The Galeri Petronas in KLCC was packed with lively motorheads and media representatives for the launch of the Mercedes-AMG entry-level A 35 4MATIC Sedan.
Dr Claus Weidner, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia president and CEO, and Michael Jopp, the newly-appointed vice-president of sales and marketing, welcomed the group. In his opening speech, Weidner alluded briefly to a special guest who would make an appearance at the end of the launch.
The special guest turned out to be the face of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, British racing driver Lewis Hamilton. He smiled broadly for the cameras and shook hands as he approached the stage and the thundering ovation continued until he took his seat.
Fresh off the Singapore Grand Prix, Hamilton appeared well-rested and enthusiastic despite finishing fourth due to poor team strategy. He said the Mercedes team wins and loses together and would give it their all at the race in Russia. Now, almost two months later, Hamilton has earned his sixth Formula 1 world championship title, becoming the second most successful F1 driver in history after the retired legend Michael Schumacher, who has a tally of seven. At the time of writing, letters were being sent to Buckingham Palace suggesting that Hamilton be knighted.
It has been an exciting few years for the driven 34-year-old and he often conveys his gratitude through social media. Hamilton boasts about 20 million followers across all platforms and shares about his other passions, personal thoughts and world views. He has become quite the advocate for climate change, animal abuse and veganism, which he adopted in 2017. In an exclusive interview, Hamilton opens up about the reasons behind his lifestyle change and how it has affected his performance on the track.
“I grew up like everyone else thinking dairy and meat was good for you,” he says. “I thought I was living healthily and was doing right. Then I met a few new people who were vegans, and they started showing me some of the things happening in our world that I was completely oblivious to. It freaked me out. I started to read about it and realised that what I was taught to believe was healthy, was not. So, I decided to try and gradually move in that direction, slowly getting rid of red meat, then chicken, then fish until I was ready to fully commit. I wanted to feel for myself how big of a difference it would make.”
By slowly eliminating animal products, Hamilton was able to reap the benefits of clearer skin, stable energy level and focused mindset. He testifies to its effectiveness for his overall well-being. “I cannot put into words how much better I feel. I used to eat all that stuff and enjoy it, like most people do, but I would wake up feeling groggy, have mood swings and my energy level would go up and down through the day. I always had stomach problems and a swollen belly and I thought it was normal.”
The athlete’s daily meals now consist of a protein smoothie, avocado (sometimes with toast), baked beans, fruit and, occasionally, mushrooms and sweet potato for breakfast. He has a mixture of salads with another smoothie or two for lunch and enjoys stir-fried vegetables, truffle mash and sweet potato fries for dinner.
He encourages beginners to take it slowly or to try experiencing it with a friend to have accountability. “It is like going to the gym. When you have a friend, you can experience new exercises together. Ask your friend if they want to try out a new vegan restaurant with you or eliminate certain foods for a period of time and see if you notice a difference in the appearance of your skin and how you are feeling.
One of Hamilton’s latest projects includes a partnership with Neat Burger, a new vegan fast food and burger restaurant in London’s West End.
“I used to love burgers,” he says. “A friend of mine, who is also vegan, took me to a restaurant in Hong Kong and I had this burger that tasted incredible. Then I met up with another friend and talked about bringing it to the UK and building this up to make something transcending because people do still like fast food. At least now they know that there are other options.”
Despite having only just opened, The Cream Group founder Ryan Bishti revealed that plans are already underway to expand to more than 100 restaurants globally in the next five years.
Hamilton understands the scepticism around veganism and the common misconception of losing out on sufficient protein for muscle-building. “It is really how we have been trained to think. I often see messages on my Instagram saying ‘I need my protein because I am trying to bulk up’. Well, I just bulked up. I put on 5kg this year and have gone from 68 to 73kg on a fully vegan diet. Meat being the only source of protein is absolutely rubbish. I can train just as much and do just as many reps, if not more, and I get through races with a much cleaner state of mind.”
Hamilton is not the only one who debunks the arguments. Prior to the release of Oscar-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos’ eye-opening vegan documentary The Game Changers, the racer was invited to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, Jackie Chan, Novak Djokovic and Chris Paul as an executive producer. Now available on Netflix, the film talks about the misconceptions around eating meat to support physical prowess in sport.
“It was a unique opportunity,” says Hamilton. “When I heard about it, I said I would love to be a part of it. I am a massive fan of Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and I watched his training programmes. His career has been incredible and it was really awesome to see his perception and viewpoint shift with the times.”
Since his change in diet, Hamilton has also spoken up about animal abuse, the meat industry and the gruesome lengths poachers will go to acquire ivory, skin and bones for the illegal wildlife trade. But the graphic videos and images that he shares always garner a polarised response.
“We are in a really bad time in society and have this massive crisis of climate change,” he laments. “It kills me to see the stuff that is happening and I just do not understand how people can turn a blind eye. People do not always like the stuff I post, but it is fine. Even if they unfollow me, I want them to see it. A lot of this is not part of the news. There are corporations and businesses that are just money-hungry.”
The speed racer’s future plans with Mercedes involve more than just vying for the next trophy. “I am trying to push for sustainability with my team. I am trying to get more involved in Formula 1 and be more conscious.”
Hamilton plans to bring out the big guns, starting with his own sponsor. “Mercedes-Benz is a huge organisation and I have got a phone call with the CEO later today to discuss how we can work on getting rid of all the leather supplied to the cars. That is something I want to be involved in. I want to be part of a system that is going to help heal the world and do something positive for the future.”
This article first appeared on Nov 11, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.