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At the announcement of his role as global brand ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger, the British sporting icon talks to Debonair about what fires his engine
From James Hunt’s blazing devil-may-care lifestyle and flashy on-track arrogance to the burning yet composed efficacy of Michael Schumacher’s dominance, the drivers of the fastest sports vehicles on the planet have always and inevitably been idolised by millions. Revered as demi-sporting gods. Iconised. Adored.
But for all that’s shone out before, there’s little doubt that the incandescence of the Lewis Hamilton phenomenon has illumined a sky that was beginning to darken threateningly over F1 with an auroral effulgence that’s only witnessed once in a lifetime.
Where other drivers on the current circuit wake-eat-breathe-drive-repeat everything F1, Hamilton shines in stark carpe diem contrast.
He revels in the sybaritic spirit, he tells Debonair in an exclusive interview. “In racing, the goal is to continue to win races and excel in every opportunity I get. Beyond racing, I want to try as many things as possible,” he says.
Just as likely is the 33-year-old Briton to be seen going over race-day preparations as he is to be captured on camera amiably chin-wagging and embracing Conor McGregor, Rihanna, Kim and Kanye on red carpets, in front rows and at swanky galas.
And his much-publicised, glamorous relationship with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, now the pair have split, reads much like fleeting subplot in an epic narrative of arriving, seeing and conquering.
Every hero meets with scandal, and Hamilton’s headline-grabbing role in the sensational revelations in the Paradise Papers, which reported tax evasion of up to £3.3 million on his £16.5 million private jet, only cements his reputation as the cavalier sports celebrity of today.
It’s this bon vivant and sometime reckless approach to fame and fortune that has harvested for Hamilton the status of fashion and style icon. Beyond the F1 circuits where he’s forged a career of unparalleled success in the modern era, Hamilton is a celebrity tour de force in his own right.
It’s little wonder that brands such as Tommy Hilfiger — among many others — are clamouring to sign Hamilton as ambassador: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Lewis Hamilton will appear as the new global brand ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger men’s, including Hilfiger Collection, Tommy Hilfiger Tailored and Tommy Hilfiger Menswear, Underwear and Swimwear, starting Spring 2018.
“I like to stand out from the crowd,” he says, giving credence to the slightly egotistic notion that we already suspected. “Tommy’s cool, all-American designs allow me to add an effortless, yet sophisticated twist to my outfits.
“Fashion is like racing, it never sleeps. In Formula One, fashion is not something teams and racing drivers necessarily focus on, but I’m obsessed with style. I always make sure to look classy in my race suit.”
There’s that irrepressible desire to be different from the rest.
As celebrity endorsements go, this is pretty strong — with a sizeable slice of cheese — from both Hamilton and Hilfiger.
As well as the image of the modern dapper gent that Hamilton exudes par excellence, it’s this kind of brand-friendly sound bite that makes him a fashion brand’s dream advocate. It’s the reason IWC, L’Oreal, Puma and, of course, Mercedes (a deal worth £100 million alone) have all been part of an exclusive Hamilton-endorsed list of brands that benefit enormously from having his face associated with them.
The inordinate wealth and designer labels that line Hamilton’s days now is not something he takes for granted, he says. “Growing up, all my family’s money went into racing, buying tires and fuel; fashion was something I was oblivious to. I started exploring fashion in my early 20s, and I’ve grown to feel more confident about experimenting with different styles, and just being myself.”
Thus his emergence as global style pin-up is something he’s embracing with arms wide open, and an open mindset to suit. Citing Pharrell Williams as his style icon and drawing on the little self-learning and style pointers he’s picked up along the way, Hamilton has some tips for the aspiring dapper chap: “Everyone should have a well-tailored suit. Wear it with a freshly pressed shirt and a great watch, and you can’t go wrong. A pair of well-fitted jeans is always a wardrobe essential.”
On the track he’s proven a need for speed, but that translates to his personal life too. “Time is the most precious commodity and using it in the best way is very important to me,” he says.
We ask about his favourites: “Music is the key to the soul. Michael Jackson is my favourite artist; he had such an amazing voice and talent. I once dedicated one of my helmets to him by having his face painted on it.”
On art: “The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a novel I can read over and over again.”
On fashion: “I’m amazed by the general sense of creativity across the fashion industry. I want to better understand how these incredible designers produce new collections.”
And entertainment: “I’ve probably watched the movie Cool Runnings a thousand times,” he says.
“When I’m at home, I’m very casual and love to relax in tracksuits. I don’t like to dress like everyone else, so I pick bright colours and patterns, adding my personal twist to the outfit.”
There was a time, under McLaren and his father’s austere eye, when Hamilton would not have dared live in such an opulent and public-courting manner. But since leaving the shadow of what the four-time world champion has called a “restrictive” regime five years ago, he’s become Britain’s richest sportsman (reportedly commanding a net worth of more than £250 million), the second all-time most successful F1 driver with 62 Grand Prix wins (second only to Schumacher’s 91) and is on course to become only the second person in the history of the sport to claim five world titles.
Though he hasn’t yet eclipsed Schumacher’s Grand Prix wins record, he already hold the record for the all-time most number of pole position starts, at 73: a veritable confirmation of the consistency the Briton has demonstrated on the track over his illustrious career.
It’s a list of achievements that, at just 33, is enough to turn anyone green. So much has Hamilton achieved in such a short space of time that rumours of retirement are emerging, and it’s not something the Brit is putting to bed anytime soon. His current contract with Mercedes comes to a conclusion at the end of the current F1 season, and Hamilton and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport CEO Toto Wolff have both taken a relaxed approach to renewing it.
It’s no secret that Hamilton has always admired the legacy Ferrari has paved in the sport, as they’ve become the most successful team in F1. The temptation to join the forces of the world’s most successful current driver with the sport’s most successful franchise may prove to be too much someday soon.
For now, he’s not courting the speculation of a dream Hamilton-Ferrari match. “I’ve never made Ferrari aware that I wanted to race for them, so it doesn’t really surprise me [they haven’t contacted me],” he told ESPN.
Much like the allure of Real Madrid was too much for David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to resist, ultimately pulling them all away from the clubs that turned them into the mega-successes they became, Ferrari could be Hamilton’s ultimate Galacticos calling card.
“I used to watch the Grand Prix races with my dad growing up, and I wanted to be Ayrton Senna. Everyone should dream big, and I’ve never stopped pursuing mine since then.
“I truly believe we are all destined for greatness,” he tells us, once again hinting at an affinity with brands and marques that have achieved the great.
“We should all take it upon ourselves to try and shine as bright as possible. It will inspire the person next to you to do the same.”
This echoes similarities between the racing driver and the designer who’s products he’s fronting alongside the smouldering Gigi Hadid. “I’ve always admired how Tommy never gave up on his dreams of building a global lifestyle brand, even when times were tough. I believe that when you get knocked down, it’s not how you fall that matters, but how you get back up, and Tommy and I both take life lessons away from these moments.
“Always believe in yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your goals.”
While it might be just be adding speculative fuel to erroneous flames, this dream-big, follow-in-the-footsteps-of-your-heroes mentality that Hamilton exudes does hint at a potential desire to join the red-racing elite of the Italian stallion brand.
Where Senna drove for McLaren and left for Williams, Hamilton moved from McLaren to Mercedes. The question is whether Ferrari is his next pit stop on the road to global domination.
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