By Stephen Williams
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.
Lewis Hamilton - A Great?
Lewis Hamilton has won 50 Grand Prix and has achieved 101 podium finishes, only Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher have achieved more. He has been crowned the World Driver's Champion three times, only four drivers in the sport have bettered this feat. He is the only driver to win a race in every single year that he has competed in Formula One. These statistics show that Lewis is amongst the all time greats.
In some sports, it is often the most successful sportsmen and women that people admire and see as role models for fans of their sports, and aspiring athletes, look at Usain Bolt and Mo Farah for instance. Yet in Formula One, there has always been a mixed reception towards Lewis Hamilton, even for a man who took nine consecutive podiums at the start of his debut season, before missing out on the title.
In 2006, during the Turkish Grand Prix, I remember the ITV commentators James Allen and Martin Brundle discussing the GP2 race that had taken place before the start of the Formula One Grand Prix. They sounded excited about this young F1 prospect who overtook nearly the entire field to finish second following a spin in the opening stages. The comeback summed up Lewis as a driver, and he would go on to take the championship at the next race.
The next time I heard his name was when he was announced as a McLaren driver for the 2007 season. By the end of 2007, everyone had heard the name Lewis Hamilton. Many even became fans of him, although some did not. I admit to jumping on the bandwagon, a British driver in a leading team, fighting for the title in his debut season. I decided to switch allegiance from Kimi Raikkonen to Lewis, and of course given my luck, it was Kimi who went on to be champion. Lewis had reignited people's interest in the sport that had been dropping following Michael Schumacher's dominance.
Although many people around the world had become Hamilton fans, there were those who had not. The first one I noticed to dislike Lewis was my sister. Although not a massive F1 fan, she claimed that Fernando Alonso was her favourite driver. I'm not exactly sure when she became an Alonso fan, but it was very close to the time that she developed a dislike to Lewis Hamilton, much like the way I feel people have become fans of Nico Rosberg. In Lewis' defence, his own success had also been his biggest downfall. My sister quite rightly argued that "there are twenty one other drivers on the grid, why is it all about Lewis Hamilton? It's F1, not the Lewis Hamilton show". Ever since his debut in 2007, Formula One has predominantly been about Lewis Hamilton, particularly in the UK. This has become more notable in the last three years where the Mercedes has been the most dominant car, and Lewis the most dominant driver. Bernie Ecclestone claims that Lewis is one of the best world champions the sport has seen:
"As a driver he is absolutely outstanding — as good as there’s ever been.
Apart from the talent, he’s a good guy, he gets out on the street and supports and promotes Formula One. He is box office, 100 per cent".
At the recent Japanese Grand Prix, the main story of the weekend was not about the race, but Lewis' antics in the drivers press conference on the Thursday where he appeared to play on his phone throughout. Not the behaviour which is expected of a triple world champion. Lewis admitted that his intent was not to offend the journalist but just to liven what has been admitted as a dull interview session. Other drivers too have been seen playing on their phone or talking to other drivers while another driver answers a journalist's question. It was not very professional and at times it looked quite rude. It did however highlight to the new owners of Formula One that the show needs to be spiced up. In my opinion it was rude and not very thoughtful, perhaps a photo of the drivers and the journalists at the beginning of the press conference to engage with his fans on snapchat would've been more appropriate. Sometimes it is true that Lewis does not think about the consequences of his actions, such as tweeting crucial telemetry after qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 2012.
The fallout from the Japanese Grand Prix has led to Lewis blocking a number of F1 journalists on social media, particularly some of those that wrote in Lewis' eyes hurtful articles about him. In the past Lewis has often been admired for his engagement with the media, often answering the same questions in what must be a dull experience. It is similar to the way he engages with fans, stories of him staying behind in the rain to sign autographs are one of many reasons why he has attracted such a large fan group.
In the past Hamilton has used the media to his advantage, often to jibe his rivals. Throughout Red Bull's dominant era, Lewis would often tell the media that Sebastian Vettel is only winning because he is in the best car. He would say that he looked forward to taking on Vettel in a head to head battle in recent years, thus dismissing Rosberg as a proper rival.
When Lewis was called to participate in the press conference for the US Grand Prix, everyone was expecting fireworks. Would he walk out? Would he ignore the journalists? The answer was neither. Lewis acknowledged and answered all the journalists questions with great detail. When asked how he would take it if Nico won the championship, he responded saying that he "would take it like a man". And that seems to be how he has bounced back from the numerous examples of adversity this season.
More family views
Nico Rosberg has always had fans since he began his career in Formula One, and he probably has more now than he did when he started in 2006. Or does he? I refer once again to the dynamics in my family. My Step-Dad, an F1 hater for many years only enjoys watching Formula One when Lewis Hamilton does badly, he accuses him of being stroppy when he does not win and that this therefore makes him a bad driver. (The logic behind this both baffles and enrages me). This banter began originally with Sebastian Vettel who he would cheer on because it meant Hamilton didn't win. Between 2010 and 2013 this was torture and I only got my revenge in the two following years. Now that Rosberg leads this year's championship and is looking set to win the title, my Step-Dad is looking at organising a German party if he does win, with some fellow Lewis haters, and my sister. He's not even properly German! No doubt my step-dad will blare the German national anthem out (ad he has after every Rosberg win this season), with his hand on his heart, just to wind me up. And it works! But this still proves the point in my eyes, that most Rosberg fans are just people who dislike Lewis Hamilton. And in some cases, these are the people who I would argue don't have the biggest passion for Formula One unlike the majority of Lewis Hamilton fans.
After the Japanese Grand Prix, Katie Hopkins, the controversial TV personality and journalist, stated that Lewis was a poor role model with his behaviour in the press conference. As an F1 driver, their responsibility isn't limited to just driving the car. As such, his conduct during the press conference was not one expected of a triple world champion. However as Bernie Ecclestone eluded to, any publicity is good publicity for Formula One. It gets people talking about Formula One, and Lewis Hamilton:
"These guys think their only job is racing a car. It goes a bit further than that.
‘It doesn’t matter what comes out of Lewis’s mouth, it’s good — even if it’s silly. It’s great for the sport. I told Sebastian (Vettel) he should do what Lewis is doing — put himself out there. He won four titles but went to ground.
"Take that Lewis you sulky spoilt child". Is he really a sulky spoilt child? There is no doubt that Lewis wears his heart on his sleeve. So when he does get beaten by his teammate, he does not looked too pleased and it is often a forced smile for the cameras.
Before the USA Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton announced that he would be featuring in the latest Call of Duty Game. Social Media has already eluded to the possibility of shooting Hamilton! I doubt there would be the same reception if it was another driver.
Arrogance is a big part of being a successful sportsman, knowing you are better than your competition, it also allows sportsmen to fight back when they seem down. Hamilton has had the measure of Rosberg in all categories up to this season. He has already fought back from a 43 point deficit to take a 19 point lead earlier in the season. He now faces a 33 point deficit as a result of Rosberg's raised performances and Hamilton's bad luck with starts and poor reliability. Schumacher had arrogance, so too Muhammed Ali. It seems unfair that Hamilton is seen as arrogant and penalised by people for it. If anything, from interviews it is evident that Lewis is supremely confident but also very humble, often emphasising the team's effort in getting him into a winning position.
The thing that bugs me most about those who dislike Lewis Hamilton is that because they dislike him as a person they assume this makes him a bad driver or a bad role model. Lewis has become the most successful British driver in the sport's history, so I find the lack of patriotism surprising, especially as he looks set to be the only Brit on the grid in 2017. If people are looking for Lewis to be their role model, they should be looking most at how he conducts himself when on track. He does not perform dangerous moves when racing and is incredibly smart with the positioning of his car when attacking and defending, something that young drivers should be idolising. Even off the track, Lewis reaches out to new fans of the sports, last week he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show, promoting Formula One in a country where there is a severe lack of interest compared to other sports, something which other drivers do not have the celebrity status to do. As Frank Worrell states in his book, Lewis is a winner, he does this on track and with his fans, that is the real Lewis Hamilton.