Lewis Hamilton Interview: Distractions, Social Media and His Approach to Racing

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2016

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis HamiltonCharles Coates/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton is an easy target. He is young, rich, successful, attractive and, it must be said, he seems to enjoy showing it all off.

He is also the only current Formula One driver with any pop culture currency, which must be unsettling to those who would rather think of them as joyless automatons, singularly dedicated to the craft of driving and shaving another hundredth-of-a-second off off their Sector 2 time.

Because Hamilton has other interests in his life and because those interests include partying with fellow celebrities and jetting around the world on his private plane, he receives an undue amount of criticism from some segments of the media and of F1's fanbase.

Bleacher Report spoke with Hamilton about handling that criticism, among other topics, in a telephone interview on the Wednesday before the U.S. Grand Prix, as part of an event for Mercedes sponsor Epson.

One oft-repeated critique of the three-time champion is that he does not appear focused on F1. Former driver and current Channel 4 pundit David Coulthard threw his hat in that ring earlier this year, per the Guardian's Paul Weaver.

Hamilton dismisses that sort of speculation out of hand. Yes, there are times where he has been at an event or party before the race weekend, but he said that is not the determining factor in how his weekend goes.

"Sometimes, I arrive at races more energetic and clear-minded than ever and then I have a terrible race. And the opposite is also true."

Such is the randomness of F1 and sport in general, where the most talented athlete doesn't always win. And Hamilton is certainly one of the most talented drivers on the grid. Perhaps that is also where some of the negative judgement comes from—people concerned the outside distractions have limited his ability to live up to his massive potential.

To be fair, Hamilton has admitted that, in the past, his personal life affected his professional one, according to The Telegraph's Tom Cary.

But that is the past. Hamilton has won the last two titles, has a shot at another one and just tied Alain Prost for the second-most victories in F1 history. His winning percentage of 27.4 is fifth all-time, trailing only Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Jim Clark and Michael Schumacher.

Not focused? Please.

During F1's recent Asian tour, for the Singapore, Malaysia and Japanese Grands Prix, Hamilton said he was distraction-free, even if the results were not what he was hoping for.

"I was in Asia for three or four weeks with nobody except my trainer. I was reading and travelling, just relaxing and enjoying myself."

"It takes me forever to read a book," he said, when asked about his reading list. "I have such a small attention span." Still he enjoys reading, just not novels. "I don't like to read fiction," he said. "I like to learn something when I'm reading."

Any suggestion that Hamilton is so naturally gifted that he doesn't need to work as hard as, say, Nico Rosberg, his Mercedes team-mate, rankles the champ.

"It's frustrating to me because people make up stories that aren't real," he said about the view of him as more instinctive, versus Rosberg's supposedly more cerebral approach.

"I don't drive by the seat of my pants and happen to win races. I work very hard to interpret the data and drive a certain way. My engineers have confidence in me and, more often than not when I tell them what I need or what I am feeling with the car, it's right."

Lewis Hamilton prepares for another run during free practice for the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton prepares for another run during free practice for the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix.Steve Etherington/Getty Images

Speaking of data, since it was an Epson event, we spoke a bit about the Japanese electronics company's involvement with Mercedes.

"When I arrive at the track tomorrow morning, my engineers will have put together a package with too much to read," Hamilton said, laughing. "It's all printed on Epson printers."

Asked how the company helps the team succeed, he said, "You might see these little labels all over the cockpit. With the regulations, there is so much we can't say on the radio, so we put it on the labels."

Like the start procedure (one of the banes of Hamilton's season)?

"Exactly. There are so many specific sequences to run through so it helps to look down and remember."

Back in 2014, after Hamilton wrapped up the championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, he was asked in the post-race press conference about the race in Belgium, where Rosberg collided with him and which proved to be the turning point of the season.

"I came back to the next races with a slightly different approach and I won't explain exactly what I did because I need to bring it to the next races next year but I did tweak some of my approach throughout the weekend which helped me get those wins," he responded.

Nico Rosberg (right) clips Lewis Hamilton at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.
Nico Rosberg (right) clips Lewis Hamilton at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.Clive Mason/Getty Images

Asked whether now, two years later, he could share some of his secrets, Hamilton first said that he didn't really remember. Then he thought about it a bit more and gave a lengthy response.

More important than what he said, though, is the fact that he took the time to stop and think about the question and give a non-cliched answer. This thoughtfulness, which is characteristic of all the interactions I have witnessed between him and the media, does not always come across in a soundbite or an Instagram post, but it is refreshing.

For the record, Hamilton said the biggest change he made after Spa 2014 was becoming more aggressive on the track. He said that after Rosberg clipped his car, he thought, "Oh, so that's how it's going to be," and then went on to win six of the final seven races to claim the title.

Perhaps inevitably, our conversation circles back to where it began: Hamilton's social media presence. You might recall that little Snapchat row in Japan, but when asked whether he ever feels benefits of interacting with his fans are outweighed by the criticism he receives, Hamilton said no, but, "I wish all the negativity wasn't there, though."

"I have lots of incredible followers," he continued, "but I wish you didn't have to share everything with certain people.

"Sometimes, you have to be more selective about what you share."

Hamilton, it should be noted, is one of the sport's social media pioneers. His nearly four million Twitter followers are more than any other driver or team—more even than the official F1 account—and his ability to reach people outside F1's existing fanbase is invaluable.

If he does not win the championship this year, though, get ready for another round of criticism, deserved or not. Just know that it does not bother Hamilton.

"I am very single-minded," he said. "I take any excess baggage and get rid of it. I try to shut out anything else."

   

Matthew Walthert is an F1 columnist for Bleacher Report UK. He has also written for VICEFourFourTwo and the Globe and Mail.

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