Hamilton said last year he was more driven than ever to become F1’s all-time great. Now he’s done it. He has won more races than anyone previously, and he will equal Michael Schumacher’s seven titles this year
The British driver is at the top of his game, and it seems impossible to think he could give it all up.
But there has been a clear change in Hamilton in the last 18 months. A shift of focus. And it would be no surprise if the life-changing times caused by Covid-19, coupled with re-writing the record books, could steer him in a new direction.
So, what suggests he might go ahead and do it?
Year of change
Hamilton has a lot on his plate – but much of it is not actually on the track.
With a metronomic Mercedes machine allowing him to win races with relative ease, he has plenty of passion and time left to give in other areas.
Driving these forward has taken an ever-increasing priority this year.
He has always had one eye on his off-track future and has already released a fashion line with Tommy Hilfiger, turned down a role in Top Gun and is about to release his own music album.
His once flamboyant luxury lifestyle has begun to be tempered. Sure, before Covid-19 redefined the world he was still regularly pictured with fellow celebrity superstars from music and fashion, but his focus has dramatically changed now.
Instead of promoting partying, glamour and money, he is actively channelling a different message. He speaks about climate change, veganism and, most recently, the Black Lives Matter movement.
He now recognises his is a powerful voice, but it is not just as a famous F1 champion, it is as a global ambassador.
He is on a mission to use his profile to change the ways of the world and deciding whether it is best to do so from within the sport, or by removing himself from it, is key to his future.
Just the beginning
Asked about retirement by the BBC late last year, Hamilton said: "Naturally for athletes, it has to be the saddest day, but that is why I have other things in place that I can fall back on. I know my life is not going to be over when I retire.”
Far from over, it could actually become even bigger.
Hamilton spoke briefly of the “afterlife” [post-Formula One] following his win at Imola and his communications are clearly pointing to a focus away from the track.
Beneath an image of a clenched fist in a black circle, his Instagram status says: “Vegan based Diet. Love Animals. Constantly searching for my purpose, for adventure, open-mindedness and positivity.”
On climate issues, he is F1’s Greta Thunberg. But with more followers on every one of the three main social media channels, Hamilton has even more potential social power for change than the globally renowned climate activist.
And while the sport provides him with a huge platform to push his goals, perhaps retirement would give him even greater scope.
He has actively led the way this season in influencing the sport around its approach to anti-racism. He has become a better politician. And he has opened his mind to new ideas.
Earlier this year he took part in a diversity training session run with Mercedes. At the time he said: “I’m open to learning - I’m not perfect - just learning what is right. I feel the whole of society is just so behind.”
In support of the environment, he announced his commitment to a plant-based lifestyle last year, declaring in September at the Tuscan Grand Prix he no longer drives any of his supercars, as he will now only drive electric.
Again in September, speaking of influencing F1 to become more sustainable, he said: “I think I’ve got more power to shift it from within, rather than retire and do it from the outside.”
The global response to his actions against racism and climate change, however, coupled with his recent decision to launch an Extreme E team show a new agenda. Perhaps, now, non-F1 elements better align with his future plans.
On Instagram, he recently stated: “The last step for me will be when I step away from this sport and can focus fully on helping heal the world to provide a better future for our kids and our kids’ kids.”
Perhaps, now, there are now bigger fish to fry for Hamilton than F1 alone.
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