CNN– With 100 race wins and seven world championships to his name so far, Lewis Hamilton can arguably claim to be the greatest Formula One driver in history.
Not that the 36-year-old Briton, who has the most race wins or podium places in F1 history, is thinking like that.
“I don’t think a lot about the whole ‘greatest of all time’ because I think it’s very hard to compare people,” Hamilton told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire.
“Just in that one moment, it’s about being the greatest you can be and living to your full potential.
“So that’s something that I just search for and [to stay] as focused and driven as I could possibly be.
“I think the surprising thing is that I’ve been racing this long and I still have that same feeling when I fail or when I don’t succeed, and I turn that into a positive and use it as fuel.
“I thought that that would wear off as I got older, but it’s not.”
It’s an approach that has seen Hamilton rise to the very top of his sport, passing some of his idols along the way.
Hamilton is now fighting for an eighth world title this season, a championship which would pull him clear of a record he currently shares with racing legend Michael Schumacher.
That’s quite the accolade for the boy who was expelled from school all those years ago and whose father, Anthony, juggled three jobs, re-mortgaged the family home and dipped into his life savings to keep his son in karting.
“My dream was always to get to Formula One, to do something like Ayrton Senna — he had three world titles,” the Mercedes driver and IWC Ambassador added.
“And then to see myself match him at one point, and then go beyond that.
“To think that I’m here today, where most people don’t even get one championship and to have seven is very, very crazy still.
“But every year when I come back, it’s like a reset. Like, I’m not a champion. I have no titles. I’m going for the first.
“That’s kind of my mentality. But an eighth? I don’t know. I never really say.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge standing in the way of an eighth world title is long-time rival Max Verstappen.
The Dutch superstar currently leads the standings with seven race wins this year but, while acknowledging Verstappen is in dangerous form, Hamilton says his focus remains on his own performance and team.
“I think for us it’s just making sure we continue to enjoy the journey, to not apply too much pressure to ourselves because we’ve been here many, many times before,” he said.
“But not let that desire and that yearning for success overpower everything and put added pressure on us that we don’t really need.
“But it’s all about preparation, making sure we’re the best prepared we can be.”
Inspiration from Tom Brady
In addition to his own desire, Hamilton has found inspiration from all corners of society and from all manner of sports.
Speaking to CNN from Austin ahead of the US Grand Prix this weekend, the driver acknowledged how much he can learn from the likes of NFL veteran Tom Brady.
Like Hamilton, Brady is considered one of the best in the history of his sport and the similarities don’t stop there.
While the Brit has won seven world championships, the 44-year-old quarterback can boast seven Super Bowl titles and is still competing at the highest level today.
“I think, naturally, when you’re an athlete, you definitely see people that you can relate to,” Hamilton explained.
“I’ve had the privilege of watching Tom’s success and we were actually neighbors for a second literally.
“I think it’s really kind of the mentality of an athlete: the drive, the training regime, the attention to detail and the kind of the constant push for perfection.
“But also the teamwork element of being the team leader, being a part of a large group of people who are all driven towards a common goal.
“He’s such an incredible leader, so I take more inspiration from that.”
‘I’m never going to give it up’
Brady has openly talked about his desire to keep playing in the NFL and has said, perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek, that he could play until he’s 50.
Such a long career is not something Hamilton is seriously entertaining but the driver is far from hanging up his gloves.
He still possesses that competitive edge — a trait honed by racing his brother on computer games from an early age — and still has that appetite for adrenaline.
“I don’t think I’ll be racing until I’m 50. But who knows? I’m for sure going to be doing things like it,” he said, smiling.
“Whether it’s skydiving, whether it’s surfing, whether it’s just going to a local track, go-karting with friends or whatever it is.
“I think I’m never going to give it up necessarily but perhaps, professionally, I’ll have to.”
Mission to help off the track
While growing into the elite sportsman he is today, Hamilton has continued to use his global platform to fight for more than just success on the track.
He has been an outspoken voice on issues such as climate change and equality and has put pressure on his sport, and wider society, to become more tolerant and face issues around lack of diversity.
It’s a mission perhaps born out of his own life experiences — Hamilton says the education system in the UK “failed” him growing up after he was kicked out of school for something he says he didn’t do.
Black Caribbean students were around 1.7 times more likely to be permanently excluded from UK schools compared with White British students, according to the Hamilton Commission — a report led by the driver which looked to address the under representation of Black people in UK motorsport and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sector.
“I was one of those,” Hamilton said.
But the seven-time champion has channeled his setbacks into a cause for good, setting up Mission 44 — a foundation that looks to support, promote and empower young people from underrepresented groups in the UK.
“Only 1% of the 40,000 people in the industry in the UK alone are from Black backgrounds,” Hamilton said, admitting there was still a huge amount of work to be done.
“We’ve got to change the pipeline. We’ve got to get more eyes, get more encouragement for these young kids to get into STEM subjects so they realize that there are so many great avenues that engineering can lead to.”