Lewis Hamilton — seven-time Formula One World Champion and arguably the best race car driver alive — doesn’t believe in spreading himself too thin. He doesn’t agree with people who tell him he needs to specialize in one thing, or focus on one of many social issues which lie close to his heart.
This might seem strange at first, considering Hamilton has spent his entire adult life — and much of his youth — rising through the racing ranks to get to where he is now. He’s spent countless hours on the track and with his engineers, fine-tuning his driving to become the best ever. But when it comes to social issues such as Black Lives Matter, animal rights, and the climate crisis, Hamilton doesn’t see why he can’t champion all causes equally and use his platform and global reach to bring about lasting change.
Ahead of the 2021 F1 season, Highsnobiety caught up with the Mercedes AMG Petronas driver and defending world champion to discuss his record-breaking season, his career so far, and some of the social issues that plagued us all in 2020.
In terms of diversity in racing, how do you hope your career inspires other, young racers?
When I've been talking about diversity, it's not necessarily just about drivers. There are only 20 drivers in Formula One. It's drivers, but it's also engineers, it's people in the media, it's people in marketing. There are so many great jobs within this sport. I plan to work towards making sure I have enough impact to spark some change so that our sport can be more diverse in the future.
At the moment, when I stop, it will go back to being an all-white driver lineup, as there are currently no other young Black kids coming through anytime soon. But that doesn't mean that that won't happen in the future. But what can happen faster is young Black engineers, more minorities coming through, having opportunities in the different fields that we have here within the sport.
I will still probably have some sort of role within Formula One [after my racing days are over] to help make sure that it continues the work.
You’re very vocal about several social issues. Which are they and why are they important to you?
So this is an interesting discussion I've been having with my personal team. They're like, "Lewis, can you just focus on one thing?" But I have a lot of energy to give, and I care about many different things out there.
I would say one of the pillars is really education. I've been to places where kids don't have access to education at all. I've been to places where the quality of education is not equal to all. So that's something I've really focused on.
Animal welfare is something that I think is heavily overlooked. It also relates to sustainability, which I'm really passionate about. Look at what's happening to animals and what they're doing in order to grow food, to then feed the cattle, to grow more cattle, to be able to feed peoples’ need for meat. [Meat isn’t] even a necessity, since I've now won two world titles without any meat.
And then, in 2020, really fighting against social injustices. I didn't really expect that I was going to get the opportunity to speak on that. In the past, I experienced racism in Formula One and no one said anything. A lot of people are like, "Yeah, but it's only happening in the States," but it's happening across the whole world. That one is pretty close to my heart because I've experienced it firsthand throughout my whole life. Both racial discrimination and systemic racism, which are still prevalent in society today.
I would say those three pillars are most important. I'm not really going to back down from any of those. I don't think that's "too many."
How do you balance your career in the spotlight as a professional athlete with your private life as a son, brother, and activist?
[President Trump] told LeBron to “Shut up and dribble.” And there are those that say, "Just drive." And the fact is, I drive on the side. I'm a human first.
But the ability to use my voice and platform has come from racing. The question each year is, how can I do better with that platform? How can I use it more? Personally, I would just pick up the phone and send pictures to my friends. [With social media], I'm trying to figure out how I can be more efficient with it, more impactful with it, less wasteful with it.
If there's one young kid that's watching or reading this, or a teenager or adult who's depressed and feels like there's no way out... is what I'm saying going to help them see through the next day? I'm hopeful that my message carries weight, rather than a waste.
On the topic of reach and platforms, you’re one of PUMA’s biggest athletes. What drew you to the brand initially?
Puma obviously does racing gear, but the real advancement has been on the training side. People don't believe it, but to be a driver, you are an athlete, and you have to train rigorously to be able to keep up with these ever-evolving cars and the G-force. So the training side of things is where Puma have really stepped up to the plate and helped provide me with gear that is technically efficient.
Puma has just signed Neymar. You two are friends, so what do you make of that signing? Is there potential for crossover between the two of you?
He's really like my brother, so we have a good friendship. And when I heard that he was coming this way, I was super, super excited to know that he would be joining the family. Hopefully we will be doing more together this year. We already messaged and said, "We've got to do something together."
We would want to do something that's edgy and different, not just the same normal collabs that you do. We're going to find something cool to do together, for sure.