Even the most successful stories have underpinnings of sacrifice and dedication that most people never experience. There is little question that Lewis Hamilton makes a good living from Formula One and that he was nurtured from the formative years as a boy in English karting circles by none other than McLaren. It’s easy to overlook the sacrifices he and his father made to get Lewis into the world’s most advanced form of racing. Then there is life with the benefactor.
Hamilton has likened McLaren CEO Ron Dennis as the Godfather at the Woking-based team and one can start to understand the pressure the young man was under in 2007 and 2008. The Daily Mail has a terrific interview that offers some insight to the maturing process and development, as well as struggles, Lewis Hamilton has experienced. The high profile moments in Lewis’s career were certainly the World Championship but it was also marred by the strained relationship with his equally intense father as well as Ron Dennis:
‘I’m hoping people have changed their perception of me since 2007,’ Hamilton says. ‘I was in a very controlled environment for as long as I remember and only recently have I come out of that. Nothing controls me now. I’ve obviously got a boss in Ross Brawn, but now I make the decisions and I don’t have to report to anyone.
‘There was a time when I would make a call and worry about it, that I was wrong, because of the way I was raised to look to my dad. It felt like a lot of pressure and I don’t have that now. I can call my dad and tell him I’ve bought a house or a car and share it with him. It’s a different chemistry.
‘Things are great with my dad now. It didn’t happen immediately. There have been a lot of talks but time is a healer. It was about getting things off your chest.
‘Sure, there are parallels between leaving Ron Dennis and redefining the relationship with my father. They are both powerful, ambitious people. My dad is the head of the whole family. He’s like the Godfather and everyone goes to him with their problems. And Ron is like that at McLaren.
As fans, it may be difficult to truly understand the challenges Lewis has faced in his career and with all that money, we tend to suggest that things must be really hard with millions of dollars but this criticism misses the deeper emotional needs we face as humans. Lewis was sheltered and controlled. His whole life was micromanaged from his father to McLaren and with that came wealth but not happiness. It may sound trite but freedom is an innate desire of all humans and working within the oppression of a system such as the one his father created and McLaren funded, it became too much:
‘There was a lack of energy, a lack of motivation. It almost felt like depression because it did a lot of the same things, sapping your will to act, to perform. I couldn’t focus on the job.
‘There was a point where I was driving and crashing — for no reason. I just wasn’t on the ball. In this job you can’t be thinking of anything else, you need to be focused all the time. I could still drive fast, but I couldn’t stay focused. I was distracted. That person wasn’t aiming to help me. Somehow I got through it. I no longer let negative energy surround me and I’ve learned how to deal with it.
‘I stayed up a lot thinking about the move to Mercedes. I can overthink things at times. I did consider what my dad would feel, but I tried not to involve too many people because the call had to come from me. I went to Thailand on my own and made that decision on my own. I had two options, but as someone who likes adrenaline and excitement, one was riskier than the other. So I went with that one.
‘It felt like leaving home — taking that leap. Had I stayed, I would have been protected but been in the same environment with people I had known my whole life. Mercedes was all brand new and it was all on me, to build those relationships with no time to mess around and no time for mistakes. That felt most interesting.’
The move to Mercedes for the 2013 season must have been a leap of faith as Lewis used the moment to metaphorically leave the nest and set about becoming a man. His maturation was now complete and he has made his choices for better or for worse. Lewis listened to a lot of people and was a child who had be trained to listen to others and follow their tutelage but that only works when those around you are representing your better interest. I believe Lewis discovered that McLaren, and even his father, wanted the best for Lewis but had personal agendas of their own that compromised, confused and conflicted Lewis’s needs and desires.
Some are vicious, some are fools and some are blind to see in Lewis the kind of man they have painted him. He is young and his life decisions will represent that youthful lack of wisdom but we’ve all made those less than favorable choices. It is what made us the men and women we are. LEwis is no different and while the millions of dollars may make life more luxurious, compromising one’s integrity will erase wealth and replace it with soul-wrenching guilt. Mercedes represented a release from that guilt and a future brighter than any he has known.
Lewis, as you can sense from the article, is all about the danger and rush he gets from cheating death. Many Formula One drivers have a similar passion for the sport that is built on the foundation of danger. Hamilton says, in an ironic twist, that Fernando Alonso is the man he respects the most:
‘It’s funny, but the driver I admire most is Fernando — for his sheer speed, his simply incredible speed,’ he adds. ‘I don’t think anyone can match him in the sport.
Hamilton also thinks he could team with Sebastian Vettel but says unlike the German’s current teammate Mark Webber, he wouldn’t turn the engine down:
‘You know, I even think I could drive with Sebastian,’ he muses. ‘I just wouldn’t turn the engine down.’
I believe him.