Lewis Hamilton is More Than Just ‘Naturally Talented’

By Fortis. 

Stop with the stereotyping, Lewis Hamilton is more than just ‘naturally talented’

There is a deep and insidious narrative that exists within the F1 paddock and media which stretches wider a field in other sporting arenas. When comparing black athletes to their white counterparts, the picture painted is that whites possess far superior ‘intellectual skills’ ,‘knowledge’ and ‘smarts’ compared to the black athlete who relies solely on their ‘naturally abilities’ and ‘athleticism’. The problem with stereotypes in sports is that they often lead to general stereotypes that have a real world effect, and on Sunday we saw that.

One of the biggest talking points, well the only real talking point to come out of the recently concluded European Grand Prix in Baku, centred on the technical issue that befell Mercedes driver’s Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. During the 51 lap event, Hamilton radioed in that he was suffering with intermittent power loss and his power unit was 'de-rating' (explanation can be found in the podcast linked to this article). This was due to one of the many switches on Hamilton’s steering wheel being in the wrong position, or as the team put it, ‘the switch was incorrectly configured due a messy Friday practice session’

As per the new FIA regulations, teams are now limited in the amount of information that can be given to their drivers. However try as he may, Hamilton was unable to resolve the issue quick enough. 

Post-race, Ted Kravitz asked a jubilant Niki Lauda what the issue was with Hamilton's car and why he was not able to fix the problem himself. It was then Lauda made it known that both driver’s had suffered the same problem, but Rosberg was quickly able to fix his within half a lap, where as It took Hamilton 15 laps to do so. This immediately lead to David Croft and Simon Lazenby from the SkyF1 crew saying, “is this yet another example of the hard work Rosberg puts in and does Lewis need to study more?” Lauda’s comments provided the world media with the perfect story headline:

‘Rosberg the ‘scientist’ resolves technical issue and beats Lewis the 'gloves' off racer to European GP victory’

But the bit of information the media was not privy to at the time of Lauda’s interview was that though both driver’s had experienced the same technical issue, the circumstances were however completely different.

Rosberg’s issue was a relatively easy fix because his was due to a switch change he made after his one and only pit stop. Once he was told by the team that the issue was to do with the mode he was in, all he had to do was undo what he had previously done, problem solved. Due to his starting position, Lewis started in the defective mode. This was meant to give more power to help Hamilton make his way through the field and up into a possible podium position. Lewis made no alterations to his setting to trigger the problem, as the mode was engaged by the team prior to the start of the race; it was not obvious at the time what was causing the problem.

Will Buxton probably summed it up best, “HAM started from a point of, as the team explained, trying to solve a crossword puzzle without having any clues”.

It is, though, rather troublesome that given all the information at his disposal, that Lauda was so wide of the mark when speaking to Ted Kravitz. Was this yet another Niki moment whereby words exited his mouth without first carefully thinking of the repercussions? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because I strongly doubt that he would've known his words would be the lynchpin in feeding a rhetoric that is engrained within the media and has become a common theme in the Nico vs. Lewis comparisons/battle; intelligence vs. naturally talented.

This is the classic black athlete slandering technique that we continue to witness on a daily basis, especially within sports that were meant for the elite of society like Tennis, Golf and F1. Despite being regarded as the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) tennis super star Serena Williams continues to face that stigma both on and off the court. For instance, Maria Sharapova is described as being, ‘elegant’ and as ‘graceful as a Swan’, whilst Serena is merely ‘athletic’ and ‘brutally powerful’. This disparity in perception is also reflected in each athlete’s sponsorship, as Serena continues to lag behind Sharapova, who prior to her recent ban for taking a banned substance was the highest earning sports woman in the world for the past 11 years, despite losing 18 matches in a row to Williams and winning 16 fewer Grand Slam tournaments than Serena. In 2014, the then, head of the Russian tennis federation was fined $25,000 and given a one year suspension after referring to Serena and her sister Venus as, the ‘Williams brothers’.

In 2015 Serena Williams was voted Sports person of the year by US magazine Sports Illustrated. She became the first black female athlete to win the prestigious award. Rather than being a celebratory moment for Williams and sports fans globally, in many corners the reaction to the 34-year-old's accolade, was met with scorn. Why you might ask? Well, because she beat out Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh to win the coveted prize, a bloody HORSE! So not only does she have to deal with the constant criticism surrounding her physique, which many label as being ‘manly’ but also having to compete against a horse!

Despite his success, Lewis Hamilton is continually perceived as not being as intelligent as Nico Rosberg. The day after the Spanish Grand Prix, Rosberg admitted that he had selected the wrong engine settings at the start of the race, an error which proved very costly to both men. No one questioned Rosberg’s intelligence or his need to ‘study’ more, even though he had the start procedures taped to his steering wheel. In fact in case anyone has forgotten, Rosberg stated in interviews after the crash that he did not know the reason why his car went into charge mode and that the team needed to investigate the issue as he had not done anything wrong. There are many more ‘unintelligent’ Nico errors I can draw attention to. But after the Baku GP, we yet again saw Lewis’s intelligence and ability to understand complex issues being questioned by various media outlets and within their forums.

Ben Hunt from that paper which I refuse to name, given that I am an ardent Liverpool supporter, tweeted on Saturday after qualifying, following Lewis’ crash;

No track-walk. Just eight laps in the simulator. Hamilton crashes out. Track walk done. 100+ laps in the sim - Rosberg is on pole”

Hunt is not a very clever guy, but what he is, is smart. So what were the reasons behind his tweet? Was it to highlight Rosberg’s apparent superior intellect and thus feed the narrative of his core audience, of whom many harbour a deep rooted hatred towards Hamilton, that he lacked the same level of intelligence and work ethic?

However what seems to have gone unnoticed by Hunt is Lewis’s track record, which should be the only thing that matters. Lewis has not done a track walk since 2006, but has attained 53 pole positions, third highest of all time, 45 wins and 3 world titles. This in itself renders Hunt’s credibility and opinion as completely irrelevant as it lacks any sound argument given Hamilton’s proven track record. Hamilton made a mistake, pure and simple as that. It had nothing to do with him not replicating what his teammate did. It was an error on his part, for which he held up his hand. But would Hamilton’s mistake have only been just that, a mistake, had he followed the exact approach Rosberg did leading up to the race? Somehow I believe it would have been.

Before the start of the new hybrid era, it was put to various journalists and ex-drivers, as to who they believed the new formula would suit the most, all stated smart thinking drivers like Rosberg, Button, Vettel and Alonso. Not without coincidence, they nearly all gave the same reasons when describing Rosberg;

He has the mind of an engineer who turned down an offer to attend a prestigious engineering school in London. He will work harder than Hamilton to make sure he understands every single technical aspect of the car. Compared to Lewis, who though he is ‘naturally talented’, has a very aggressive driving style and will eat through his tires and will find it hard to adapt and understand the newer and more technical power units”

Fast forward to the present and it is Lewis who has won the last two titles. It was Lewis who along with his engineers configured his steering wheel to encompass the more important modes that would help him get the job done. Something his more ‘intelligent’ and ‘cerebral’ teammate later copied. It was Lewis who first understood that he could save fuel, by short shifting and using the torque of the engine. He has consistently shown that he is better at managing his tires. And like we saw in Silverstone 2015, Monaco and Canada of this year, he is also well capable of thinking strategically while he manages his own race from the cockpit. But when the opportunities arises to label him as being ‘thick’, everything that he has done before gets thrown out the window, as if it never happened.

Contrary to what many may believe, Lewis is one of the most studious operators when it comes to his off track preparations leading up to a race weekend. In an interview with Martin Brundle in 2015, Hamilton revealed that back in his karting days; his father gave him a little black book. In it he was to record in detail, everything that happens from the time he arrived at the track to the time he leaves. From track characteristics, car data, his mechanics and engineers etc. He continued to follow this regime right throughout the junior formulas and ever since he arrived into F1. But this goes unnoticed, because everyone is so caught up in what he does, without of course knowing what he actually does before and on the day of the race. So to think that what happened during the race and his inability to resolve the issues he was having was somehow due to him failing to properly prepare himself for any eventuality is sadly mistaken.

So why are we not seeing the same comparisons made amongst other driver pairings within the paddock? So why it is that after 10 years in the sport and with resounding success are we still questioning Lewis Hamilton’s ‘intelligence’?

I will end with this excerpt from an article written by F1 journalist and broadcaster Will Buxton in 2014;

Written by Fortis @Hamfosi44

Written by Fortis @Hamfosi44

A lot has always been made of Hamilton’s “natural” gift and ability, and it is something that has stuck with him and formed the basis of his reputation throughout his career. But as a result of that, there’s a preconceived idea that he is a seat-of-the-pants racer who can wring the neck of a racing car like few other men on earth but who lacks any real ability to use his brain. It is a reputation that could not be further from the truth.”

Will gets it………



I would like to thank @dkwilsonisland for his help with editing and also @latebrakers for his contributory words;

~ There is a deep and insidious narrative (P1)
~ rather troublesome that given all the information available at his disposal, that Lauda was so wide of the mark (P8)
~ Hunt is not very clever, but what he is, is very smart (P13)

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