High Flyer: Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton embraces his international playboy image without apology. But don’t expect him to go off the rails any time soon, writes George Hopkin. Behind the wheel and in life, Hamilton is in control.
Lewis Hamilton loves his tattoos. While jetting around the world this summer in his blood-red Bombardier CL-600, the F1 champion found time to drop in on Rhianna’s favourite tattoo artist – Bang Bang in New York – to have not one but two major new designs added to his collection.
In June he revealed a giant African lion that now covers the entirety of the left-hand side of his chest – “The African lion symbolises mastering your emotions,” he tweeted to fans at the time.
And in September, just days after he debuted his new bleached blonde hair, Hamilton went under the needle again, this time to have a huge eagle drawn on his neck.
“My eagle represents a visionary. I’m a seeker and I’m willing to push the limits of self-discovery and personal freedom,” he explained.
“I love my ink,” Hamilton told Men’s Health magazine earlier this year. “A sacred heart on my arm. Musical notes, because I love music. The compass on my chest is there because church is my compass. Family is everything for me, so I have ‘family’ written on the top, across my shoulders. ‘Faith’, obviously.
“And I have ‘powerful beyond measure’ written on my chest – it’s a short bit I took out of a quote from the writer Marianne Williamson. On my back I have the cross and angel wings: rise above it, no matter what life throws at you.”
Don’t be surprised if Hamilton’s Challenger 605 makes more transatlantic tattoo trips this year and next. Hamilton is still a work in progress.
Keeping up such a high-profile, international playboy image is made easier with the Bombardier (registration G-LCDH, for Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton) fitted with a bed, bar and several plasma screen TVs and all part of Hamilton’s carefully maintained image as one of sport’s most iconic – and bankable – characters.
Forbes puts his 2015 earnings at US$39m, putting him 55th in their annual ranking of the world’s highest-paid celebrities and 15th in the league table of highest-paid athletes.
Salary and winnings accounts for US$36m, they say, with an additional US$3m coming from endorsements from Bombardier and watch company IWC.
With an estimated total fortune of around £88m, Hamilton is the richest sportsman in Britain (£16m ahead of number two Wayne Rooney), although he is one of the UK’s most famous tax exiles, based out of Monaco where he owns a £10m apartment.
But don’t for a second think Hamilton takes any of this for granted.
“My story is not about luck or a fairy tale,” wrote Hamilton in his autobiography Lewis Hamilton: My Story. “It is about hard work, about my family’s sacrifice and determination, my dad’s huge support for me and many other people’s belief and kindness.
“I found I had a talent and I have worked as hard as possible to develop it so that I can be successful and in the process inspire others, if I can, to achieve the dream.”
It’s an outlook on life that has stood him in good stead, but it hasn’t been without its risks.
“Hamilton’s current position is the result of what appeared at the time to be his unthinkable decision to leave McLaren at the end of 2012 and join Mercedes,” says former F1 champion David Coulthard, now a BBC commentator and pundit. “That move represented a step-change in his life. He had been nurtured as a racing driver from the age of 11 by McLaren. His father had managed his career up until that point, and had been ever-present.
But in joining Mercedes at that time Hamilton left both those situations behind, says Coulthard.
“Hamilton is probably more popular today than at any time in his career. People were perhaps not so sure who he was when he first came in, and then there was a period when we kind of lost Lewis a bit as he was growing into being the multi-millionaire racing driver.
“But now he has firmly found who he is – his own sense of style, what he likes in terms of partners and lifestyle, LA, all that sort of thing. And what we are left with is a sense of sincerity.
“His heart-on-the-sleeve style seems to have connected with the public. It does not matter whether people particularly like what that style is; I just think the public respect honesty and sincerity.”
And remember those musical note tattoos? Hamilton has teased fans about this musical aspirations in the past, but has kept his cards close to his well-inked chest in this area of his life.
But some high profile celebs have had a sneak preview. Speaking at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, US rapper and friend Kanye West said: “Lewis Hamilton’s over at my house and we’re playing some music in my studio. We’re having an Easter brunch and all of the family’s there, my wife’s family, my friends, everything. And everybody’s like, ‘What is this music?’
“And I’m like, ‘It’s Lewis Hamilton’s music’. They’re like, ‘Oh my God. It’s good, it’s really, really good’.”
So Hamilton may yet have use of his jet-set image in a second career as musical icon. Until then, what do his fellow racing drivers really think about those tattoos?
“The other day, I met a guy who was haranguing me about how ridiculous he thought Hamilton’s tattoos were,” says Coulthard. “Now, tattoos are not my cup of tea, but if Hamilton likes them – or wants to dye his hair blond, or hang out with pop stars – who are we to judge?
“As long as it is not affecting his driving – and it is abundantly clear that it is not, unless it is positively – then he should get on and do whatever he wants.
“He is young, he is wealthy, he is at the top of his form, he has a great car. He will be feeling brilliant in himself, and that is reflecting in his performances on the race track.”
Hamilton made the most of his 66-point lead and some good fortune to wrap up the drivers championship at the United States Grand Prix on October 25, retaining his crown in style.