Lewis Hamilton style shoot ()Lewis Hamilton style shoot () © Copyright

Winning in style

Lewis Hamilton. Style Icon.

They’re four words you would not have put together even five years ago. Yet, today, three-time Formula One world champion Hamilton is becoming as well known for his looks as he is for his obscene speed on racetracks around the globe.

Because when he’s not tearing it up at Spa, Silverstone or Sochi, Hamilton is a regular on the front row at fashion weeks in London, Paris and New York. He looks the part, too, but as he readily admits, that wasn’t always the case.

“I had so many fashion faux pas in the past,” he says. “And now I go to all these events, and I’ll be in a Vogue column somewhere talking about the way I dress, which is very encouraging. I would say it was from 2008 or 2009 onwards that I really tried to discover the style that I’m most comfortable with. Before that, my fashion sense was terrible. It’s just got better and better.” 

FS met up with Hamilton to hear about his decade in F1 – a remarkable ten years of drama, tension and incredible success. But more of that later, because Hamilton’s story on
the track is not complete without exploring his journey off it – and that includes how this Stevenage-born boy racer has transformed his image over the past ten years.

Lewis Hamilton flying kick in a suit for fashion photoshoot ()

 

Hamilton’s upbringing in Hertfordshire had been pretty straight. “I didn’t have cool clothes back then,” he explains. “I probably had only one pair of trainers. I’d arrive at school
and everyone else would be in cool things, but I didn’t have all those.”

And when the seemingly shy and retiring wannabe first donned the McLaren overalls in 2007, he toed the party line, delighted to be given an extraordinary opportunity to race alongside double-reigning world champion Fernando Alonso.

“From the moment I got into F1 with McLaren, there was an immediate expectation – ‘dress like this, this is how all the other drivers dress’. I said, ‘But this is who I am’, and it wasn’t accepted at the beginning but now I can just say ‘you have no choice’.”

Now, not only can Hamilton make statements by dressing how he likes, he has also started inking his body. Is this some kind of rebellion against the strict motorsport regime which had kept him rule-bound from a very early age?

“What I’m doing now isn’t about having my youth. It’s just being able to be me. Dress the way I want to dress, be who I want to be. Getting my first tattoo was an amazing feeling. To be able to walk into the paddock when everyone expects you to be a certain way and feel comfortable in your skin, to be able to say, ‘This is how it is and that’s what I have’, that was great.”

Lewis Hamilton style shoot ()

 

These days, of course, Hamilton walks into the Mercedes paddock to do his thing, and if he’s still in civvies, he could be garbed in Riccardo Tisci or Olivier Rousteing, two of his favourite designers. “I choose all the clothes that I am wearing,” he tells us. “I choose all my style, but I have people who help me because I hate shopping. I have people who make me aware of what’s in. Finding my own style and being comfortable with it has really been a journey. And gradually, I found my own way. And right now I’m happier than ever in terms of comfort. I’m more comfortable in the paddock than ever before.”

Like anyone who takes more than a passing interest in how they look, Hamilton has one weak spot, which has seen him build up a museum-size shoe collection. “I’m no chick, but I have a lot of shoes,” he jokes. “I have no more space in my apartment! Yes, there are trainers that have not been touched, but that’s the exception, not the rule.”

So, given his fashion week frequency and shoe fetish, can we expect to see a Hamilton style line before long?

“I’ve never tried to design,” he says, “so I couldn’t honestly tell you whether I’ll be good at it. “I do love clothes, though, and it’d be really cool to be able to have my own trainers one day.”

Lewis Hamilton shirtless fashion shoot ()

 

When someone who spends their working life sat in a cramped space in searing heat, wearing an unforgiving, all-in-one race suit plus under-layer protection, describes something as ‘real work’, they know what they’re talking about. So, it’s interesting to hear Hamilton talk about how tough life can be in fashion. “When I go for fashion weeks, in the same day I might change three to four outfits to attend different shows. It’s crazy, it’s also real work changing, but I happen to really enjoy doing it.”

It’s not just the fashion that keeps Hamilton sane when he’s spending time away from the pit lanes and paddocks – he’s also something of a musician. He’s played the guitar since he was 13, has written around 250 songs, and has even had vocal training.

“My family is from the Caribbean,” he explains, “so I grew up with a lot of reggae and soul music.” And, like the world of fashion, he also feels that music gives him a great release and the ability to be himself. “When you’re a racing driver, and you’re working for these big corporate companies, it’s hard to be vulnerable and connect. It’s always, ‘How do the tyres feel?’ And they ask you every frickin’ weekend, so most of the time it’s, ‘They feel the same as always.’ But you can say what you want with music. You can spill your heart out if you want. You can say sh*t you wanna say and not be bothered by which sponsors are gonna be upset.” 

You get the feeling that without the fashionista and musician parts of his persona, Hamilton may not be half the extraordinary driver that he is. They’re the yin to his yang. And it was about that yang, that Hamilton went into detail when we discussed his first ten years on the track.

Lewis Hamilton fashion shoot screaming ()

 

Do you remember your first test drive with McLaren?

“Yeah I remember that – that was an amazing day. I remember there had been like a McLaren driver competition, and I was in a position to compete in that, but McLaren said that I couldn’t because I was with them so if I won it, people would say it’s rigged. I wasn’t able to compete, but they said ‘we’ll give you a test another time’ – that was that day.”

Was that your first time in an F1 car?

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure that was the one. It was massive – it was everything I’d dreamed of and more. I remember being in the garage, and there’s so many more people around you, and there’s so much going on around you. I was thinking, ‘Ron [Dennis] is going to be on the phone to make sure that I’ve done the job today. Every step, everything I do from now is going to determine whether I became a Formula One driver or not.’ It was nerve-wracking, that’s for sure, but the day went well, I didn’t make any mistakes, I didn’t damage the car and yeah, it was amazing.”

When did you find out you were going to be racing alongside Fernando Alonso next season?

“At the time [Juan Pablo] Montoya had stopped and Pedro de la Rosa had taken over, and they were talking about putting me in for the last two races, Brazil and another one. They pulled me round the house to discuss that, which was just so cool, the fact that they were even considering it. But I’m glad that they didn’t because I probably wouldn’t be racing today – because it’s not something you can just jump into and get on. The cars were harder to drive back then as well, so it was so different. At the end of the year, I won the [GP2] championship in Monza, and that’s when he [Ron Dennis] said, ‘I’m going to give  you a chance.’ I can’t remember what day we signed, but I remember being at the factory shaking hands and that I was going to be the driver.”

Lewis Hamilton fashion white jacket ()

 

What was that first race like?

“It was my dream – that’s what I’d grown up watching, so it was a crazy thing. I was standing just next to Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, who I’d been watching on TV winning races, and I was immediately convinced I could race against them, and beat them [laughs]. That’s just me!”

It still stands out as one of the best rookie seasons…

“Yeah, I don’t really know too many people that have had as good a rookie season as that [Hamilton finished 2nd in the Championship, one point behind Raikkonen]. The fortunate thing was being able to be in the McLaren car and that year, McLaren were good as well. So to step in as a rookie alongside a two-time world champion who should have smashed me out the park… he should have humiliated me that year. I would have thought that if a rookie ever joined me, I would humiliate them [laughs], but fortunately for me, he didn’t – and if anything, I ended up managing to ruffle his feathers.”

It was a pretty intense rivalry with Alonso at times…

“It was, because I don’t believe in being a number two. It doesn’t matter if it’s my first year. If I owned a team, I’d hire the best driver, and I’d expect that guy to take us to the Championship. But it just turned out that I was also able to take them to the Championship and so there they were in a real dilemma, which no one expected. I know Ron didn’t expect it and I think he [Alonso] definitely didn’t expect it, you know. It was a transitional year for us – I was still a kid, I was super immature. I think we were both more immature then than we are today – we learned a lot that year, but it was a cool rivalry. It was epic racing against him, his speed was amazing.”

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso take a selfie at Mclaren ()

 

 What about your first race win – do you still have the trophy on display somewhere?

“That was Montreal. I’m pretty sure all my trophies are in storage. I don’t think I’d really prepared myself for it – to be honest, the first years of racing, it all came as a real surprise, because everything before Formula One, you’re just racing. In GP2, you do a couple of interviews – you think you’re kind of professional but you’re not – and then you get to Formula One, and there’s so much stuff that comes with it. There’s the glitz and glamour side of it, there’s the media, there’s the attention all of a sudden – tonnes of cameras, every move you make, everything is being looked at with a magnifying glass so I wasn’t ready for it. But that was a great moment because we’d had god knows how many podiums and then we got a win so I wasn’t expecting that. You’re not expecting it, going into your first year of Formula One, but I’d planned to win. I’m only ever planning to win – I didn’t plan to have a year of driving around in second or further behind.”

So did it take you a while to adjust to the media attention?

“It was very distracting, and I wasn’t prepared for it as well. Lots of pitfalls. I can’t say that was a good experience.”

Have you learnt how to deal with it better now?

“Not really, I still f**k it up all the time [laughs]. I do – you definitely learn, and if anything you f**k up more, so you develop thicker skin.”

Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren in 2006 ()

 

The following year [2008] was your first world title, and that crazy race in Brazil. How was that?

“It was insane. It was horrible. I just remember it being horrible, I don’t remember any good things about the whole weekend [laughs]. It was a horrible time, I’d already lost the year before through some weird things, and then that one I’d done really well during the year but there were things up against us, penalties and stuff. And then in that race, I think I had to finish fifth or something like that.

“And everything was going well and then, all of a sudden, there was too much pressure in my tyres, so they just blistered and I was skating around on these intermediates which was just weird for me because it’s like, ‘How did you get the tyre pressures wrong?’ – but it was intermediates, it was drying time.

“Then I got overtaken by Sebastian and he was literally like [points] where the cameraman is right now in front of me [about two metres] and for the life of me, I couldn’t get by and he was fifth and I was sixth, so it’s like being… I can only relate it to having your mum on the edge of a cliff and she’s right there but you can’t… [laughs] she’s gonna fall, and there’s nothing you can do to stop her from falling but she’s only there.

“That was how it was. It was the worst feeling, it was like a life and death – if I don’t catch him, there’s nothing I can do to save myself right now, and I was about to lose it. It was a really horrible experience. So I came across the line, and it was like death was over me. And then 17 seconds later, they told me I had won [Hamilton had passed Timo Glock on the last corner to finish fifth] and I was already emotional from the fact that I thought I lost it, so it was… it was… very interesting.”

Lewis Hamilton fashion shoot pullover ()

 

How amazing was it to be able to share the celebrations with your dad?

“That was just a big ‘woah!’, and honestly, I don’t really remember much of what happened. There were just people all over, people jumping about, people excited. I was sweating, I was drenched, I was emotionally destroyed.”

When you left McLaren for Mercedes a few years later, was that a bit of a leap into the unknown?

“I think it was about faith and sticking by your decisions. I’d done research, I’d studied the options and I understood the implications of whatever decision I was gonna make, and it was the decision I felt comfortable with. Over winter, I was kind of like, ‘I don’t know how long it’s gonna be until the car is in a winning position’. But there’s no better place to be than Mercedes Benz, who I’ve been with since I was 13. I followed Mercedes – they were leaving McLaren, and for some reason, I knew that they’d have the right engine, which is a large part of it.

“Even at McLaren in 2012, I could go to Brixworth [home of Mercedes F1] and I knew what was going on. That, and also with the information from Ross Brawn, it all kind of gelled together so I was fully committed.” 

You’ve said winning the second title in 2014 felt better – how come?

“It felt more special because I guess I was just in a different place in my life, and I enjoyed it so much more. I was just in a happier place, I was happier in that team and happier with the environment that the team put around me.”

And how about the third one in 2015?

“The third one was amazing, even better than the second! Just having grown and experienced it before, and knowing how much work had gone in and the journey. I enjoyed it so much more.”

How have you changed over the past ten years?

“I think just being able to be who you are. I don’t think I was really allowed to be who I felt I was before, I was being what people expect you to be. Now I very rarely do what people expect, and I don’t represent myself as the standard F1 racing driver, which is possibly why I get in so much trouble. If anything’s changed over the years, it’s that I care less about what people think of me.”

Photos: Mike Ruiz/Lickerish // Getty Images

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