The first thing you notice about British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, besides the impeccable grooming and expensive-looking gold chains, is his surprisingly firm handshake. Okay, so the third thing you notice about Lewis Hamilton is his surprisingly firm handshake. But what a handshake!

It shouldn’t be shocking that perhaps the greatest driver on earth and a three-time World Champion of Formula 1—the highest class of single-seat auto racing in the world—would put some muscle behind his greeting, but this is Lewis Hamilton. This is the party boy who sits front row on the runway, dates celebs like Nicole Scherzinger, gets twerked on by Rihanna, toasts with Pharrell and Kanye, flies in his own bright red private jet, and secretly records R&B tracks in his house when not racing for Mercedes-Benz. One might assume the man’s fragrance to be stronger than his grip.

If you were that one, though, you’d be wrong. Hamilton, 31, is the face of a sport exceptionally popular all around the world—except in America, where it’s desperate to grow. As F1’s best talent, its sole black driver, and it’s only true pop culture crossover, Hamilton holds much of Formula 1’s future in his hands—his super-strong-handshake-y hands.

On an overcast September afternoon in Midtown Manhattan, Hamilton sat down with Complex to discuss his American aspirations, his music, racial injustice, and why he keeps getting cease and desist letters.

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