He’s courted a pussycat doll, partied with Rihanna and been spotted in some extravagant outfits, but it wouldn’t do to underestimate Lewis Hamilton. when it comes to winning on the track, the three-time world champion is as dedicated as ever in his unrelenting pursuit of Grand Prix glory.
As one of the world’s greatest Formula One drivers, Lewis Hamilton leads a life of luxury, complete with fast cars, private planes and a house in Monaco. Not since the legendary racing icon James Hunt has the sport found someone who mixes style and substance, or pull off a gold-framed Andy Warhol necklace, in the way Hamilton can (or at least attempts to). In amongst the fashion statements it’s easy to forget that Hamilton’s an athlete in top physical and mental condition, and this year, it looks like he’s in better shape than he’s ever been.
“I try to find a balance in my life,” says the 31-year-old. “The lifestyle that I live is definitely different to the other drivers. But who says it has to be the way they are doing things? My style works perfectly for me. After two really successful years it’s really easy to drop the ball…but everyone has worked even harder than before – which we thought was impossible.”
Hamilton’s career is saturated with success. As well as being the only driver in F1 history to win a race in every season he’s competed in, he was the first British driver to win consecutive titles, picking up a BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award along the way. With the new racing season upon us, and Hamilton’s position as champion at risk with the renewed challenge of teammate Nico Rosberg and the ever-powerful presence of Ferrari on the track, is the pressure beginning to get to the Brit?
“I feel super,” he laughs. “I feel younger than I’ve ever felt, to be honest. I think there are a lot of challenges we have this year. One – the season’s longer; two – the other teams are getting closer, and the challenge is of trying to raise your bar and be better. When you look at a season like last year, it’s the best year we’ve ever had and so how do you beat that? After 2014, we didn’t think we could beat that and then in 2015 we did, so we will see.”
In a sport where as much attention is given to the car as to the driver, you can’t ignore the lifetime of preparation behind any Driver’s Championship victory. Every time these men brake and turn into a corner, they invite between 3 and 6kg of G-force onto their necks – more than is felt by those inside a space shuttle reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why keeping themselves at peak physical condition is so important for today’s drivers.
By F1 standards, Lewis Hamilton is slim, yet he’s been known to top the charts in McLaren’s hand-dynamometer test, which is used to monitor a driver’s strength throughout the racing season. The minimum score for a junior driver on the team is 60kg and despite his relatively slight frame, Hamilton hit an impressive 78kg in the test at only 23 years of age, and with every passing season he only gets fitter.
Since 2011, Finnish former hammer thrower Antti Vierula has overseen Hamilton’s gruelling regime, planning his strict diet and training off the track. With the level of G-force involved in F1, it’s understandable that much of Lewis Hamilton’s exercise plan revolves around improving his core strength. As well as incorporating CrossFit training – “which uses my bodyweight, rather than traditional weights that can add too much bulk” – he uses snow-hiking and cross-country skiing in order to get his cardiovascular efficiency to the highest level possible.
During a race, the average heart rate for an F1 driver is 170 beats per minute, nearly three times the resting heartbeat of a professional sprinter. Hamilton “runs up to two hours in the morning of every free day”, mixing longer duration runs – with a typical heart rate of around 140bpm – and shorter efforts, designed to build up aerobic endurance and usually pushing his heart rate to 160, much closer to the levels of stress placed upon the heart in a typical high-octane Grand Prix.
When you’re driving a vehicle that can go 0-60 in under two seconds, reaction times are as essential as bodily strength to an F1 driver. Lewis Hamilton uses both medicine and reaction balls to heighten his response times, usually coupling a core exercise such as “lying on a workout bench in racing position” with a medicine ball being thrown at him from different angles, which Hamilton has to “catch without lifting his feet in the air”.
Of course, with every new F1 season, the need to attain nearphysical perfection becomes greater – and as the reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton must be ready to see off the challenge of exceptional drivers like Rosberg, already 43 points ahead of him, and Sebastian Vettel. It’s a challenge that the three-time world champion relishes.
“When I watched Formula One growing up, wheel to wheel battles, other teams having the opportunity to win, that’s what was exciting,” he smiles. “One team winning was not exciting. So I want that for the fans, because ultimately I have always been a fan of the sport and still am today.”
While Lewis Hamilton’s life outside of F1 seems full of glitz and glamour, his strict regime and devotion to maintaining his astonishing levels of fitness are punishing at times. He jokes that despite his love of “a good burger”, he’s not been allowed any “for a long time” – unsurprising, given the fact he’s known to restrict his diet even on Christmas Day.
A driver’s fitness levels may be less obvious than an Olympian’s, but the end result is clear: it takes the same absolute dedication to blend man and machine in perfect harmony, and keep someone like Lewis Hamilton’s chances of success firmly on track.
“Mclaren’s hand-dynamometer test Hamilton he hit an impressive 78kg at only 23 years of age.”
“Lewis Hamilton mixes longer runs – where he experiences a typical heart rate of around 140bpm – with shorter efforts designed to build up aerobic endurance, and which push his heart rate to 160bpm.”