Lewis Hamilton: Mercedes driver says trip to Africa helped him find ‘peace’ amid Formula 1 challenges



Lewis Hamilton talks to Naomi Schiff about his heritage and the origin of his surname.

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Lewis Hamilton talks to Naomi Schiff about his heritage and the origin of his surname.

Lewis Hamilton talks to Naomi Schiff about his heritage and the origin of his surname.

After controversially missing out on a record eighth Formula 1 world championship in December and then enduring the most disappointing season of his career, Lewis Hamilton is “happier than ever”.

The 37-year-old could be forgiven for finding himself in a tough place after his most turbulent period in the sport, but instead has found purpose away from the track.

At the centre of the ongoing journey of self-discovery that has helped Hamilton find “peace” in the face of professional struggle, was an August trip to Africa to explore his family heritage.

“That’s been something I’ve been trying to learn more about,” Hamilton said as he sat down with Sky Sports F1’s Naomi Schiff ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix.

“It’s not until I’ve got into my 30s that I’ve wanted to go down this road of discovery, to try to understand, where did we get the Hamilton name? Where were we originally from? Where did the slaves come over on the ships from to the Caribbean?”

Highlights of the Singapore Grand Prix from the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

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Highlights of the Singapore Grand Prix from the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Highlights of the Singapore Grand Prix from the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Perhaps hinting at the possibility he may be documenting his journey, Hamilton continues: “So I’m going through that process now and I can’t let too much out of the bag at the moment.

“But what I have discovered is how we got the Hamilton name. He was a slave owner from Scotland, Robert Hamilton, who then had a plantation, had around 150 slaves, and obviously at some stage then the slaves took on the name of the slave owner.

“There was another slave-owner whose second name was Davidson, so my grandad ended up being called Davidson-Hamilton, both of which I have in my name, so that’s pretty cool just to know a little bit about that.”

‘Trying to understand your place in the world’

Many are already familiar with Hamilton’s F1 story, the boy, who along with his incredibly dedicated father, overcame challenge after challenge to become the sport’s most successful driver of all time.

The multiple jobs that Hamilton’s father Anthony had to work to fund his child’s karting career have been well documented, while it is also widely accepted that when Hamilton made his debut in 2007, Formula 1 was not a sport where a driver of his profile would be welcomed.

“Having to operate in an organisation that was predominantly white, having to speak differently, be different, I remember the pressures of the idea that I had to be different,” said Hamilton, who remains the only Black driver to have raced in F1.

“I spoke many years ago about feeling like I have to squeeze into a different shape to fit in. There’s one shape that can get into F1 and if you’re not that shape, then you’re not welcome. So you kind of squeeze yourself into that just so you can get through, and then when you get in you can slowly become yourself, and that’s what I did.”

While reflecting on the past still troubles Hamilton, he says it is also what partly motivated him to travel to Africa.

“I think it was just really trying to understand your place in the world,” he says. “Growing up I had a lot of traumatic experiences with discrimination, that even just recently I was visiting my parents and they said ‘you never told us about that’.”

Relive some of the most intense tussles on track between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen during the 2021 season.

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Relive some of the most intense tussles on track between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen during the 2021 season.

Relive some of the most intense tussles on track between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen during the 2021 season.

Another key factor in planning his trip, was finding purpose after the dramatic conclusion to the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi in December. Hamilton had driven flawlessly and was set to be crowned champion, before a hugely controversial ad-hoc ruling from the race director saw Max Verstappen overtake him on the final lap.

After receiving a knighthood in London just days after the incident, Hamilton pretty much disappeared from the public eye for the next two months, leaving time to focus on himself.

“I made the decision in January that I was going to take on that kind of discovery,” Hamilton said. “After New Year’s I was thinking about how I want to live with more intention, and plan ahead, which I never ever do. It’s kind of everything spur of the moment, and most often when it’s like that, you don’t always optimise the time, you’re not always where you really want to be.

Experience the incredible conclusion of the Abu Dhabi GP from on-board Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton's cars and listen to the team radios, including Hamilton saying the race had been 'manipulated'.

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Experience the incredible conclusion of the Abu Dhabi GP from on-board Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s cars and listen to the team radios, including Hamilton saying the race had been ‘manipulated’.

Experience the incredible conclusion of the Abu Dhabi GP from on-board Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s cars and listen to the team radios, including Hamilton saying the race had been ‘manipulated’.

“Then coming from quite a difficult time at the end of last year, and recovering from that, re-focusing into a season. Then having something to look forward to because I’d planned it so far in advance.”

With the trip planned, Hamilton had to endure more pain on the track. His Mercedes team, who had won eight consecutive constructors’ titles, were caught out by the sport’s radical new design regulations for 2022 and found themselves unable to keep up with rivals Ferrari and Red Bull.

By the time the F1’s summer break rolled around in August, Hamilton had long given up any hope of winning the title, and his great rival of 2021 Verstappen was cruising towards a second successive crown.

‘The motherland has a special energy’

Thankfully for Hamilton, his decision to plan ahead helped ensure he was not left to despair.

“It was one of, if not the most, special experience for me,” Hamilton said. “Just to tap into a little bit of Africa and experience a few different countries.

“I didn’t go to the wealthy parts, I know there’s a lot of wealth and great buildings and businesses, but I really wanted to get to the rarest and rawest part of countries, and see how people live with very little.

“That for me was really empowering, just to think that my ancestors would have been in one of those tribes, and it’s beautiful.”

Hamilton posted updates on social media as he spent time in Namibia, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, describing himself on Instagram as “fully transformed” at the end of his two-week trip.

“We live in such a bubble,” he reflects. “There’s so much happening around the world and so many people are struggling with so much. It’s sad to see if you really sit and watch the news, because it feels like it’s worse than ever.

“That experience of going to Africa, seeing people with so little – I say so little but they also have everything, they’re so happy – but just seeing a different way of living. We accumulate too much stuff, we eat too much food, the things that we take for granted, people don’t have that luxury and I think it’s really great to have that experience to put things into perspective.

“There, it was just when I was most at peace. The motherland has a special energy there, it is like the centre of the earth. I could feel those vibrations there. It was also the music, the smiles of the people, the way people share their energy. I saw so many things that I didn’t know I was going to experience.”

Despite returning to the track reinvigorated, Hamilton has remained winless in the four races since the season’s resumption, with Verstappen now on the brink of sealing the title.

Hamilton appears likely to lose his record of having won a race in every single season of his F1 career, but has repeatedly gone on record to say he is not bothered by the possibility of the streak ending, and it’s hard not to believe him.

“It’s been a good period, transitional,” he says. “I definitely feel I’m happier than I’ve ever been, which is really strange because I’m not winning in racing, and that’s really been my go-to thing.

“Having success there would bring me so much happiness, but I’m finding more happiness in my personal life now, just being more comfortable in who I am, and my surroundings and my intentions.”





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