Lewis Hamilton: Man Of The People

To understand what makes Lewis Hamilton one of the most influential people on the planet in 2021, we spoke to him about his influences, passions, and why he’s m


Image via Puma


Greatness is something that is often taken for granted.

There have been many feats, achievements and careers that have passed, yet we’ve only given them their proper praise once all the smoke has cleared. As a society, we don’t give people their flowers while they’re at the peak of their powers, but someone who well and truly deserves theirs right now is Sir Lewis Hamilton. To many of us, he’s the greatest Formula 1 driver of all-time. To even more, he’s a maverick that defies description.

From Stevenage to stardom, go-karting to global domination, Hamilton’s journey to the top is a story of sheer perseverance, self-belief and never allowing yourself to be boxed in. The search for championship #8 might be ongoing after a dramatic weekend, but let’s get the record straight: he transcends Formula 1. Rank his name alongside the likes of Jordan, Messi and Woods for not just dominating their sport, but defining it. Hamilton has become the global face of a global sport, and it’s not hard to see why. No other driver has won more championships either: he’s won the most points in F1 history, the most pole positions, podium finishes, laps led and consecutive race finishes of any competitor ever. His achievements on track and his beliefs off it—fighting for racial equality in racing and being an ally for the LGBTQI+ community, among others—have attracted a new generation of F1 fans the sport was desperately crying out for.

It’s no surprise, then, that the PUMA athlete has joined the brand’s Only See Great campaign, spreading messages of hope, optimism and self-belief in one of the most challenging years in living memory. The idea originally came from fellow PUMA ambassador Jay-Z, who first said: “I only see great. I don’t see good. I don’t see compromise. We should always strive to make something great, something that will last.”

But greatness isn’t something that you can achieve overnight. To understand what makes Lewis Hamilton one of the most influential people on the planet in 2021, we spoke to him about his influences, passions, and why he’s motivated to use his platform for good.

“We should never have to change who we are in order to make other people feel comfortable. You’re not in the right place if they don’t accept you for who you are.”

COMPLEX: It’s been a crazy year for you, Lewis, where you’ve had to travel the world and compete, but we’re still coming out of a global pandemic. How are you doing?

Lewis Hamilton: I’m great. Thank you for asking. It’s been a crazy, crazy two years and I’m just grateful that I’ve got through it. I’ve survived. Particularly having Covid, I’ve recovered and I’m in a good place mentally and physically now. I’m just feeling super grateful.

You’ve frequently spoken about the sacrifices your family made to ensure you could chase your dreams. What does it mean to you knowing that those sacrifices were worth it?

It’s always very humbling, honestly. When I think particularly about my parents, when I think of all of our parents around the world, they’re all trying to do what’s right and the best for their kids. And particularly with the tools that they have, because we’re not necessarily given all the tools—you’re picking these things up along the way. I’m grateful that I have the parents that I have, their approach to life and the mindset they had in order to get through the barriers and never take no for an answer. 

My dad is just an incredible individual. But also, I have two mums: I’ve got my stepmum and my mum, and I get a really beautiful mix off all of them. We’ve been able to do great things together, create great memories, have amazing experiences—whether it’s them going to races with me or whether it’s on holiday, or whatever it may be. That’s really just down to a great collective effort. That’s actually the best part of the journey.

How would you define Lewis Hamilton, the human being?

Well, I mean, I’m naturally a super outgoing person—a bit of a daredevil. I would say I’m very family oriented. I like having fun. I’m very spontaneous, and I’ve always been one of the jokers of the family. I’m always the one that’s kind of trying to crack a joke, always up to something! I’m always in trouble. I don’t know, I just like seeing people laugh.

I don’t think I limit myself mentally to the expectations of society and social media and all those things. I’m very open minded because I think if you can open your mind, you can absorb more. I feel I’m still just trying to become more and more knowledgeable about things that are surrounding me and surrounding all of us so I can kind of make better decisions and better judgments when the time comes.


PUMA has a legacy of greatness—from Bolt in athletics, to Pele and Maradona in football, to Jay-Z within music. The list goes on. How does it feel knowing that people put you in that sort of category because of your achievements in your sport?

It’s mad, right? It really is. I’ve been here a long, long time, and it’s not like I’ve not been good. It’s been a while! But it’s mad to think that your name is mentioned alongside great athletes that you’ve watched and seen succeed. I’ve been on the edge of my seat watching Usain Bolt hoping that he wins; I’ve watched games with Neymar and seen his genius on the pitch; I grew up listening to Jay. I remember saving up and going to buy his album at the store in town and now the man is texting me. It’s just a crazy world—very privileged and very humbling, at the same time.

Why was the Hamilton Commission something you felt needed to be done and what do you think the legacy of it—as well as of your foundation, Mission44—will be?

Okay, so, believe it or not, I don’t think about legacy. I don’t write down ‘okay, legacy’. That’s a question that people have asked me a lot along the way and I’ve always known I’ve never really put a lot of time into thinking about what that really means. Because when you think of legacy, you think of an older person and I’m still in my youth. I’m still hunting down things that are my goals. We all get a period of time here, so what are you going to do with it? We can sit in front of the TV and do nothing, or we can get up and do something. I’m like Mr. Motivator from TV. Not that I wear his outfit [laughs], but there is time and we just have to use it to the absolute maximum. Find something you’re passionate about and chase it.

I’m really fortunate to be in a position now where it’s like, “Okay. How can I help people? What can I do? I never thought that I would have all these people following me. How can I be a positive influence on their kids or the kids that are watching and not just be about myself?” It makes me happy to see other people succeed. When I’m racing with my team, we’re all winning. I want everyone in the team to win. All of us come through schooling and the different things you face as a kid and a teenager. If there’s something I can do, which helps one of those youngsters or more than one of those youngsters advance into something—maybe like a sport, or whatever—or even get past whatever it is that they’re facing, I hope that I’m able to help do that.

Still I Rise is a mantra that you live by and one that has really impacted people worldwide. It’s something you got from one of your influences, 2Pac. Why was he so influential for you?

I really went out to listen to his lyrics. He spoke to my spirit. I think he was the one! I know, there’s a lot of rappers out there, but I just feel like he was talking about real things in life. I loved his flow... He was speaking about real problems in the world, and wishing that he could help to change that. He was just a phenomenal individual—way ahead of his time as well. I think it was just at a time where I was, as a teenager, just not really feeling that I fit in, I would just put on the soundtrack. And I got Tupac. ‘Changes’ for example, for me is always one of my all time favourites.

When I started to understand a little bit more about him, he was actually a poet—a real game-changer. At school, I thought poetry was Shakespeare and I didn’t really fully understand it. When you’re at school and you’re one of the only people of colour, you know… I wasn’t told about any Black poets. He was the only Black poet I was aware of and then I started to read about some others. And then through And Still I Rise, I learned about Maya Angelou and I was impacted by that. 

I don’t mean to steal Maya Angelou’s saying, ‘Still I Rise’, but it’s so true, right? We fall, but we can get back up. And that’s been right at the core of what my dad would always tell me. When he put me in the boxing ring, and this kid beat the living daylights out of me in the first round, I’d be like: “I don’t want to go back in there!” He would turn to me and say: “You can do this! Put your mind to it.” So I went back in and I did. It’s all about Still I Rise. I put Still We Rise because I’ve got these people that are following me and there’s so many people that need encouragement and support. People that don’t have their fathers like I had my father, or don’t have parents, people at school or whatever it is... I just want to try and be there for them.


Being the only Black driver on the grid may not be something others can relate to, but many will relate to being the minority within their environment. How have you navigated that feeling throughout your career?

It’s been tough, as it is for everyone. I think at the beginning, feeling that you have to conform and you have to be a certain way in order to be accepted in that space is tough. It’s never a comfortable feeling to ever feel like you have to change the way you are, or the way you look, or the way you speak and act because maybe culturally they won’t accept it. At the beginning, I think I tried to adapt to try and fit in, and I always felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I finally got to Formula 1 and for some years to pass until I was confident enough to be like, “I’m gonna be who I’m gonna be and if I’m not accepted that way, that’s fine!”

There was a lot of pushback because of that. I just kept going and just stayed persistent, and I think that’s really key. We should never have to change who we are in order to make other people feel comfortable. You’re not in the right place if they don’t accept you for who you are. I know a lot of people don’t feel that it’s an option and it’s difficult because people have got bills to pay, a roof to keep over their head. So I understand, but I hope in that time they’re able to either find comfort in where they are or find somewhere else that they’ll be comfortable.

We all express ourselves in different ways. What does music and fashion mean to you in terms of self-expression? Both are things we’ve seen you champion and embrace.

I would say music is the most important thing for me. It’s my pastime. I’m so grateful that my dad taught me about music. To know about the history of great artists like Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Al Green... I’m so grateful that my dad was playing that music. And those are the times that he was the happiest. He was less stressed. Today, I listen to music in order to do what I do, and then just in my private time, I create music. It’s difficult to be open in the public domain about your experiences and I feel like when I do music, I’m able to kind of express what I don’t share with anybody. I get to express what I’m going through and how I’m feeling. That’s one way of getting things down. 

Fashion has been something I’ve always loved. Growing up, I was heavily influenced by hip-hop and pop culture, naturally. I think when I first went to a fashion show, I felt that it was one of the first times I really fitted in while being myself. It was a really amazing feeling for me when I went because there’s people from all different backgrounds and I didn’t feel like there was anybody judging. There was no expectation of what you had to look like. Everyone’s being creative in their own ways, so that’s why I love that domain. 

It’s a beautiful space, but also it’s a space that, whilst it uses pop culture and people from diverse backgrounds, doesn’t necessarily have the same opportunities in terms of ownership still. That is why I did what I did with the Met Gala. Creating a space on the table was like, “I’m just gonna buy my own table and create a place for people that perhaps wouldn’t normally get invited.” And that’s empowering! There’s lots more of that to do.

Lewis Hamilton wears PUMA. To find out more about PUMA’s ‘Only See Great’ campaign, click here

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