Could the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix really be Lewis Hamilton's last race? Former F1 star Mark Blundell tells us how to tackle life after racing
Whether Lewis Hamilton is retiring from Formula 1 or about to sign a three-year mega deal, Tempus gets advice from the expert
The rush of the speed, the screech of the tires, the roar of the engine – the thrills of Formula 1 can be difficult to replace after racing across the finish line for the last time, as Lewis Hamilton may soon discover. The world champion is rumoured to announce his retirement from the circuit after this season, following in the tracks of Felipe Massa who in November announced his last official race will be the Abu Dhabi finale – while reports of a Mercede mega-deal in the works worth £120m mean the star could yet sign on for three more years.
One man who’s been through it all and come out the other side is Mark Blundell, a four-season F1 driver who used his expertise and contacts from his race days to launch a boutique sports management agency, MB Partners. The company works with rising stars in the fields of motorsport and golf, mentoring young athletes and taking them from promising to pro-status. It also represents established faces like F1 legend Damon Hill, a former rival of Blundell.
Blundell set up the company after leaving the world of F1 behind, and while he hung up his driving gloves a long time ago bar the occasional charity event, his headquarters in leafy Hertfordshire is far from ordinary. Trophies from F1 and 24 Hours of Le Mans (which he won in 1992) are proudly displayed in his office, while downstairs it gets even more exciting. His office is the only in the UK to operate an in-house motorsport simulator, where promising racers in its Young Driver Academy, such as F2 driver Jordan King, practice in real time on ‘real’ tracks, in a sim so perfectly to scale that it’s the closest to reality you’re going to get. In between trial runs on the simulator, Tempus speaks to Blundell about life after F1 and the truth behind Lewis Hamilton’s retirement rumours…
What do you think of the rumours circulating earlier this season that Lewis Hamilton might retire from F1?
I hope it’s a rumour and nothing more as he still has so much to offer, as seen recently when he won another world title to become the most successful British Grand Prix driver in the history of motorsport. For sure, Nico Rosberg set a trend to retire after winning a world title, but I don’t think Lewis is going to replicate this as much, as he is a clear trend-setter both on and off the track.
Is it difficult to move on into another industry when you've been at the top of your game? Is there an adjustment period that Hamilton can expect, should he retire?
I have known and watched Lewis since he was a child, from karting and all through his junior and professional career. At this stage, whatever Lewis decides to do will be with his full application as he only does things 100%. I feel there may be one last layer of motorsport for him, which may be based in the USA, such is his affection to the country. But whatever he does, it won’t be difficult, it will only require dedication and commitment, which is something he understands all too well. >>
Do you have any advice for Hamilton?
My advice to him, when he does hang up the helmet and gloves, is just to say there is more to life than motor racing. We have been very fortunate to make a living from something we loved but once the wheels stop turning and the start lights go out for the last time, there are lots of other adventures in life. Motorsport will have been a great grounding for his next chapter in life as it pretty much relates to all forms of business.
How did you take the leap from racing into talent management?
In some respect, I have always been different as I’ve always considered the sport I was involved in to be quite fickle. And I say that out of respect, because you can get injured and be out of contract very easily. It's not the most stable of jobs and because of that, I’ve always had some business in the background to fall back on. There’s always been something generating revenue for me for when I was no longer sitting behind the wheel. I’ve been involved in the mobile phone business, I’ve been in the property sector for 22 years, and at the same time, towards the latter part of my career, I dabbled in television. I then set up a business with Martin Brundle (another British former F1 driver) and moved into the management of drivers.
How has your career as a F1 driver help you in the business world?
In many ways, motor racing is quite a good grounding because you're getting to know the commercial side of the business at an early age. You get to interact with C-level business people and see how they communicate and, at the same time, learn how you need to justify yourself as a driver from a team perspective and sponsorship wise. The commercialism of the sport very clear cut, so you can take all of that into the business world. Along that journey, you also build up a huge amount of contacts in a wide spectrum of fields. When you’ve had the platform as an F1 driver, it opens up doors to different pathways. I focused on building a network that I've been able to tap into it for advice or to generate business in latter stages.
Are there any young sportspeople that you’re working with at the moment that you think are really going to blow up?
We got a guy in golf, Jordan Smith. He’s 24 years old and we took him on board just under five years ago as an amateur golfer and supported him from the very early stages. He then went from strength to strength. We're not saying it's because of us, it’s because of the team in place that has allowed him to focus on what he does best, which is playing golf. He doesn't worry about signing a cheque, his salary, his PAYE, his insurance, and so on. We do everything for him so he can play golf to the best of his ability. We have seen him transcend from an amateur to a professional, win the Euro pro tour, win a challenge tour and do his first season on the European tour. He is currently top 110 in the world. For us, as a small little management company, aligning ourselves with somebody of amateur status and taking them to pro level is hugely rewarding. We’ve also got a young Formula 2 driver, Jordan King, who has huge amounts of potential. >>
Tempus sponsors one of Jordan King’s competitors, F2 driver Oliver Rowland. What do you think of Oliver?
He’s got massive potential. He's a great driver. Between him and our guy, they are the most up and coming recognisable young Brits in motorsport at the moment. It’s now at the stage where everyone’s thinking, where do they go next? Of course, both of those guys want to go to the next stage of F1, but we’re talking about a situation that’s like threading the eye of a really small needle.
Do you miss the race circuit?
Yes. I miss the cut and thrust of it. I miss the competitiveness of it. I miss sitting in a car, just you and the machine, testing yourself and testing what the car’s got. Now and again I go and do some historic racing for fun. Does it give me back completely what I used to get? Not 100%. I’ll never replace that because you can’t just go and roll out a F1 car. That’s the one thing that’s a bit different with us. If it was golf, I could pick up some golf clubs and a ball and go down the local range. But with F1, once you've done it, it’s finished. The chances of getting back in an F1 car and driving are few and far between. When I left, a certain gentleman called Damon Hill filled my shoes and went on to be world champion. The fact of the matter is, I was the guy that told him the opportunity existed. So, I was probably doing management before I knew it and, going full circle, we now represent Damon.
Which must be strange considering Damon Hill was once one of your greatest competitors?
Damon, in his own right, is a superstar driver. He has been world champion but at the same time he got to a stage where he felt that he needed somebody to support and assist him. It comes back to the matters of trust and integrity and the fact we’ve known each other for 30 years, which means a lot to the pair of us. It’s strange in a way, as he’s one of the guys I was on track fighting against in an F1 car as a 17-year-old all those years ago, but we’ve got a relationship that works. We don't have any hang ups. I did what I did, and he did what he did. That’s something about sport, sportspeople don't tend to look back. They tend to look forward in the same way that most successful business people do. There’s no point dwelling on something, just move on.