team.

Being "the man" within a team has its advantages, but Hamiltonwho can count two world champions among his past team-matesinsists he would rather be challenged.

"I've grown up in go-karting, and I'm all about the challenge. I've never been about just being the lead driver, having a No. 2...while your goal is always to make the guy you're up against the No. 2.

"I love a challenge, so I'd always want to have the best guys alongside me."

If the result would be lineups like that, maybe third cars aren't such a bad idea after all.

A young Lewis Hamilton in his karting days.
A young Lewis Hamilton in his karting days.HERMANN J. KNIPPERTZ/Associated Press

Hamilton was talking to B/R courtesy of Mercedes partner Epson. The Japanese technology giant joined up with the team at the start of 2015, bringing to Mercedes its expertise in areas including printing, scanning, 3LCD projection and wearable technology.

Though it's still the early days, Hamilton was enthusiastic when speaking of what Epson have brought to Mercedes.

"Formula One's about technology, innovation, about us being the best and about high performance, so Mercedes-Benz, and our team, always want to make sure we're partnering with people who share the same values," he said.

"We're lucky to be working with Epson; it's the new beginnings of an early relationship, a young relationship, but hopefully a long one. It's been great to see the technology that they've been able to introduce to us."

The U.S Grand Prix on Sunday could provide one of the greatest moments of Hamilton's career; it could also be a race of disappointment. But with the experienceboth good and badof previous championship battles, he has learned to approach key races in much the same way he would any other.

"I'm not coming here this weekend and adding extra pressure," he insisted. "It's the same weekend for me as it has been at all the other races."

Whichever way it goes, hopefully he and his rivals can give the American fans a race to remember.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.