Lewis Hamilton

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12 mins read

Sir Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton MBE HonFREng (Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering) was born 7 January 1985 and is a British racing driver.

Hamilton was born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England. His father, Anthony Hamilton, is black and is of Grenadian descent, while his mother, Carmen Larbalestier, is white, making him mixed-race; Hamilton has identified as black. Hamilton’s parents separated when he was two, after which he lived with his mother and older half-sisters, Samantha and Nicola, until he was twelve. Hamilton then lived with his father, stepmother, Linda, and his half-brother Nicolas, who is also a professional racing driver. Hamilton was raised a Catholic.

Hamilton’s father bought him a radio-controlled car when he was five. Hamilton finished second in the national BRCA championship the following year against adult competition. Being the only black child racing at his club, Hamilton was subjected to racist abuse. Hamilton’s father bought him a go-kart for Christmas when he was six and promised to support his racing career as long as he worked hard at school. To support his son, Hamilton’s father took redundancy from his position as an IT manager and became a contractor, sometimes working up to four jobs at a time including employment as a double glazing salesman, dishwasher, and putting up signs for estate agents, while still attending his son’s races. Hamilton’s father later set up his own IT company. He continued to be Hamilton’s manager until early 2010.

Hamilton was educated at The John Henry Newman School, a voluntary aided Catholic secondary school in Stevenage. At the age of five, Hamilton took up karate to defend himself as a result of bullying at school. He was also excluded from school for a period when he was mistakenly identified as having attacked a fellow student who was treated in hospital for their injuries. In addition to racing, he played association football for his school team with eventual England international, Ashley Young. Hamilton, an Arsenal fan, said that if Formula One had not worked for him, he would have been a footballer or a cricketer, having played both for his school teams. In February 2001, he began studies at Cambridge Arts and Sciences (CATS), a private sixth-form college in Cambridge.

Hamilton began karting in 1993 and quickly began winning races and cadet class championships. Two years later, he became the youngest driver to win the British cadet karting championship at the age of ten. That year, Hamilton approached McLaren Formula One team boss Ron Dennis at the Autosport Awards for an autograph and expressed his will to one day race in the team’s car, Dennis wrote in Hamilton’s book to phone him back in nine years.

In 1998, Dennis called Hamilton following his second Super One series and British championship wins, to offer Hamilton a role in the McLaren driver development programme. The contract included an option of a future Formula One seat, which would make Hamilton the youngest driver to secure a contract that later resulted in a Formula One drive. Hamilton continued his progress in the Intercontinental A (1999), Formula A (2000) and Formula Super A (2001) ranks, and became European Champion in 2000 with maximum points. Following his karting successes, the British Racing Drivers’ Club made him a “Rising Star” Member in 2000. Hamilton began his car racing career in the 2001 British Formula Renault Winter Series, finishing fifth in the standings. This led to a full 2002 Formula Renault UK campaign with Manor Motorsport in which he finished third overall. He remained with Manor for another year, winning the championship. Having clinched the championship, Hamilton missed the last two races of the season to make his debut in the season finale of the British Formula 3 Championship. In his first race he was forced out with a puncture, and in the second he crashed out and was taken to hospital after a collision with teammate Tor Graves.

He made his debut with Manor in the 2004 Formula 3 Euro Series, ending the year fifth in the championship. He also won the Bahrain F3 Superprix and twice raced in the Macau F3 Grand Prix. Williams had come close to signing Hamilton but did not because BMW, their engine supplier at the time, would not fund him. Hamilton eventually re-signed with McLaren. According to then McLaren executive and future CEO Martin Whitmarsh, who was responsible for guiding Hamilton through the team’s young driver programme, he and Anthony Hamilton had a “huge row” at the end of the season, with Lewis’ father pushing for him to move up to GP2 for 2005, while Whitmarsh felt that he should remain in F3 for a second season, culminating in Whitmarsh tearing up Lewis’ contract; however, Lewis called Whitmarsh six weeks later and re-signed with the team.

Hamilton first tested for McLaren in late 2004 at Silverstone. Hamilton moved to the reigning Euro Series champions ASM for the 2005 season and dominated the championship, winning 15 of the 20 rounds. He also won the Marlboro Masters of Formula 3 at Zandvoort. Hamilton moved to ASM’s sister GP2 team, ART Grand Prix, for the 2006 season. Hamilton won the GP2 championship at his first attempt. He secured a dominant win at the Nürburgring, despite a penalty for speeding in the pit lane. At his home race at Silverstone, Hamilton overtook two rivals at Becketts, a series of high-speed bends where overtaking is rare. In Istanbul he recovered from a spin that left him in eighteenth place to take second. Hamilton won the title in unusual circumstances, inheriting the final point he needed after Giorgio Pantano was stripped of fastest lap in the Monza feature race.

Hamilton’s success in the GP2 championship coincided with a vacancy at McLaren following the departure of Juan Pablo Montoya to NASCAR and Kimi Räikkönen to Ferrari. After months of speculation on whether Hamilton, Pedro de la Rosa or Gary Paffett would be paired with defending champion Fernando Alonso for 2007, Hamilton was confirmed as the team’s second driver. He was told of McLaren’s decision at the end of September, but the news was not made public for almost two months, for fear that it would be overshadowed by Michael Schumacher’s retirement announcement.

Hamilton’s first season in Formula One saw him partner two-time and defending World Champion Fernando Alonso. Hamilton is the first and, as of 2021, the only black driver to race in the series. After finishing on the podium in his debut, Hamilton went on to set several records as he finished runner-up in the 2007 World Drivers’ Championship to Kimi Räikkönen by one point, including those for the most consecutive podium finishes from debut (9), the joint most wins in a debut season (4) and the most points in a debut season (109). Throughout the season, Hamilton and Alonso were involved in a number of incidents which resulted in tensions between both drivers and the team, culminating in Alonso and McLaren terminating their contract by mutual consent in November. Following a successful first season at McLaren, Hamilton signed a multi-million-pound contract to stay with the team until 2012.

Hamilton’s success continued in 2008. He amassed five victories and ten podium finishes but was also accused of arrogance and dangerous driving, though he argued that his self-belief was wrongly interpreted and that his driving was firm but fair. As the season reached its conclusion in Brazil, it became a clear two-way fight for the title between the home favourite Felipe Massa and the young Briton. Hamilton won his first title in dramatic fashion in the last race of the season, the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, overtaking Timo Glock for fifth position in the final corners of the last lap to become the then-youngest Formula One World Champion in history and to deny race-winner Massa the title by one point. This made Hamilton the first British driver to win the World Championship since Damon Hill in 1996. In his last four years with McLaren, Hamilton continued to score podium finishes and race victories. Hamilton entered the final round of the 2010 season with a chance of winning the title, but ultimately finished fourth as Sebastian Vettel won the race to take his maiden drivers’ crown. The following year was the first season he had been out-scored by a teammate, as Jenson Button finished runner-up to champion Sebastian Vettel, during a year in which distractions in his private life and run-ins with FIA officials saw Hamilton finish a lowly fifth in the standings, after which he vowed he would return to form for 2012. Keeping to his word, Hamilton achieved four race-wins in the 2012 season as he finished fourth in the standings. Before the end of the year, Hamilton announced, to much surprise, that he would be joining Mercedes for the 2013 season, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher.

Changes to the regulations for 2014, mandating the use of turbo-hybrid engines, saw the start of a highly successful period for Hamilton, during which he has won six further drivers’ titles. Consecutive titles came in 2014 and 2015 during an intense rivalry with teammate Nico Rosberg. Following Rosberg’s retirement, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel became Hamilton’s closest rival in two intense championship battles, in which Hamilton twice overturned mid-season point deficits to claim consecutive titles again in 2017 and 2018. His third and fourth consecutive titles followed in 2019 and 2020 to equal Schumacher’s record of seven drivers’ titles in a season heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the shortened seventeen-race season, Hamilton took 11 wins (equalling his previous personal best, but in fewer races) including one in Portugal to break Schumacher’s record of 91 wins. He also took 14 podiums and 10 pole positions. Hamilton missed the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix after contracting COVID-19, his first race absence since his debut in 2007. Hamilton clinched the title at the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix with three rounds to spare and ended the season 124 points clear of his team-mate, Bottas, who finished second in the standings.

Amid Formula One’s We Race as One campaign and growing global support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Hamilton took the knee ahead of every race he entered and wore t-shirts bearing the Black Lives Matter slogan. Hamilton and Bottas’ W11 cars also sported a black livery as a statement of Mercedes’ commitment to diversity.

In February 2021, Hamilton signed a contract to continue racing for the team in 2021. At the 2021 Spanish Grand Prix in May, Hamilton became the first driver to reach 100 pole positions in Formula One. In July 2021, Hamilton signed a contract-extension to remain with Mercedes until the end of 2023. He will partner George Russell for the 2022 season.

The first and, as of 2021, the only black driver to race in Formula One, Hamilton has been subject to racist abuse throughout his career. In 2007, Hamilton suffered racist abuse from Spanish Formula One supporters at the Chinese Grand Prix. In 2008, Hamilton was heckled and otherwise abused during pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya by several Spanish spectators who wore black face paint and black wigs, as well as shirts bearing the words “Hamilton’s familly”. The FIA warned Spanish authorities about the repetition of such behaviour, and launched a “Race Against Racism” campaign. Shortly before the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, a website owned by the Spanish branch of the New York-based advertising agency TBWA and named pinchalaruedadeHamilton, which translates into English as “burst Hamilton’s tyre”, was featured in the British media. The site contained an image of Interlagos that allowed users to leave nails and porcupines on the track for Hamilton’s car to run over. Among thousands of comments left since 2007, some included racial insults. In 2021, Hamilton was subjected to online racist abuse following a dramatic win at the British Grand Prix. Mercedes, Formula One and the FIA, issued a joint statement condemning the abuse and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

Hamilton’s treatment by the media and critics has, at times, been criticized as being racist. In 2014, The Guardian journalist Joseph Harker highlighted double-standards in Hamilton’s treatment compared to other British drivers by British newspapers, suggesting that his skin color has played a factor in a perceived lack of acceptance among the British public. In 2019, footballer Rio Ferdinand described media scrutiny of Hamilton as having “racist undertones” and contrasted Hamilton’s treatment to that of fellow British driver Jenson Button. At the start of his Formula One career, Hamilton said that he tried to ignore the fact [he] was the first black guy ever to race in the sport” but later stated that he had since grown to appreciate the implications and changed his approach to promote equality within the sport. In 2019, Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s team boss at Mercedes, described how Hamilton was “scarred for life” by racist abuse inflicted during his childhood.

Hamilton is a prominent advocate against racism and for increased diversity in motorsport. He has questioned racial politics in Formula One on several occasions. In 2018, Hamilton criticized the lack of diversity in Formula One, describing how nothing had changed in his eleven years in the sport. In June 2020, it was announced that Hamilton had established The Hamilton Commission with the Royal Academy of Engineering. The commission had been in development since December 2019 but publicly launched to coincide with the heightened media and public interest in the Black Lives Matter movement, and greater scrutiny of race inequality in society. The partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering was established to find ways in which motorsport can engage more young people from black backgrounds with science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and, ultimately, employ them in motorsport or in other engineering sectors. In May 2021, Hamilton become the first recipient of the inaugural Laureus Athlete Advocate of the Year Award for his involvement in the fight against racism.

Building on the recommendations of the Hamilton Commission, in July 2021, Hamilton launched Mission 44, a charitable foundation created to help young people from under-represented backgrounds achieve their ambitions in wider society. Hamilton pledged £20m of his personal wealth to support the work of the charity, including supporting organizations and programmes that narrow the gap in employment and education. Mission 44 will work in conjunction with a joint charitable foundation between Hamilton and the Mercedes Formula One team, called Ignite, which was also launched in July 2021. Ignite focuses on increasing diversity in motorsport, by improving educational opportunities and offering financial support. In January 2020, Hamilton donated US$500,000 (approximately £383,000) to a variety of causes relating to the bushfire crisis in Australia. The money went towards the fire services and animal welfare charities. Hamilton has repeatedly discussed environmental issues on social media, at conferences, in interviews and documentaries. In 2019, Hamilton asked Mercedes-Benz to swap animal-derived leather in the company’s models worldwide. In 2020, Hamilton announced that he was aiming to be carbon neutral by the end of the year. Hamilton is an advocate for animal rights and often uses his social media platform to inform fans about issues affecting animals. In 2020, Hamilton’s Neat Burger restaurant donated free meals to frontline NHS workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Neat Burger also launched the “Kids Eat Free” scheme, serving free meals to school children during the half-term break. In 2013, Hamilton became the Global Education Ambassador for Save the Children, supporting and promoting its education campaigns. In 2015, Hamilton became the first ambassador for the Invictus Games Foundation, supporting wounded, injured, and sick servicemen and women.

In 2012, Hamilton began working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In March 2012, Hamilton travelled to the Philippines where he made a short film about Manila’s street children. The film was shown on ITV1 during Soccer Aid and helped raise over £4.9 million for UNICEF. In October 2012, while in India for the Grand Prix, Hamilton visited a UNICEF-funded newborn care unit and nutrition centre.

In 2014, Hamilton travelled to Haiti where he made a short film about child malnutrition. The film was shown on ITV1 during Soccer Aid, and helped raise over £6 million for UNICEF. In 2015, Hamilton took part in an exhibition to highlight UNICEF’s work and to celebrate its twenty-year partnership with Starwood Hotels. In June 2017, Hamilton joined the Super Dads initiative, a special UNICEF campaign that highlighted the critical role played by fathers in early childhood development. In August 2017, Hamilton visited Havana with UNICEF to learn more about its first development programmes in Cuba.

In 2020, Hamilton partnered with charity campaign #TOGETHERBAND to help promote the United Nations’ 17 Global Goals. As part of his campaign work, Hamilton visited Alperton Community School in North West London to speak to the students about the importance of education. Hamilton is a GOAL 4 Ambassador, focusing on the fight to provide quality education to all children.

Hamilton is also involved in charitable work through the creation of the Lewis Hamilton Foundation. Registered in June 2008, the foundation provides grants and donations to a number of charitable causes.

Over the past decade, Hamilton has made time for a variety of good causes, such as making hospital visits to sick children. He has invited fans, young people, and their families to join him at Grand Prix races and social events.

Hamilton often donates personal and professional paraphernalia for charity auctions. He auctioned a racing kart and raised over £42,000 for baby charity Tommy’s. He raised £6,411 for the Small Steps Project in 2018, and £6,000 in 2019. In 2020, he raised another £4,000 for the Small Steps Project, while a donated race suit reportedly raised €20,000 for vulnerable children.

Hamilton frequently attends charitable functions and has supported projects and charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Comic Relief, Rays of Sunshine, Children in Need, and Stevenage’s Keech Hospice Care Children’s Service, among others.

In 2018, Hamilton launched the clothing line TOMMYXLEWIS during New York Fashion Week with American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger alongside models Winnie Harlow and Hailey Baldwin.

In September 2019, Hamilton launched a vegan restaurant named Neat Burger. It claims to be the first international plant-based burger chain. In 2020, Neat Burger was crowned Best Vegan Restaurant of the Year at the Deliveroo Restaurant Awards. In August 2020, Daily Front Row listed Hamilton as one of a group of high-profile investors who purchased W, a troubled fashion magazine.

In September 2020, Hamilton launched X44 to compete in the all-electric SUV off-road racing series Extreme E from the 2021 season on.

In 2017, Hamilton told the BBC that he had become vegan.

Hamilton moved to Luins, Vaud canton, Switzerland in 2007, citing privacy as his main reason for leaving the UK. He later said on the television show Parkinson that taxation was also a factor in his decision.

In 2010, Hamilton, like many other Formula One drivers, moved to Monaco, he also owns an apartment in Manhattan, New York and an estate in Colorado where he has said he would live after his retirement.