Thirty-six hours after his most dismal race of the young Formula One season, Lewis Hamilton has a problem. He has flown from Sochi, Russia, to New York, and he needs to leave his hotel room in the next 20 minutes for the most exclusive of celebrity social events-the Met Gala. But he’s not ready.
Hamilton’s problem isn’t the perfectly tailored green velvet tuxedo that Dolce & Gabbana provided. It isn’t the subtle black bow tie, choker tight so it won’t show up crooked in any red carpet photos. And it indeed isn’t the look-at-me black-and-gold-patterned slip-on he’s rocking sans socks. It’s his hair.
The 32-year-old’s regular stylist just had a baby, so there’s someone new in charge of Hamilton’s head. But instead of the tight curls he prefers, the result looks a bit more like large ringlets. And once Hamilton finds something he isn’t happy with, he can’t let it go. His perfectionist ways are why his friends call him Hawkeye; he sees things no one else does, be it a narrow gap to make a pass on the track or a single thread out of place during a photo shoot. And on a night like this, when appearance is everything, bad hair just won’t cut it.
Five years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue. Hamilton’s former F1 team, McLaren, would have discouraged him from hopping the Atlantic for such see-and-be-seen tabloid fodder. Lewis’ father, Anthony, his onetime manager, also would’ve disapproved. “It was very restrictive,” Hamilton says now. But in 2010, he fired his dad. And in 2012, Hamilton left McLaren for Mercedes. Now he spends Easter with Kim and Kanye, parties with Rihanna in Barbados and is a stage-side staple at the biggest fashion shows in the world.
More freedom brought more checkered flags, with Hamilton winning his second and third world championships in 2014 and 2015 and finishing second last year. Five races into the 2017 season, heading into Monaco, he was again second, six points behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
His on-track success and elevated celebrity status come as Hamilton enters the final phase of his racing career, and it’s led to a once-preposterous thought: Can Lewis Hamilton become not only the greatest F1 driver of his generation but also one of the biggest celebrities of any stripe in the world?
For now, the Met Gala, with its $30,000 tickets and an ultra-exclusive guest list featuring the likes of Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Jay Z, awaits. Hamilton texts his fashion stylist, and reinforcements arrive within minutes. There is water, a dab of mousse and a bit of hair spray. The curls are restyled, piece by piece. After lotion, cologne and a quick clipping of his fingernails, Hamilton approves. Time to go.
“This isn’t fun,” Hamilton says. “This is business. It’s all part of the takeover.”