An in-depth look at how mental toughness helped Lewis Hamilton narrowly defeat teammate Nico Rosberg for the 2014 Formula 1 Driver’s World Championship.
“The game is 90% mental and 10% physical” – Chick Hearn
I just finished watching Lewis Hamilton: Duel of the Silver Arrows 2014, (BBC’s season recap) and what I took away from the hour long episode only served to reinforce a notion that I sometimes wish weren’t true: everything in life worth having requires mental toughness.
The show, as expected, focused on the intense, season-long duel between the two Mercedes AMG Petronas drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which was not settled until the final Grand Prix of the season in Abu Dhabi where Lewis cemented his 2nd World Championship in style by taking 1st place in the race.
Although it was essentially a two-man show every weekend in a field of 20+ participants, Nico, Lewis and their Mercedes F1 W05’s ensured there was enough excitement at every race to make up for the lack of competition behind them. After all, what could be more electrifying than watching two world-class heavyweights – perfectly matched for one another – slug it out for 20 rounds?
Indeed, according to the ‘tale of the tape’, Lewis and Nico were almost identical. By any quantitative measurement, you could not tell the two apart. As Toto Wolff, Executive Director of the team stated during the BBC broadcast: “The stopwatch doesn’t lie.” Even then, it took extremely precise timing instruments to separate the Brit and the German as many pole laps were decided by a mere few hundredths of a second (0.0x).So how did Lewis ultimately come from behind in the points standings to eclipse Nico and win his 2nd World Championship? It wasn’t anything to do with the way he danced with the pedals: it was the way in which he made his mind impenetrable to any thought that didn’t involve him beating his teammate and rival.
I led into this post with something I once heard Chick Hearn say during a Laker’s broadcast after a player had made a particularly egregious error in the pivotal moments of a game. A Google search revealed that this is a variation of a quote that can be originally attributed to former WBO heavyweight champion, Lamon Brewster. Lewis may have never heard Chick call an NBA game, but he knew what the legendary broadcaster was on about.
Towards the halfway mark of the broadcast, Wolff recollected the difficult mid-season stretch in which most felt that Hamilton’s shot at the Championship was slowing slipping away. The Austrian summed up in a single sentence the key to Lewis’ success in 2014:
“His mindset and his mental strength grew throughout the season, and he got better and better of overcoming those difficult moments.”
Hamilton, regarded by many as the fastest single-lap competitor in F1, displayed a characteristic which is inherent in all great champions: He performed his best when the circumstances around him were at their worst.
Lewis himself had claimed he was ‘hungrier’ than Nico after the conclusion of Monaco GP, referring to Nico’s posh upbringing in Monaco as the son of a former F1 champion, Keke Rosberg. It appears the claim was not without validity.
If there is a single anecdote that can summarize Lewis’ season it has to be this:
After the FIA barred Hamilton early in the season from using an abbreviated form of his last name on the rear of his helmet as part of its design, ‘HAM’ (hard as a motherfucker), Lewis switched the text to the title of a famous Maya Angelou poem, Still I Rise. Read the lyrics to that poem when you have a moment and you’ll realize the type of chip on your shoulder you need to be a World Champion.