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Lewis Hamilton's Day Off: skydiving with the seven-time F1 champ

When racing an F1 car is your day job, time off requires going the extra mile to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in you. As Sir Lewis shall now demonstrate...

Published: 19 Apr 2024

“Come on guys. The plane’s waiting. Let’s go!” With all the spritely finesse of a global megastar, Sir Lewis Hamilton climbs back into the DHC-6 aircraft he’d jumped from just a few minutes earlier. Old parachute still unpacked, we’re being urged to get on board with him.

Unfortunately for the seven-time world champion, I’ve only just left the hangar. Strapped to me is a very polite Spanish instructor who now resembles some kind of swaying, 30-stone science experiment with four legs and two heads. Blurting out “Get in there, Lewis” while pointing to the plane seems like it would fall on deaf ears. Instead, I opt for the token thumbs-up which isn’t so much Top Gun as it is hitchhiker trying to get a lift down the A14.

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Inside the plane, there’s a sense of calm from Lewis who seems to be in an almost meditative state as he processes the next few minutes. “What jump do you think we should try next?” he asks me and cameraman James. Neither of us have any skydiving knowledge, but before we can try and cobble together an answer Lewis has visualised a solution and worked out exactly where we can stand to get the shot.

Photography: Mark Riccioni

“Spider-Man? I really like that one, it always looks sick,” he adds. “Can you guys be right at the door? I’ll climb out, hold onto the rail and then fall back after. What do you think?”

We both nod in agreement. In the world of automotive bingo, watching one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time scale – and jump – from a plane at 14,000 feet seemed an unlikely number even by Top Gear standards. Yet even when faced with this task, and cameras documenting every step, the mind of an F1 champion is unpacking every possible scenario like a piece of software running through thousands of lines of code. He’s not just thinking about the jump, he’s working out our shots and making sure no part compromises it.

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With everything agreed, Lewis lifts open the hatch and immediately gets into character. No prompting for expressions, no awkward positioning. He just knows what’s expected. “You guys all ready?” he asks calmly. ‘No’ is my immediate thought, but instead the hitchhiking thumb from earlier once again makes an appearance. Fist bump achieved, the countdown begins. “Three, two, one. WHOOO!”

At the end of November last year – with the longest F1 season in history finally drawing to a close – there’s still a flurry of activities and deliverables for drivers to tick off before taking that well-earned break. Some face the arduous task of corporate meet and greets, others are paraded around logistic firms to appease their multimillion dollar sponsorship deals. But for Lewis, who’s now competed for more than three decades of his life, he and longstanding sponsor Monster Energy have a pretty sweet agreement in place. One that goes along the lines of, you tell us what you want to do, we’ll find a way to make it happen.

 

Consider today Hamilton’s first post-season day off. Albeit one still littered with photo and film cameras documenting it. Because this isn’t some one-off marketing stunt to promote skydiving: Monster has hired a plane exclusively for Lewis to jump from as often as he can between 10:00am and 5:00pm. And, with his free time so limited, he’s keen to cram as many jumps in as humanly possible before the sun sets.

This isn’t the 39-year-old’s first time skydiving either. Back in late 2018 – during the off-season no less – Lewis achieved his skydiving licence permitting him to jump unassisted and without an instructor. This requires at least 25 jumps to be completed, and the combination of limited free time plus restrictions faced during COVID-19 left the Brit keen and eager to get back in the air whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, I was honestly so excited,” he grins. “I’ve been learning the past couple of years and it’s one of my favourite things to do. It’s such a great way to clear the mind.”

Skydive Dubai is Lewis’ venue of choice today, thanks in part to its convenient location after the season finale in Abu Dhabi. It boasts two drop zones, one out in the desert where we are currently, and one which overlooks the gigantic Palm Islands located right in the heart of Dubai. There’s a catch with this zone, though. To go it alone over the Palm Islands requires some 1,000 jumps – understandable given the mass of buildings, tourism and general density underneath you.

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Jumping at 14,000 feet, the average person will reach 120mph in around five to 10 seconds. That’s fairly pedestrian compared with a modern F1 car, which will hit that in just over four seconds. But in a free fall, you’ve got a full 45 seconds of uninterrupted full throttle flying. On track? Even the longest section at Spa will have you back on the brakes after just 20 seconds. “Everything is insured,” laughs Lewis. “I don’t really take huge risks, but I want to live my life. I’m a true believer that no day is promised,” he adds.

Despite his limited free time, Lewis estimates he’s completed around 80 solo jumps now with each one giving him the opportunity to try more complex moves and positions - something he's even practised in the wind tunnel previously. Even after nine months travelling the world at the absolute highest level, it seems switching off the brain of an F1 driver isn't a simple process. Some may head straight to the beach, others get back into sim racing. For Lewis, jumping out of plane is one of his escapes.

Keen to rack up as many jumps as possible, Lewis asks what the latest time for a final jump can be. He's free of pesky, waddling photographers now - it's just him and the two pilots for a rare moment of absolute calm. “Can we do a sunset jump?” he asks the team. “That would look pretty epic!” Even without a film crew present, Lewis wants to put on a show for the final jump of the day, attaching several GoPro cameras to his limbs before climbing back on board and running through his plan.

 

“Last jump, c’mon. I’m gonna start all the way back in the plane then run and jump out. Shall I do a flip...”

Our time with Lewis today is limited, but it’s clear the Hamilton present here is one of complete calm. Free from the weight and responsibility of F1, the prospect of jumping out 15 times in a day brings relative peace to the seven-time world champ. A terrifying insight into the pressures and demands that modern F1 drivers face for so much of the year.

You could argue Lewis is now entering the twilight years of his F1 career, something you’d expect should be met with a change of pace and winding down. But this is Lewis Hamilton after all. Winner of 103 Grands Prix and pole sitter at 104. There is no off switch even during his time off, and if the next chapter of his racing career is anything to go by, you get the feeling there’s more skydiving yet to come. Grazie mille, Sir Lewis.

Going off grid: how did F1 greats of the past choose to unwind?

AYRTON SENNA

The three-time champ enjoyed relaxing on yachts and riding jet skis. But how would engine supplier Honda have felt seeing their star man on a Kawasaki?

JIM CLARK

Jim Clark

World champion of ’63 and ’65, Jim Clark preferred the quiet life and liked to get away from the jet set. Here he’s just flown himself home to his farm in Duns, Scotland.

JAMES HUNT

James Hunt

 What ’76 champ Hunt got up to off the track is probably more infamous than his driving on it. This is how he chose to promote his new ‘Bodys’ health club in 1982.

MARIO ANDRETTI

Mario Andretti

One of only three drivers to have won in F1, NASCAR, IndyCar and World Sportscars, Andretti has a decent nose for wine too, since he makes his own in Napa, California.

RICCARDO PATRESE

Riccardo Patrese

With 257 starts he’s one of the most experienced racers in F1, but Patrese’s real passion is collecting model trains. And look, he’s even taken them out of the box, box, box.

Images: Getty

Pro tips: how the current crop of F1 drivers holiday

KEVIN MAGNUSSEN - HAAS

I avoid Monaco. It’s where all the F1 drivers live

OSCAR PIASTRI - McLAREN

Australia is a pretty good place to go to avoid running into other drivers. It’s my annual trip home, so I just hung out with my family... and my girlfriend

LANDO NORRIS - McLAREN

Lando Norris

I went to Australia... and saw Daniel Ricciardo. That was not something I originally planned, but it was cool to go to his ranch. Actually Finland is a good place to unwind and have a break

PIERRE GASLY - ALPINE

Pierre Gasly

I enjoyed Christmas with family, but I’ve also been hanging out with Cristiano Ronaldo, the Arsenal football team... and I’ve been go-karting. With Yuki Tsunoda

NICO HÜLKENBERG - HAAS

I take it easy in Abu Dhabi, then start training again. And definitely don’t go to Monaco

VALTTERI BOTTAS - SAUBER

Bottas

I spent a couple of weeks in California, then a few days in Finland, then Australia. It’s important to disconnect from the day job. (I once bumped into Sebastian Vettel while on holiday in Patagonia...)

Images: drivers

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