Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton says he regularly faced racist abuse while at school, revealing it was the most traumatizing and difficult time in his life.
Speaking to the On Purpose podcast, the 38-year-old said he had bananas thrown at him and was called racist slurs while growing up in Stevenage, England.
“I think for me, school was probably the most traumatizing and most difficult part of my life,” he said.
“I was already being bullied at the age of 6. I think at the time of that particular school, I was probably one of three kids of color, and just bigger, stronger, bullying kids were throwing me around a lot of the time.
“I was always the last picked, you know, when you’re standing at the playground and you’re in the line of when they’re picking teams for football, I was always the last one chosen, or not even chosen, even if I was better than somebody else.
“And then the constant jabs and things that are thrown at you, bananas … or people that would use the N-word just so relaxed. And people calling me half-caste and just really not knowing where you fit in, that was difficult for me.”
Hamilton, who started racing go-karts at the age of 8, said he did not feel he could report the racism to his parents.
“I really felt the system was up against me and I was swimming against the tide, but I’m grateful for that because it led me to be the person that I am today. There were a lot of things I suppressed.
“I didn’t feel I could go home and tell my parents that these kids kept calling me the N-word today, or I got bullied or beaten up at school today. I didn’t want my dad to think I was not strong.
“If I had tears, I would hold them back. If I had emotions, they would be in a quiet place. It wasn’t really until I started racing that I was able to channel this emotion that I had into driving.”
In 2021, Hamilton launched Mission 44, a foundation to support young people from under-represented backgrounds in the United Kingdom. Mission 44 also works alongside Ignite, a project set up by Hamilton and the Mercedes F1 team to increase diversity in motorsport.
Hamilton is entering the final year of his current contract with Mercedes but has spoken about his desire to continue racing beyond 2023. On the podcast he said he is still not sure how he will fill the gap left in his life by motorsport when he retires.
“It is going to be really, really hard when I stop racing. I have been doing it for 30 years,” Hamilton said. “When you stop, what is going to match that?
“Nothing is going to match being in a stadium, being at a race, being at the pinnacle of the sport and being at the front of the grid or coming through the grid and that emotion that I get with that.
“When I do stop, there will be a big hole, so I am trying to focus and find things that can replace that and be just as rewarding.”