Lewis Hamilton has described his school days as “the most traumatizing and difficult part of his life”, describing how he was called “the N-word” by his peers, regularly beaten up and even thrown bananas at him.
Hamilton, 38, is now a seven-time Formula 1 world champion. But speaking to the On Purpose podcast, released on Monday, the Mercedes driver recalled being bullied from the age of six because of his mixed background. Hamilton’s father Anthony is of Grenadian descent, while his mother Carmen is from Birmingham.
“School was the most traumatizing and hardest part of my life,” says Hamilton, who was born and raised in Stevenage. “I was bullied when I was six. At that particular school I was one of three kids of color and just bigger, stronger, bullying kids used to throw me around.
“And the constant prodding, the things that are either thrown at you like bananas or people who would use the N word… just so relaxed. People who called you “half-caste” and didn’t know where you belonged. That was hard.
“In my [secondary] school there were six or seven black children out of 1200 children and three of us were put outside the principal’s office all the time. The rector just had it out for us – and especially for me.
“I felt the system was against me and I was swimming against the current. There were many things I suppressed. I didn’t feel like I could go home and tell my parents that these kids kept calling me the N word or that I was being bullied or beaten up at school today, I didn’t want my dad to think I wasn’t was strong.
Hamilton, who has previously revealed that he took up karate at the age of five to defend himself against bullies, attended Peartree Spring Elementary School and later John Henry Newman Catholic School, where he was briefly expelled after it was wrongly found that he attacked a fellow student.
‘There will be a big hole if I stop’
Hamilton is now preparing for his 17th season in F1 and remains the only black driver in the sport. In recent years he has become an outspoken campaigner for equality and founded Mission 44, a charity that looks for ways to support young people from under-represented backgrounds. He is also working with Mercedes on increasing diversity within their ranks and in F1 in general.
Hamilton is now in the final year of his contract but has said he intends to sign a multi-year extension.
“It’s going to be very, very hard when I stop racing,” he told the podcast, which was taped in November. “I’ve been doing it for 30 years. If you stop, what will fit with that?
“There’s nothing like 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 I get in doing so. When I quit there will be a big gap so I try to focus and find things that can replace that and be just as rewarding.
The new F1 season starts on March 5 in Bahrain.