When we think of highly competitive, determined, and successful people, the images that often come to mind are of people like Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk – titans in their field. What often accompanies these images are stories of long working hours, volatility and the fear many had of working with them.
Lewis Hamilton seems to go against the grain of conventional thinking, no emotional outbursts – rather appearing calm, composed, and gentle-natured. There’s no denying his steely determination to succeed, but this seems in stark contrast to descriptions of him as humble, caring, and altruistic – traits not often associated with pioneers. Conversations between Hamilton and his team demonstrate the deep mutual relationship, and their joint focus on the collective achievement. He is a team player, constantly praising everyone when winning, acknowledging their hard work and dedication, whilst taking accountability when things go wrong. His determination to succeed isn’t limited to formula 1 either, he has been a voice for social campaigns including racial injustice, climate change, human rights and animal welfare.
The best example of Hamilton’s resilience was in the unforgettable final race of 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Red Bull needed a miracle for Max Verstappen to take Hamilton’s 8th world championship from him. That championship loss, following last minute changes to long-standing rules, led to a huge backlash against race director Michael Masi. But it seems the fans demonstrated greater anger than Hamilton himself. And what of his anger? There’s no doubt that Hamilton would have been furious with the decision but didn’t let this emotion define him, instead shaking Verstappen’s hand in congratulations. Following the race, in a recent documentary Hamilton says, ‘if you think you’ve seen the best of me, think again’. How has Hamilton managed to channel such emotions, driving himself to do even better next time? What of the anger and injustice he must have felt? Where has Hamilton developed such resilience from?
Growing up, Hamilton lived on a council estate, splitting his time between his divorced parents, spending most weekends with his father. He faced bullying at school, taking up martial arts as a way of defending himself. As the only black family at go-kart tracks they routinely faced racism. Hamilton’s father was instrumental in shaping a mindset that has led to him channelling his emotions to where they mattered most – the track. Hamilton shared how “we had things thrown at us, particularly a lot of words, but my dad said, ‘Do your talking on the track’.
As well as shaping Hamilton’s approach to adversity, his father also had an unwavering belief in his son, remortgaging the home to fulfil his son’s dream. Imagine the pressure of your parents investing so much, and how might this have been compounded when Ron Dennis from McLaren Mercedes offered to financially support Hamilton, still a child. But Hamilton saw this as absolute conviction in his talents. Another reason for his resilience?
Resilience is often described as the ability to bounce back, but what Hamilton has shown is that how we respond to setbacks can determine how long these emotions will continue to affect us. When did we last see Hamilton expressing his anger and frustration? There’s no doubt that his meditation and yoga practices must influence his ability to channel that raw emotion, allowing him to remain calm and focused on the next win. An F1 car is all about marginal gains. It’s possible that Hamilton has used this principle, redirecting emotion to make improvements, rather than wasting it on expressing his frustrations.
Hamilton has fought racism to become one of the best racing drivers in history. Instead of buckling under the pressure of others’ expectations, he embraced this endorsement of his talents, fuelling him to do better. This reframing is an important ingredient for resilience – seeing opportunities rather than challenges, and seeing expectations as faith. Hamilton was surrounded by people who believed in him, which will have fuelled his determination not to let them or himself down. How quickly we bounce back from setbacks may be determined by how much we allow ourselves to fall down – by redirecting negative emotions into actions for improvement, we can develop our resilience, fuelling our determination to succeed.