Why Hamilton changed his mind about racing in F1 after 40

As Lewis Hamilton’s legacy grew by racking up Formula 1 championships through his early 30s, he always suggested that racing beyond 40 was not something he thought was likely.

Why Hamilton changed his mind about racing in F1 after 40

Hamilton has often joked that he does not want to be the oldest driver on the grid, embracing the continued contract extensions for Fernando Alonso, who at 41 is preparing to keep on racing for at least a few more years.

More seriously, Hamilton has always vowed that he would not want to keep on racing until he is totally burnt out, instead wishing to bow out when he is still fresh and has the energy to focus on other projects. Mission 44, his charity dedicated to improving representation in motorsport, and Ignite, a charity set up with Mercedes also intended to aid diversity, are two such interests that will be the focus of his post-racing life, ensuring he has a legacy that goes beyond his on-track achievements.

But after Hamilton revealed in a group media interview including Autosport in Austin last month that he plans to sign a new multi-year contract with Mercedes, it led to a fresh look at where he currently stands in F1. His existing deal expires at the end of 2023, by when he will be 38. Even if he went on for only another two years, that would take him close to his 41st birthday, passing a milestone he once scoffed at.

So what’s changed for Hamilton? Why is a driver who is so determined to make an impact beyond what he does on-track keen to keep on racing?

Hamilton admitted in Mexico last week that he wasn’t sure what had changed his mind on wanting to keep racing after being 40. He mentioned “this narrative of winding down towards the end” as being something he did not subscribe to, and that even with his outside interests, the support of Mercedes to pursue them could keep him energised on-track.

“I’m just in a happy place,” said Hamilton. “I’m a lot more grounded, I’ve got my home that I get to spend time in, in the UK when I come to see the team for example, my family come down.

“I have a lot better set-up just all round. And I feel like I can take the team to more championships.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Hamilton has always made clear that breaking the record for the most championships by winning an eighth title is not something that will define his future, even given the circumstances of his defeat to Max Verstappen last year. He has often talked about the “journey” Mercedes now finds itself on, trying to return to the front after being toppled amid its struggles with the new technical regulations for 2022. Walking away while the team is yet to return to the top of the mountain does not seem to be something on Hamilton’s radar.

Hamilton admitted it was “difficult to say” how much of an impact the struggles of this year had on his motivation to keep going. “If we’d had a year like last year, and we were competing at the front all year, who knows where I would be?” he pondered. But he spoke of the energy he took from seeing the team come together in 2022, noting the new level vulnerability he has seen in many of his colleagues through the current struggles.

“That’s been a really interesting process, and I’m grateful to be a part of it,” said Hamilton. “I can’t wait for the time that we get back to success, that we finally get that win and we get that championship. It’s going to make all these tough moments worthwhile.”

As Hamilton has gotten further into his 30s, he has often spoken of his improved physical condition, citing his switch to a plant-based diet in 2018 as being a “life changer.” When it comes to his training, he has also learned to adjust his regimen as the years have gone on as it “gets harder for all of us” to stay in peak physical condition.

“So it’s about being more meticulous with your diet, being more meticulous with your training,” said Hamilton. “Like for example, I did pilates with a good friend of mine the other day that’s an Olympic athlete, and it was so funny because it was something that we’d never really done before. I’d done pilates, but just adding different things that you wouldn’t normally do, being more specific with your daily routine, way more than when I was 22 - I wasn’t doing the things that I’m doing today.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Hamilton also noted the importance of looked after his mental wellbeing to “find good balance within your life”, including setting boundaries to protect his energy and prevent himself getting overloaded.

“I never let that get to that point,” Hamilton explained. “It’s just about being balanced. I say no to so many things. I get asked every day to do so many different things, and I’m able to push back and say no.

“If I know that’s going to affect my preparation, getting in the way of my training or my time with my team, or have any possible impact on my race weekend, it’s a big no. That’s with friends, that’s with relationships. This is what I’m focused on.”

It has all given Hamilton the kind of longevity that very few athletes will ever enjoy. Two tennis icons, Serena Williams and Roger Federer, hung up their rackets this year after playing into their early 40s. Tom Brady, a friend of Hamilton’s, has managed to extend his career in the NFL well into his 40s despite the physical demands of the game. All of them act as inspiration to Hamilton.

Toto Wolff, Hamilton’s team principal at Mercedes, felt the Brady comparison was apt. “For me, the best athlete in the world, Tom Brady, he’s on the field and being tackled and throwing the ball, and he’s 43 years old,” he said. “So as long as you continue to look after yourself, and develop your cognitive sensors, I think [Hamilton] has many more years in him. I’m pretty certain that’s going to be the case here in the team.”

Wolff plans to sit down with Hamilton during a “quiet time” over the winter to discuss his next contract, which is set to run to at least the end of the 2025 season. The way that Hamilton is talking, there is no reason why it has to be his last F1 renewal - and why turning 40 could be long in the past by the time he finally calls it quits.

“I’m not putting a limit on it, to be honest,” Hamilton said when asked how much longer he planned to stay with Mercedes, only confirming he was “planning to do a multi-year deal with my team.”

“I really, really don’t know what the next five years [hold], I think we’re still trying to work on that,” he added. “There’s a lot of great things that are being put in place, like I’ve just launched a production company this week.

“But I feel great in mind and body. I think there’s more stuff to achieve together.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG, 2nd position, with his trophy

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG, 2nd position, with his trophy

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

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