He looks you in the eyes and puts out a firm hand to shake while he smiles. It's not easy to imagine his story, that of the boy who grew up unable to buy sweets... Here he is with his gold necklace, turned into a star, free and happy, aware of his blessings and his talent and of his car that lets him fly heavenward in a race or pass his closest enemies as if he were on a magic carpet.
AS spent some time with Lewis Hamilton, three times World Champion and leader of the driver standings, who is on course for a fourth title that will make him a legend, even more of a legend.
He spoke to us about his life, his Brazilian inspiration, his past, his future, his favourite Spaniard and about... flying, flying far like an arrow. Here's Lewis Hamilton, one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, in his own words:
-How are you Lewis? ¿Did you have a good holiday?
-Great, really great, I got to relax and enjoy myself.
-Is it possible not to be Lewis Hamilton at some point? For example, on holiday, where you can leave behind being the star, the world champion, the guy wearing the diamonds...
- Generally, as soon as I leave the track, I’m no longer a driver. The last twelve days I was away in a place, where no one knew who I was and there was no-one around and there were no cameras and it was amazing.
-A desert island...
-Something like that... In the middle of nowhere with beautiful scenery and very quiet, which was very nice.
-But to be able to enjoy that, the key is Formula 1. How important is F1 in your life right now? What is your priority? Is it work, is it love, family?
-Life, living each moment is the priority.
-Can you be more specific?
-In truth it's that, but yes, family is another priority, racing is in there, but it's not the most important thing.
-Great sportspeople always have targets, in F1 you've been world champion, what's your current goal? Win five titles, seven?
-My goal is always to emulate Ayrton Senna, to do the same as Aryton. I still haven't matched his number of pole positions, I’m still 15 away.
-You mention numbers, but Senna was above all a legend because of what he represented.
Yeah, when I say I want to emulate him I'm talking about everything, his numbers and everything else. It’s being able to drive in a way that's similar to how he was able to drive, achieve something similar in terms of results. Even being able to have a tiny bit of how he was considered by people, manage to do something like that at some stage of your life, would be awesome. He was loved by so many, all around the world and he did so much for his country. It's not so easy for a Brit to do because there are so many other British athletes, bit I'd love to be as recognised as he was.
-What has been the most important moment of your life?
- What has been the single most important moment in my life? Every day is the most important moment in my life. I wake up see where I've got to, and I'm just grateful to have that day, to be here today. Grateful for every day I receive. For me, there hasn't been a single moment, personally. There have been so many great moments and so many bad moments.
-We've done a number of interviews over the yeas and this the first time I've seen you looking truly happy...
I think I’ve grown a lot, but I matured late. I feel like I matured late in life, and you know some people mature earlier. For example, nowadays kids mature so early on, but I think, yeah, I’m just in a place now where I’m not affected by things around me and I'm in control of my life and in control of myself and the joy I have is really a reflection of gratitude.
-Grateful to life?
- I am grateful for what I have in my life and what we work for as a family and I’m so grateful for what the family has done to put me where I am, and the guys here on the team who work so hard to give me the car I'll drive this weekend. I’m living the dream of so many people, so yeah I’m happy. I do have days where I don’t want to get out of bed or I don’t want to go to the gym or “this could be better or that could be better” but then…You realise what you have. It's not easy to achieve that, not even having so much, sometimes it's hard to be world champion. Explaining what you've achieved to the world is also a responsibility...The truth is I'm a bit like my mum.
-Yes, let me explain. My mum, if she’s having a bad day, very rarely does she let me know about it. She says “no, I’m good sweetie”. She might be having a problem but she wants me to have a good day. And that’s how it is with my friends. I want them to go out to do whatever they’re doing in their day and that whatever it is I say to them to be something that makes them fly. I want them to be up, not saying: “Hey, I’m having a real bad day, I hope you’re having a good day". Because if I say something like that, they’ll say, “Oh I’m sad that you’re sad, what can I do to make it better”. Millions of people follow me and the power of a word or a phrase and can lift them up, or bring them down.
-Do you look after your money, in spite of everything?
-Yes I do. It’s a strange position for me, because I grew up with nothing. I remember, you know, being around kids that were able to go to the sweet shop and buy sweets and I didn’t have any money to buy them. Kids would turn up with fresh trainers and I was wearing the same pair all year long. And so I remember that, and I remember when I first got 10 pounds from washing cars, and I remember the value of that and saving up for my first CD. I remember all that.
I guess you don't still think like that…I still have that feeling, I mean I have a lot more money in my bank but I have the same feeling. I get bills every day and whether it's the insurance for my car or the cost of an hotel, I'm like “oh my God!” I just got an email right now, about an event coming up in a couple of weeks and the city is full and there is this one room in this hotel that's my favorite, and I’d like to stay in there, but there's only one room left and it’s the biggest room - it is so expensive. I can afford it, no problem, but it’s so expensive, so I found an apartment I can rent which is much, much less expensive but you know, you don’t have the amenities like getting your clothes cleaned and the place being cleaned every day, room service or being able to use the gym downstairs. But, I think to myself, better to save that money and use it for something else. So yeah I think about that stuff all of the time.
-You're winning right now, but at the start of the season it was Nico Rosberg's turn. How do you explain the start of the season?
It’s quite simple, really. I had problems at the beginning of the year with the car and now I don’t. Simple as that. I don't remember exactly what happened at the beginning of the year but, you know, it doesn’t always go the way you want it. I had a bad start and in the first race, I came in second. The second race, I had another bad start; I got hit so then I struggled to come through and then I had injury problems and then I had another injury problem.
-Did you start to doubt yourself?
- Well I know what I can do and that’s all I can control; I don’t control whatever else happens around, so I know what I can do, I know how to prepare. I’ve been racing for such a long time so I have 100% faith in my ability provided I prepare myself in the right way. I pride myself in what I can achieve. Other things I have no control over, so the most important thing is to arrive and make sure that when you leave, at least you know you did your best.
-I have a question about Fernando Alonso.
-There's something I've always wanted to know, a lot of people talk about Fernando Alonso as being the best, or one of the best, but in 2007 Lewis Hamilton arrives in Formula 1 and everything changed for the Spaniard.
-Are you blaming it all on me?
-No, it's not a question of blame, and it wasn't just you, it was everything around Alonso back then, but it's true that everything changed for Fernando then.
-No, I don’t see it like that. Although it wasn't a great time in my life either, well it was good in that I had just gotten to Formula 1, and I beat the two time world champion, but there was lots of problems during that phase of my life, and I think also for him. From there, there were decisions and choices that we individually made in each of our lives that have lead us to wherever we are today. So I don’t feel that I was a a part of the road he's been on. I think he is still regarded as one of the best drivers out there, and he definitely is by me. I’ve always said that Fernando is one of the best drivers there is. I really hope McClaren provides him with a car that he can win with, so I can race the guy.
-If he was to retire next year, and I didn’t get to race him again, it would really suck. That would really, really suck. It wouldn't be a good image of what this sport is about. F1 wouldn't mean as much if Alonso doesn't continue. You can't let someone as gifted as he is stop driving because he's so far back and because he won't get another chance to win. It wouldn't be right.
-Do yo think there's a real possibility of him retiring?
-For sure. He's 35 years old, he's made enough money.
-I don't think it would be about the money...
-He’s raced enough, he’s experienced enough, Formula 1 is not what defines him. He’s a two-time world champion. He’s a legend already. So he can decide if he wants to stop and ultimately he prepares himself every year to win, to fight for the championship and if he’s just not getting the opportunity... I think he’s faced it really well over these years.
-How would you have faced the situation?
-I probably would have been way worse if I were starting dead last in a team which should be winning more championships and I think he’s handling it really well. For sure, he has grown through these years and I think, hopefully, next year they’ll give him a car that he can fight with and I want to see him continue and I want to battle with him.
Are your reflexes slowing down?
-No, my reactions are great. But you know, that’s going to slow down over time though you can train, you can train to try and keep them sharp. But as life goes on they do slow down to some extent but I hope it's not anytime soon. I’m only 31 so I’m not old. In terms of being a racing driver, when I came here, I was as sharp as an arrow, but with no knowledge, no experience, and now the weight behind that arrow is the knowledge and experience that carries it further. I feel like I have that now and it comes with age.
-Thank you, Lewis. And good luck.
-You too, till next time.