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Features | 17 Jan 2020

Lewis Hamilton on 5G, drones, gaming, and going green

We catch up with Lewis Hamilton, six-time Formula 1 world champion and Vodafone ambassador, as he films videos about the impact of our superfast 5G mobile connectivity on gaming and drone racing.

In a dark, cold neon-lit warehouse in London’s Hoxton district, six-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is being filmed learning how to race drones. Wearing a virtual reality headset that gives him a drones-eye-view, he’s getting to grips with a fiendishly complicated hand-held controller. After a few crashes, the drone is soon hovering.

“This is hard work, man!” Lewis says.

But one of his instructors, Kelsey Hunt, a 16-year old drone racing champion, tells me later than normal mortals would usually take a week to master the controls. I guess you don’t get to become one of the best racing drivers of all time if you’re normal.

Competitive drone racer Kelsey Hunt
Junior drone racing champion Kelsey Hunt says Lewis learned how to handle the drone pretty quickly

These pint-sized racing drones whizz through the warehouse and out over a canal in a loop with dizzying speed and agility – they can reach 80-90mph (129-145km/h). Racers have to have Mongoose-like reactions to steer them round sharp bends and through hoops without crashing.

Speed is everything. So the faster the wireless connection between the controller and the drone, the better – it can make the difference between winning and losing. This is where a superfast Vodafone 5G connection helps.

“It’s so sensitive, there’s no time lag at all. This is the next generation,” Lewis enthuses. “It’s awesome!”

Tech journalist Guy Cocker also took Lewis through some of the latest immersive gaming tech, which left the racing driver lost for words at some points, so intent was he on blasting aliens that were appearing all around him through his virtual reality headset.

“I need one of these at home!” Lewis declared.

I caught up with him during a filming break to chat about technology, the environment and sustainability – all subjects central to Vodafone’s core mission as well. On the day we meet, Formula 1 had just announced its intention to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Lewis, who has switched to a plant-based diet for health and environmental reasons, said: “I’m trying to work out what I can do in my personal life to reduce the impact me and my team are having on the earth.

“I’m switching my cars to hybrid or electric and I offset the carbon for my – and my personal team’s – travel. In collaboration with a brilliant group of people, I’ve been the driving force for my Tommy Hilfiger collections becoming more and more sustainable. The new collection is about 70% sustainable and the aim is for the next collection to be 100% sustainable.”

This involves a painstaking process of finding new materials, new suppliers, and new, less wasteful ways of working, he says.

“There are companies out there that are taking plastic bottles out of the oceans and making T-shirts and jackets from them, so we’re utilising new industries like that.

“My plant-based lifestyle means I never use animal products in my fashion collections and I also recently invested in Neat Burger, a plant-based fast food option,” he says.

On a personal level, the plant-based diet has change his life “massively”, he says, gaining muscle, strength, and durability. This will not be music to the ears of his long-suffering rivals.

And when he’s travelling round the world on the F1 circuit in 2020 – his trusty gaming suitcase always close by – he’s hoping 5G connectivity will hugely reduce game download times and enhance his fun.

The 35-year-old world champion shows no signs of slowing down and every sign of changing it up.