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What motivates Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton

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(NEW YORK) — Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton has many titles: Seven-time world champion. Entrepreneur. Activist. Philanthropist. Sir.

Hamilton holds the record for most wins in Formula One (103), most pole positions (104) and most podium finishes (107). Some say he’s the best driver to compete in the series — ever.

The 38-year-old Brit’s accomplishments extend beyond the grid. Neat Burger, his vegan fast-food chain, is expanding globally. Hamilton’s Mission 44 nonprofit helps young people from underserved communities find careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and motorsports. X44 Vida Carbon Racing, his Extreme E racing team, is breaking barriers in motorsports. The racing star has also been lauded for championing causes like LGBTQ rights, environmental protections and social justice.

Hamilton and the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team are seeking their first Grand Prix win of the season on Saturday. Mercedes’ dominance in the series has been waning and the team lost the Constructors’ Championship in 2022 and 2023 to rival Red Bull.

“We were winning for such a long time, and when you win for so long, we all get complacent and take things for granted,” Hamilton told ABC News ahead of the Las Vegas Grand Prix. “I think this has been a great time for us to really pull back, have our feet on the ground and start back up and dig deep. And I think for me, it’s just always knowing that we can be better each day.”

The conversation below has been edited for clarity:

ABC News: I am in Las Vegas with Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time Formula One world champion. How excited are you to race on the legendary Las Vegas Strip?

Lewis: I’ve watched “Casino” God knows how many times growing up. I was just driving through the streets here and seeing all the lights. [Las Vegas] has been on the plan for a while … and we are finally here. I can’t believe it. I can’t wait to get on the track.

ABC News: I heard you’re a huge car enthusiast and have quite the collection. What’s in your garage now?

Lewis: I wouldn’t describe myself as a huge car enthusiast [laughs]. I would say I’m more into art. But growing up cars have been everything for me. My dream car was a McLaren F1. That’s my jewel, my crown jewel. That’s the one I dreamed of having when I was 10 years old and the one I worked hard to have. So that’s my baby. I got a couple of Ferraris, got a couple of Mercedes, a couple of muscle cars like Shelby Cobras. And then I have a lot of motorbikes. I love motorbikes, too. So anything with an engine basically.

ABC News: How often do you get to drive these cars?

Lewis: I never do [laughs]. I don’t drive a lot, if I’m really honest. The only time I ever drive is when I’m in LA. I just got the new Mercedes-Maybach that Virgil [Abloh] did. And I was fortunate enough to know Virgil, God rest his soul. I like driving fast on the track, but I don’t get to do that on the road. So I don’t drive too often.

ABC News: You recently opened a Neat Burger location in Manhattan. Are you going to be expanding to other cities in the U.S.?

Lewis: That’s the goal, yes. It’s taken a long time for us to bring Neat Burger from the U.K. to the U.S. But it’s going really well.

I went plant-based like eight years ago. I was exposed to what was happening in the world … and I was like, OK, I’ve got to read up on this, I need to figure out how I can move in that direction. There’s more and more people who are living more conscious. [Neat Burger] has done really well in the U.K., especially through [the] pandemic. And I hope that we continue to expand it. It’s gonna take some time. Everyone loves a good burger and fries.

ABC News: It is true that Roscoe, your bulldog, is also vegan?

Lewis: It is. When I tell people that, you know, jeez, the amount of people that frown. I had two bulldogs. They were on normal dog diets. The little girl, Coco, she died at 6, had a heart attack. She died way too early. They were already struggling with breathing and skin allergies and all these things, which bulldogs are known for.

So I was like, I’m gonna take meat out and see how it goes. I put [Roscoe] on a vegetable diet basically. Lentils and vegetables. The dude is 11 years old and is running around like a pup. He has no skin allergies anymore. I never have to take him to the vet.

ABC News: That’s incredible. Have you convinced George [Russell] or Toto [Wolff] or anyone else in the Mercedes garage to permanently give up meat and dairy and embrace the vegan lifestyle?

Lewis: No, I’m not that type. I think everyone has the right to an opinion. If you want to try it, try it.

I’ve put on muscle. I’ve gained weight. I feel healthier than ever. I run farther than ever. I won six world titles since I’ve went plant-based.

I consciously feel a lot better knowing that I’m not contributing to the horrific industry that is the meat industry and the dairy industry. When I’m working with brands, I’m like, let’s not use leather straps. Let’s not use leather. Let’s not continue to buy leather for cars. How do we find new fabrics and develop new technologies from recycled materials?

ABC News: How much time have you spent in simulators preparing for Saturday’s race?

I drove the simulator last Thursday for Vegas. It’s an interesting track. The strait is so long. If you’re full gas for a long time, you’re like, geez, I might have to get my iPhone out and just like check my text messages and check my watch. Like it goes on forever.

ABC News: A lot of people are talking about the colder temperatures on Saturday. There’s also the late start, which will impact everyone’s performance. What’s the biggest factor you’re dealing with right now?

Lewis: The cold. This is definitely going to be the coldest race that we’ve done, I’ve probably done in Formula One. The cars are designed and built to perform in higher temperatures.

You’re going to see the bodywork in the cars be more closed because they’re going to be running to a minimum to keep the heat in. The tires that we have are usually running in hot climates. They’re not used to running in these climates. Maybe they’ll be fine, but we could see more pit stops than ever. But otherwise, I don’t worry about things like that. I’m excited to be here. I love being in the States. The audience here has been really, really amazing.

ABC News: If there was another Formula One race in the U.S., where do you think it should be?

Lewis: New York City.

ABC News: OK, I agree!

Lewis: Driving through all the streets … that would be epic.

ABC News: Lewis, you’ve been competing in Formula One since 2007. How have you leveraged that experience on the track? Does more experience equal more wins?

Lewis: Not necessarily. With experience comes, I think, probably also more responsibility. I think in 2007, I knew how to drive incredibly quick. But I didn’t know as much about longevity. I didn’t know about health. I didn’t know about being a team player and how to galvanize a group of people. With that experience, I feel like I’m able to be a better team player than ever before. And that leads to championships and wins.

ABC News: The last two years have been very challenging for the team. You haven’t won a Grand Prix since 2021. How do you stay positive? How do you stay motivated when you’re not winning?

Lewis: It’s a good question. Growing up, I won a lot. I always had at least one win each year.

I think the last two years have been a great experience to really be fighting with the team. We were winning for such a long time and when you win for so long, we all get complacent and take things for granted.

I think this has been a great time for us to really pull back, have our feet on the ground and start back up and dig deep. And I think for me, it’s just always knowing that we can be better each day. I know I can be fitter. I know I can do more, I can be more efficient with my work, with my time.

I have days where I’m like, I don’t want to work out, this sucks. But you just gotta keep pushing. You gotta keep getting up.

And one of the things that really keeps me motivated is Mission 44, a nonprofit organization I started. In Austin, I brought 60 young girls to the track and showed them the F1 Academy. They got to speak to the young female drivers and engineers. I hope they’re inspired now to be engineers or, you know, just push forwards.

ABC News: What’s the pressure like to win that eighth world championship?

Lewis: We’re not fighting for a world championship right this second. I think the pressure is, as you’re getting older, it gets harder to train. It’s harder to stay fit. It’s managing your time. It’s how you communicate with a team of people and keep them all focused. And, you know, I guess the pressure right now is to catch up to Red Bull, the team we’re trying to fight.

Coming back in February and getting in the car, I will know immediately whether it’s a car that we can fight with or not. That’s always a nervous experience for everybody.

ABC News: How personally involved are you with the car? Are you talking to the team every day?

Lewis: Heavily. When I was younger, that was not necessarily the case.

I’m on like a group chat with my engineers, we’ve been talking every day for the last four days, even over the weekend, about setup for this weekend. Even today, we’re talking about the temperatures, we’re talking about wing levels and ride heights and setup we’ll be having. I’m checking with the head of aerodynamics like every week: “What have you tried this year? These are things I’ve seen on other cars. Have we tried that?”

When I go back to the factory every week, I’m having meetings with people from different heads of different departments. When you see people working at their desks, you see how committed people are. They spend so much time away from their families. They’re so committed and that inspires you.

ABC News: Will we ever see a female Formula One driver?

Lewis: I personally do think so. There’s a lot of work that needs to go in the background to continue to allow access.

We got to improve the pipeline. That’s what the F1 Academy is doing, it’s showing that there are opportunities. There are over 40,000 jobs in our industry. How do we encourage more and more people to get into STEM? That’s why I had all these young girls come [to Austin]. And you know, we’re talking about a new team that’s coming in. So that’s two new seats.

ABC News: When you finally end your illustrious racing career, do you see yourself staying engaged in the sport, maybe as a team principal or owner?

Lewis: I don’t think I’d be a team principal. I would love to be a team owner. Because I do believe in like Black equity. I think diverse equity is important.

ABC News: Best of luck to you, George and the entire team on Saturday.

Lewis: Thank you so much.

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