‘Not what a driver does’ – when Lewis Hamilton got on the wrong side of Niki Lauda

Henry Valantine
Niki Lauda and Lewis Hamilton

Niki Lauda played a huge role in getting Lewis Hamilton to sign for Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton has explained how fellow F1 great Niki Lauda would disapprove of his non-driving activities, such as his ventures into the fashion world, but saw his mind change after the Singapore Grand Prix in 2018.

Hamilton had attended a party to celebrate the launch of his first collection in New York before that race, but the lap that followed in qualifying is still heralded to this day as one of the best of his career – which proved to the three-time World Champion that Hamilton could balance his racing and outside interests.

Lewis Hamilton: Niki Lauda used to say ‘you can’t let Lewis do this’ before Singapore lap

After travelling to Singapore, Hamilton’s lap to put him on pole astounded not just those in attendance but from within the Mercedes garage too.

Lauda, who was a key figure behind Hamilton’s move to Mercedes, said that heading to a fashion event so close to a race weekend was not ideal for what he was meant to be doing – but that lap was proof of how he could balance his work and interests away from Formula 1.

“That’s not really great preparation for a race weekend,” Hamilton admitted to GQ Magazine of his New York trip.

“So you have to be really cautious about that. The narrative was: ‘Oh, he’s not focused.’ But I wasn’t out partying late or drinking like that.

“I got to Singapore, and I delivered one of the best laps that I’ve ever delivered. And after that, everyone was like, ‘Oh, he can do that.’

“Even Niki would say to Toto [Wolff]: ‘You can’t let Lewis do this! This is not what a racing driver does!’”

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When it was put to Hamilton in a joking manner that the drivers of Lauda’s era were more likely to drink and smoke before driving on a race weekend, Hamilton replied: “Yeah, exactly. But eventually I got him to see it: ‘Oh, maybe he can do those things too.’”

Hamilton was among the first drivers in the modern era to try and balance the rigours of Formula 1 with his other interests outside the sport, particularly after his move to Mercedes.

He elaborated more about the initial ‘pushback’ he received when the two worlds overlapped, in a world that had so often just been about racing.

But now, he believes drivers are more able to show more of their personalities where his predecessors on the grid could not.

“As I explored my creativity and also how to express myself, I experienced a lot of pushback in the media,” he explained.

“People just judging me: ‘This is not how a racing driver behaves.’ ‘This is not what a racing driver does.’

“I actually feel for some of the drivers just before us, in the early 2000s. There was clearly more to them, but they weren’t able to show that.

“But if you look at our world now, there’s drivers expressing themselves differently.”

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