Whether on a race track or a public road, two hours behind the wheel is enough for Lewis Hamilton. “I do like driving,” says Lewis Hamilton, almost defensively, “but I hate sitting in a car for more than a couple of hours.”
You can see his point. Even though he spends less time racing than any other Formula One driver – being that he’s the quickest – he doesn’t like to take his work home. Off the track, he’s happy to be a passenger in one of his three chauffeured cars, an S600 Maybach, a GL63 Mercedes and a Cadillac Escalade. He’s previously talked about the perils of being recognised at traffic lights, where admirers try to gain bragging rights by racing him. The last thing he wants is a burn up at the traffic lights, he has said. “There’s just no point risking it.”
He keeps “something like 15 cars”, eight of which he classes as “special”. Divided between his main residence in Monaco and a garage he rents in Los Angeles, they include a pair of original Shelby Cobras and a Mustang, a Ferrari 599 SA Aperta, two LaFerraris, a McLaren P1 and a £1.6 million custom Pagani Zonda 760. Space will have to be made for the Mercedes-AMG Project One, of which he’ll receive one of the first next year. It’ll be powered by the same 1,000bhp hybrid engine as his company car.
It’s an impressive collection for a boy from Stevenage who got interested in cars when, aged six, his father bought him a radio-controlled model. Two years later, he started karting and was talent-spotted by McLaren. When Lewis passed his driving test, in 2002, he got a second-hand Mini Cooper, followed by a Mercedes C200 which was lent to him by a dealership. “That was very cool when you’re only 18,” he says of the C-Class. “It went down very well with the ladies! Me and my boys couldn’t get into clubs because we looked underage, but once we started rolling up in the C-Class we were straight in! The things we did to get into a crappy bar in Stevenage… so funny.”
He made his F1 debut in 2007, missing the title by a single point, then returned in flying form the next season, securing the championship on the final corners of the final race. Hamilton went on to win world championships in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and is now the second most successful grand prix driver of all time with a total of 65 wins (Michael Schumacher retired in 2012 with 91). At the time of going to press, Hamilton had just overtaken his main rival Sebastian Vettel to reach the top of the 2018 championship table, after winning the French Grand Prix. He is favourite to top the podium at today’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone for a record sixth time.
His winnings have made him wealthy – according to The Sunday Times Rich List, the 33-year-old’s personal fortune stands at £159m. Depending on how long he keeps driving, he may yet overtake David Beckham as the nation’s richest sports star. So what does he do with it?
Not surprisingly, he regards cars as a safe place to put his money. “Banks are doing nothing these days,” he scoffs. “So many sportsmen – sportswomen are generally a smarter species – have squandered their money. I’m very conscious of that. I don’t know anything about wine. I don’t know a huge amount about art. But what I do know is cars, and I’m very particular about them.”
After the Mini, the next car Lewis bought with his own money was a Ferrari 599 GTO, which he only recently sold. He’s kept the 599 SA Aperta, though; the ultra-rare open-top variant. “Only 80 were made. I tend to have two of the same car, because when they bring out a more limited edition I have to have it”. Likewise, in L.A., he keeps a candy red LaFerrari hardtop and a pearl white LaFerrari Aperta, values of which have soared from £2 million to £7.5m. “I could sell them all for way more than I paid for them, but these are my babies, my art pieces, and I’ve worked hard for them.”
Another car that’s quadrupled in value is his 1966 Shelby 427 Cobra. “I found it and called Carroll Shelby to check it out for me. He said it was one of the best he’d seen in a long time, all original. Carroll died a month after I bought it. I got a second one soon after, a ‘67 427, which I actually use more because I want to keep the ’66 one perfect.”
Getting the great Carroll Shelby to personally vet his purchases followed a previous bad car-buying experience. “I got a ’67 Mustang Shelby GT500, because I’d seen Steve McQueen drive something like it in Bullitt. The company did a good job on the paint job, but the rest of the car just isn’t very good, so I never drive it. The people who sold it to me were dodgy. Now I only buy cars from those I trust.”
Other cars in his collection are meticulously put together and look fabulous, but don’t drive well. “The Zonda is terrible to drive! It’s by far the best sounding car I own, but handling-wise it’s the worst. I got it in manual because I didn’t like the tiptronic version. The tiptronic Pagani offered was worse than the Smart Roadster I had. I’m used to quick gearshifts, so I guess I’m more critical than most customers. If you asked me to design my own supercar I’d have it manual.”
Lewis is strict with himself about how much he plays with his toys. “In L.A., I’ve got a tow truck and a handyman. If I think I’ve had my excitement quota for the day I’ll ring him up and he’ll collect it from wherever I am”. Paparazzi recently snapped Lewis’ white LaFerrari being towed from a restaurant in Malibu and it was falsely reported the car had broken down. In fact, Lewis was just trying to keep the mileage down.
Future acquisitions may include a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing and, perhaps, a Ferrari 250GT California Spider. “That’s the dream car, like the one in Ferris Bueller. When I retire, that’s what I wanna drive.”
Unlike other F1 drivers – who have retired and taken up endurance racing – he says he has no appetite for the likes of the Le Mans 24 hours – which requires far longer than two hours behind the wheel. “No way,” he laughs. “Formula One is already at my limit.”
Lewis Hamilton: My Life in Cars
2002 – Mini Cooper
2010 – Ferrari 599 GTO
2011 – Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 (1967)
2012 – Pagani Zonda 760 LH
2012 – Shelby 427 Cobra (1966, 67 – a pair)
2015 – McLaren P1
2015 – Ferrari LaFerrari
2017 – Ferrari LaFerrari Aperta
My dream car: Ferrari 250GT California Spider (1958)