After a season-and-a-half stretch without a win, his longest dry spell since entering Formula 1 in 2007, Sir Lewis Hamilton believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel for him—and his improving Mercedes team. “It’s coming,” says the seven-time World Champion, speaking exclusively to Robb Report in his role as an ambassador for the Swiss watchmaker IWC.
This weekend, Formula 1 returns after the summer break with the Dutch Grand Prix. Max Verstappen, Hamilton’s archrival and this season’s champion-elect, even with 10 races to go, will be the favorite at his home race. But with Mercedes running second behind the Dutchman’s Red Bull in the constructors standings, the British driver is allowing himself some optimism.
“We struggled last year and everyone had their head in their hands, working together to lift each other up, weekend in, weekend out,” says Hamilton. “Some weekends, you’re like, ‘is it really going to happen?’ But we keep chipping away and we’ve had podiums. But of course, we want to get that win.”
It’s the Thursday of race week, and Hamilton is in a relaxed mood. We’ve taken over team boss Toto Wolff’s office in the Mercedes motorhome at Amsterdam’s Zandvoort circuit. It’s a spartan space with an unimposing desk in one half of the room, and a cramped seating area with two chairs at either side of a small table in the other.
Hamilton, his braids largely hidden under a headband emblazoned with the word “Tommy,” is sporting a black team shirt and a huge pair of black boots. The ensemble is strikingly offset by a high-contrast white ceramic IWC Big Pilot’s Watch, specifically, a $40,900 perpetual calendar version known as the Top Gun Lake Tahoe (“Have you seen this?” he asks excitedly, passing me his watch).
Hamilton has just had a couple of weeks off, hiking, hot-air ballooning, losing at chess to his nephew. “I need to improve my chess game,” he says with a wry smile. Has he missed racing? “No,” he says firmly. “I do in the winter, because the break’s longer, but on this break, no, I could have done a couple more days.”
Does he still feel motivated? He does. “That’s easy!” he says. “I still love racing. More than ever. I always feel I can be better. When I hit a limit, I love the challenge of figuring out how to strengthen my body to get past that. It’s that idea you can get better at everything. So I’m going to be here for a good chunk of time. You’re definitely going to get tired of me.”
Who he’ll be driving for next season is still a source of pit-lane conjecture. He’s been with Mercedes since 2013, but has yet to sign a contract extension. Some have suggested he might head to Ferrari, although he’s denied he’ll move.
If anything, Hamilton seems entirely relaxed about his future, prepared to wait it out. “I’ve always been a risk taker,” he says. “When someone says ‘you can’t climb that tree,’ I’ll climb it, even if I’ll almost certainly fall out of it.” As if to prove the point, he tells a story about a near-death experience a couple of years ago when he paddled out to Hawaii’s notorious Banzai Pipeline, an iconic surf break, with surfing legend Kelly Slater. “Kelly was like, ‘there’s no way you’re going out there,’” Hamilton says, his eyes sparkling at the memory of the 25-foot wave. “And I was like, ‘Kelly, I’m going out.’”
He paddled to the edge of the wave. “This thing was massive, a huge tunnel, and I could see Kelly coming right down it in front of me,” he continues. “And I just had to make sure I didn’t get sucked in. So I dived down and grabbed the reef and prayed. I could hear the thing land behind me, like a bomb going off. My board got ripped off and snapped in half. I was very close to the end. But that excites me for some reason.”
He says that, on the track, his risk-taking has matured. “When I was younger, I was reckless,” he admits. “I took a lot of risks and I was very fortunate not to get injured. Now, you can measure risk smarter. I’ve always been good at knowing my limit, and my limit is higher than most people’s. And I’ve always been comfortable when I’m close to the limit.”
Next month, he’ll introduce a third collaboration with IWC, a watch he considers a bigger creative risk than anything the two have worked on together before. “With this new watch, I wanted to take it to the top and do something exclusive,” he teases. “At the beginning, everyone’s cautious because they don’t know how well it’s going to do. But then things fly.”
Hamilton will be hoping his car gives him wings, this weekend. “I’ve been itching to freakin’ get in the car all day,” he says, that smile breaking into a boyish grin.
Editor’s note: For the 2023 season of Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton is currently fourth in the World Drivers’ Championship, while Mercedes-AMG Petronas is second in the World Constructors’ Championship. The Dutch Grand Prix will take place on Sunday, August 27, at 9 a.m. EDT.