F1’s Lewis Hamilton Shares the ‘Important Foundation’ Every Driver Needs: ‘That’s Where You Learn to Handle Yourself’

Lewis Hamilton is perhaps the greatest F1 driver of all time. The 37-year-old has over 100 wins and seven World Drivers’ Championship titles to his name.

Before he competed professionally though, Hamilton had to experience a lot of adversity. Like many athletes, Hamilton has used those difficulties to become a stronger competitor. Here’s a look at what Lewis Hamilton says is the “important foundation” that every driver needs. 

In 2006, Lewis Hamilton talks to his dad Anthony Hamilton prior to the GP2 race in 2006
Lewis Hamilton talks to his dad Anthony Hamilton prior to the GP2 race in 2006 | Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton’s parents had to make sacrifices for him to pursue his passion

Hamilton has raced since he was a kid. But obviously, he wasn’t in a Formula 1 car in those days. Hamilton competed in karting by the age of eight. He was really good too, winning a championship when he was just 10 years old. Unlike more privileged kids though, pursuing this dream was not easy.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Hamilton said, in those go-karting days, his family struggled financially. His dad had four jobs, and his parents had to remortgage their house to help fund Hamilton’s dreams. All of their money went to his dream. This struggle was visible, too.

For example, his family couldn’t afford to hire someone to paint a design on his helmet, so they did DIY designs instead. It was the same story regarding the karts themselves; Hamilton and his dad were the mechanics for the go-karts, while other kids hired professional mechanics and had the expensive equipment and parts.

Lewis Hamilton’s grassroots karting career was an important foundation

As Hamilton told Vanity Fair, his “grassroots” experience in karting was foundational to his pro career as an Formula 1 driver. The British athlete said, “Those experiences in carting, it’s the grassroots, it’s the most important foundation from a race and driver’s point of view. That’s where you learn to handle yourself. That’s where you learn to get your elbows out. That’s where you learn all your racecraft.”

Part of this had to do with the sport itself; the other parts Hamilton discussed had to do with his race and socioeconomic class. Hamilton and his family were the only Black family participating in those karting races.

Perhaps this prepared him for his pro career as he’s currently the only Black F1 driver. In terms of socioeconomic class, those rich kids with the best engines and professional mechanics had a lot of advantages over Hamilton. But that didn’t mean they’d win.

Racing brought Lewis Hamilton and his dad closer together

According to Hamilton, his father was a tough man who struggled with showing affection. Despite that, his dad was very supportive of his dreams into racing. His dad even convinced his mom to let Hamilton live with him so he could be more focused on racing. (His parents had divorced by this time.) One of the first big successes in Hamilton’s career happened in 1995 at a go-kart championship in the U.K.

One of Hamilton’s competitors was a kid who came from a wealthy background. Naturally, this person had access to the best karts, best engines, and two professional mechanics. Meanwhile, Hamilton and his dad did mechanical work on their kart wheels alone. The rich kid needed to win his last race. Despite his wealth and those pro mechanics, that competitor’s wheel fell off.

Hamilton won the competition. After that, he and his dad sang “We Are The Champions” together all the way home. They had never sung together before that day. Hamilton said that day was when he and his dad really bonded. 

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