On Sunday night, Lewis Hamilton was named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for the second time in his career. The first came back in 2014 – following his second world championship – but since then, while he’d been nominated on multiple occasions, he was never the winner of the United Kingdom’s public vote.
At times it showed a bit of a disconnect between Hamilton’s achievements and the public, although it’s fair to point out that at others it simply showed there were more deserving winners that particular year.
But the latest success hints Hamilton is reconnecting with the core fanbase he had when he first burst onto the scene in Formula 1. In 2008, Hamilton was the runner-up after his maiden world championship, losing out to cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, who had won three Olympic gold medals that year.
Since then, however, Hamilton’s global superstar status has often worked against him in these kinds of situations. For some, his other interests in life are seen as a negative when compared to sports stars with no footprint beyond their domain, while his residency in Monaco – which he has in common with many F1 drivers – is used as a stick to beat him with by other quarters of the UK population.
That appears to have changed this year, to an extent. Hamilton still has his fair share of vocal critics and dissenters, but his supporters have grown in number, too. And that’s due to a notable combination of things.
Hamilton has not only broken records and set new benchmarks from a sporting perspective, he has also transcended F1 in a positive way that has led to growing admiration. And it’s a year that he reflects on with pride because of his own development as a human rather than just his seventh drivers’ championship and 95th grand prix victory.
“I think I have been on this journey…” Hamilton says. “When I moved to veganism, learning about being more conscious about my surroundings, being more conscious of what it is that I am doing here, the reason I’m saying what it is that I am representing.
“I definitely think this has been one of the biggest years of growth for me, because I have had more time. In the past you’ve gone from one thing to the next, you are always trying to keep up but you are always behind – on emails, on conversations, documentaries, whatever it may be – so the learning process is just a lot different.
“This year I have had time to really spend time on learning, on trying to educate myself the best I can. Who would have thought that at 35 years old that I would learn a lot more than perhaps I have in the past 10 years?
“We’ve gone to places and traveled around the world, and I definitely recognize that as a youngster I was less conscious of what’s happening in the world. I wasn’t watching the news as much, I wasn’t up to date with things that are happening.
“This year has been really… it’s been such a difficult year for so many people, and there’s so many negatives that have happened to people – losing jobs, businesses shutting down and people becoming homeless – and there’s so much struggle that’s happened. But then I like to try to look at things always as glass half-full, and there’s been so many positives that I hope we will be able to take into 2021. And part of that has been this learning process.”
It might not always be apparent from Hamilton’s strong stance on numerous topics, but his motivation isn’t simply a case of wanting to ensure that other people hear his opinions. It’s to set an example so that others – particularly the next generation – will be brave enough to speak up for their beliefs, too.
“(2020) definitely brought things more to the surface, and I’ve felt that taking that step and really using my voice… there are so many people out there that have just stayed silent,” he says. “I’m sure there’s moments in you guys’ lives that maybe you’ve kept your mouth shut just for a moment because you know that there’s a bigger fight to fight further along, or something was at risk.
“And I think there’s people out there – particularly kids hopefully moving forwards – that will see so many that have been outspoken on certain issues this year, that this is a time to be more outspoken, this is a time to push for change. And I’ve experienced that too, and I hope young kids particularly see that I have taken that step, and so have (others), and so should they.”
As we spoke – and still as I write – Hamilton has yet to sign a new Mercedes contract, but a new deal appears to be a formality. What it entails, however, is not so clear, in terms of the details of the demands and freedoms. That’s an area Hamilton says he will focus on, due to what 2020 has taught him about what he feels is important in life.
“I think for me, what I am aware of – and I am sure of you guys, if you have parents around – you know that the most valuable thing we have is time. Utilizing the time… naturally we all are chasing dreams, working crazy hours and trying to achieve something, but the most important thing is the memories that you are able to create.
“So striking the right balance (is crucial). I think in the past, for sure, I remember being a workaholic, and just that was all I did. There was only a few memory-making moments through the year with the people that matter most to me. And for sure, I want to strike a balance of doing more in the future with that whilst I continue to do things I am passionate about.
“When I got into this sport, it was definitely frowned upon by many – ‘he’s over here distracted by these things…’ – and I can tell you it’s not been easy to do those the other things and arrive and do the lap like I did in Singapore (in 2018). But only I know what’s right for me, and I felt this is what’s right for me, and I usually follow my heart. And I knew that the things that I was doing I was passionate about, and I was getting energy from them. And it felt great.
“Of course it felt special to then turn up in a place like Singapore and produce performances like I have. And then it opens up a door. Now I know I could continue to do that, however I have to strike a balance of still being conscious of not taking away from my performances on the track.
“I will never sacrifice that in future, or any time.”