Lewis Hamilton may not have become an eight-time world champion Formula One driver, but in ‘losing’, in the most dramatic circumstances, he proved something else entirely: that he’s a true champion.
For those of you that don’t know, with just five laps left of the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton was cruising to victory. His chief rival Max Verstappen needed a miracle to overtake him, and while he didn’t quite get that, he did get a helping hand from the race stewards, whose decision to allow some lapped cars to overtake left Verstappen as champion and Hamilton looking towards next season.
Anyone would have forgiven him for reacting to that with fire and fury, but instead, Hamilton displayed the restraint and generosity of a true champion. “Firstly, big congratulations to Max and his team,” said Hamilton. “I think we did an amazing job this year, my team, everyone back at the factory, all the men and women, we have worked so hard all year.
“It’s been the most difficult of seasons. I’m so proud of them, so grateful to be on the journey with them. We gave it absolutely everything, we never gave up and that’s the most important thing.
“Of course I’ve been feeling great in the car this past couple of months, particularly at the end. But if I’m honest, we’re still in the pandemic and I just wish everyone to stay safe and have a good Christmas with their families, and we’ll see about next year.”
While we don’t know how next year will play out, we do know how Hamilton will prep for it. In a interview with Men’s Health, the seven-time champ discussed his physical approach to F1, alongside how a key dietary change – his decision to follow a plant-based diet – led to a “marked improvement in my fitness level” and made him “more mobile and in better shape” than he was a decade ago.
Men’s Health: What do you do to stay at the top, physically speaking?
Lewis Hamilton: I like lifting weights, but I have to make sure that I don’t overdo it. Formula 1 drivers can’t be too heavy: more muscle means more kilos. It’s also disadvantageous to put too much muscle on your shoulders and arms, because you need to have a low centre of gravity in the car. It’s important to have a good cardiovascular system as a driver. Over the course of a two-hour race, you might have an average heartbeat of 160-170bpm. During qualifying, it can go up to 190bpm. That’s why I do a lot of running. Sprints are a part of every workout.
How has your training evolved since you started out in F1 almost 15 years ago?
When I was young, I had a lot of energy and felt I could do anything. I didn’t have a strategy, and I didn’t stretch: I just got in the car and drove to win. But over the years, I’ve experimented with a number of different disciplines, like boxing and muay Thai. These days, I do lots of pilates, focusing on the core – the muscles beneath the muscles.
“I’m more mobile and in better shape than I was at 25”
What’s your approach to nutrition?
Three years ago, I decided to follow a plant-based diet. The only thing I regret is not having done it before. My taste buds have learned about things that I never thought I would eat and that I now love: falafel, avocado, beetroot, fresh and dried fruit. I’ve also noticed a marked improvement in my fitness level since I switched, which is motivating.
So, you credit your plant-based diet with helping you stay at your peak?
I was already at the top before changing my approach to food, but I was definitely struggling more and my energy was inconsistent. I had days when I felt strong and others when I was just sapped. When I switched to a plant-based diet, those highs and lows decreased significantly. I’ve also noticed positive effects on my sleep and on my health in general. The benefits keep coming, and I’ve honestly never felt better. I’m 35 now, and though theoretically I should be less fit than before, I’m more mobile and in better shape than I was at 25.
F1 is high octane, high adrenalin. How do you rest and recharge?
Unplugging is a fundamental part of my routine. It’s so important to decompress after a race, so you can face the next one with a clear mind. I love spending time with my friends and family. Being with them helps me relax and focus my energy. But I can’t live without adrenalin. I love anything that makes my heart beat faster, whether that’s skiing, sky-diving, surfing or training.
What are you most proud of achieving in your career?
I was the first working-class, black F1 champion. I’m proud to have paved the way for others. One of my favourite phrases is: “You can’t be what you don’t see.” Anyone who sees me on the podium, even if it’s a child, can be inspired to follow their dreams. If that happens, I’ll have done my job well. Diversity is a problem that Formula 1 has to face up to. I want to do my part in helping the sport make progress, not only by inspiring others but also by collaborating to create more opportunities for people from different communities.
This article was originally published on menshealth.com/uk/.