Lewis Hamilton has revealed that the death of his grandfather before the Mexican Grand Prix, where he won his fifth world championship on Sunday, gave him a real appreciation of his upbringing and the crucial role in it that his father played.
Having equalled Juan Manuel Fangio’s tally, the Mercedes driver offered personal reflections on how his childhood has played its part in a remarkable achievement that he said had included some “magical” drives.
Hamilton finished fourth at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, enough to beat Sebastian Vettel to the title. It was the culmination of a season in which he has been in the form of his career, driving virtually flawlessly in taking nine wins and nine pole positions.
However, three days before the race Hamilton had to cope with the emotional impact of the death of his paternal grandfather, Davidson Augustine Hamilton. “This has actually been a really difficult weekend because my grandfather died on Thursday morning,” he said.
“Naturally, when someone passes away, it brings the whole family together. He was the godfather of the family. My dad and me were already quite close but it naturally brought us a little bit closer.”
This is Hamilton’s 12th season in Formula One and his route from a council house in Stevenage was enabled by his father Anthony, who supported his racing by taking multiple jobs. Hamilton began karting at the age of eight at the Rye House Circuit in Hertfordshire and was emphatic about how important his father had been.
“I never will forget the things that he did in order for me to be here today and for our family to thrive,” he said. “I really do aspire to be like him, as a strong, black man and as a father and as a human being for doing what he did in the difficult times with the little that he had. I think that’s testament to where we are. I think all that work that he put in, my grandfather would be so proud of him, so proud of us and grateful that the Hamilton name is there and established and will now go down in history, which is kind of crazy to think.”
Hamilton has matured as driver. He once again demonstrated in Mexico his exemplary control and judgment under pressure as he brought his car home for the title, despite being off the pace and struggling with his tyres.
But he also emphasised the key role his father played in shaping his driving style.
While karting Anthony would stand several metres closer to the corner than where the quickest drivers were braking to indicate where his son should do so. “No other father was doing that. I would go around and try to brake at that point and I would spin off and crash and spin off and crash,” he said. “Eventually I could do it and I’ve always been known as a late-braker. Those special moments are what I fight with today and are at the core of who I am.”
The lessons learned then were key and have been carried through his career. Tellingly he has also lost none of the passion he felt when he first climbed behind the wheel.
“If you could see how tough it was for us from the beginning – and even this year, still fighting with those obstacles and still coming stronger and stronger each year,” he said. “I feel like I’m still driving with that fierce fire that I had when I was eight years old which I love. So I’ll keep going until that goes.”
This motivation has led to a superlative season. For all that Ferrari and Vettel made errors it was without doubt a title won by Hamilton and Mercedes rather than lost by his competitors. It has included some of his most impressive drives – coming from the back of the field to be second at Silverstone, winning from 14th in Germany, the qualifying laps in Singapore and Hungary that put him on pole.
“It took some special laps, it took some special moments in the car and I honestly could just re-live those moments all the time,” he said. “Some of those experiences I had in the car were really magical. I truly believed that we could win this championship but it has been the toughest battle that we’ve had collectively as a team.
“These guys in the garage have just been flawless every single weekend. That’s been key. I feel like I can drive anything and I feel I can take the car to places that nobody else can. But to do that you have to get the car in the right place.”