A Personal Conversation With IWC Ambassador And Now Five Time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton
Before winning his fifth championship, Watchonista had the opportunity to sit down with F1 legend Lewis Hamilton. We discussed racing, watches, and how Hamilton keeps consistency on-track and off.
With his fourth place finish in today’s Mexican Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton captured his remarkable 5th F1 World Championship. Since 2013, IWC Schaffhausen has been the engineering partner of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG F1 team. It was because of this relationship and a kind invitation to last weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas that we had the opportunity to interview Hamilton. For this race fan, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
I first saw Lewis Hamilton race during the 2007 United States Grand Prix. On a warm June afternoon, Hamilton outpaced his then teammate Fernando Alonso to capture his second win in Formula 1. Little did any of those in attendance that day know that we were witnessing the promising start of a career that, in just over a decade, has resulted in 71 wins and now Five F1 World Championships.
Hamilton is no doubt a polarizing figure, he lives his life off the track perhaps just as fast as he races on the track. With a multitude of businesses, ambassadorships, and commitments, it's remarkable that Hamilton can maintain such consistency in whatever he does. Hamilton no doubt has a great team around him, but his focus and determination on track cannot be questioned. Hamilton also has a unique backstory, which perhaps is too complicated to go into detail here. I invite you to watch Bryant Gumbel’s 2017 segment on Hamilton which gave me an entirely new perspective on the driver.
Interview with Lewis Hamilton
Before the start of the 2018 United States Grand Prix, IWC hosted an intimate dinner with invited press and retailers. Hamilton graciously stopped by the soiree and made a point to interact with each of the guests personally. He took wrist shots which he shared to his 1.7 million Instagram followers and made it a point to ask personal questions to each of us in attendance.
I also had the opportunity to sit down with Hamilton for an interview. For a man who continually has to face media scrutiny on track and off, Hamilton was cool as a cucumber. For our conversation, nothing was off limits, and Hamilton was warm, intelligent, and most notably calm throughout. I hope you enjoy.
Josh Shanks: So Lewis, It’s an absolute honor to meet you. I’m a racing nut at heart, but I write about watches by day, so this is really cool for me.
Lewis Hamilton: Thank you for having me.
JS: We are here in Austin today. You've had great success here (Hamilton has won the race five times), great success in the US market. What for you is so special about Austin and the US market?
LH: I grew up dreaming of coming to the US, from watching movies and seeing New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. I always dreamed of one day coming to visit the place. Always dreamed about coming to the US. And actually, when I did come, I fell in love with the place. When I came out here, my first race was in 2007, Indianapolis, which was incredible.
JS: I was at that race (in 2007)!
LH: Yeah cool! Since then, in 2012 I drove in my first race here [in Austin], and it just seemed to go well, and since then I've won five out of the six or something like that. I don’t think it particularly has any correlation with being that it’s the US that I really like, it’s just a good track.
The food is great here, the city is incredible, and there's a great ambiance and atmosphere. And it just so happens that they built a really good track. Because when they build new tracks, a lot of them don’t have character and you can’t overtake. But not in Austin, it’s always been good to me.
And it’s a big market actually for me here. I have to say I think they (Americans) like my story. Americans like these kinds of stories. I mean, look at how many movies there are about inspirational stories about coming from nothing?
JS:It’s the American dream, right?
LH:Exactly! So I think, I am always trying to convey that message so people can see. Because what I think my dad has done, being a single black parent and not knowing what to do in England, I think people here, white or black, can relate to coming from an ordinary background.
JS: I saw the Bryant Gumbel documentary, and it was phenomenal. I had no idea of your background.
LH: Yeah, and that's the thing, I am barely scratching the surface here in America. Now and then, and the more and more I do these things I bump into people, and they’re like, “oh I had no idea!” But also I tell them about the car, and they’re like I didn’t know what Formula 1 was. Is that NASCAR? No! Every day, here in America. It is a slow process, but it’s going well.
JS: Switching to watches, from your perspective, how did the IWC partnership come about?
LH: When I signed with the team in 2013, IWC was already a partner. So, when I joined Mercedes, they asked me, "are you into watches?" And I said I love watches. And then so I got to do something with IWC. Afterward, I went to Schaffhausen. I went to see how watches are made. I am really interested in how things are produced in general. The manufacturing process of anything and everything. So to go back in the background and see how long it takes to develop a watch, how many pieces, for example, are in a watch, that blew my mind. From that visit, it actually fired up for me, even more, my love for watches. Because naturally, I always had watches, but I hadn't yet realized how much work had gone into making them.
JS: That was going to be my next question. What was your first nice watch?
LH: Honestly, my first nice watch was a 19-pound watch that I got basically when I was in high school - senior school. And bloody everybody wore the exact same clothing, and I hated my uniform. I hated it. But I wanted a watch. A lot of friends had these watches, and I wanted a watch that looked classic, so I went to a shop and bought this one for 19 pounds.
It had a fake leather strap, and it was silver on the sides and gold, I think it was a rose gold bezel with a blue face. And it looked elegant. So I walked around school with it with my sleeve up and everything, and I felt very proud.
JS: So racing and timekeeping are linked, but how do you maintain such consistency day in and day out? How do you stay so consistent?
LH: Oh jeez, you know, it just comes down to practice. I mean, I've been doing this since I was eight years old. I mean, I've been in Formula 1 since forever. I think it's just been trial and error. Practice and practice and focus. And the focus is the key. Staying focused and not being distracted by all the fracas that’s going on around you.
There’s so much going on so finding the balance within yourself is important. How I do that I can’t tell you because it’s different for everyone. But it’s been about making sure that I have the right people around and making sure that I don’t spread myself too thin. And making sure that I am happy, that I am enjoying myself and doing things I want to do as opposed to doing things that I’m being told to do.
And, you know, it’s just finding the right balance. So I get to work with this great team, and I love driving, so that's easy and it's something I want to do. Small things like signing a hundred helmets are not necessarily something that I really want to do, but it's part of the process, and at least all of these things are geared towards to me getting into my car so…
JS: I guess my last question is, I grew up in Indiana, so I grew up around racing. So this is something that has always interested me. I know you’re deeply rooted in F1, but have you ever looked at other series (like NASCAR and IndyCar) and thought, oh, that could be cool to do one day?
LH: Honestly, and it sucks, I know it sucks to hear this, but I have never had any desire to drive any other sport. And still today, I see IndyCar, which is fast and seeing NASCAR which always looks cool, and I drove the car (a NASCAR), and I enjoyed it. I love rally cars, so If I were going to do another driving thing, maybe it would be rally. I think rally is super-cool, but it's not particularly well known. I love Moto GP, and I love bikes.
So, if I were going to do anything, it would be bikes. But I'm probably too old to do that. I think when you’re younger you’re more bounce-proof, and the older you get, you’re not so much. So I missed the boat on that one, but I think I am always going to be driving, I’m always going to be doing something, but I don’t think on a competitive level. So I might still get to go to a NASCAR race and go out in one of the cars and just enjoy it while I’m here, but it’s hard to say, I really can’t tell you where I’m going to be in five or ten years. But what I do know is that I am going to miss racing, I imagine a ridiculous amount since I've been doing this since I was eight. So when I’m not competing, it’s going to be… I’m not looking forward to that part. And the thing is, I am super competitive, so if I’m not competing I don’t know, at the moment I feel like I won’t be living, but I’ve got some time yet.