Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Please Listen in the player at the foot of the page after you've enjoyed the article. Don't forget to comment.
F1 drivers like in any other sport aren’t exempt from criticism, but where do we draw the line and when does that criticism becomes too much and unwarranted?
Following last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix qualifying session, we saw a rather dejected and forlorn looking Lewis Hamilton, who qualified 3rd on the grid, waiting to be accompanied by teammate Nico Rosberg and first time pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo for their usual post qualifying press op.
This dejection was not because he had failed to secure pole position around the streets of the principality, but rather for the 4th time in 6 races however, he had suffered some form of mechanical issue with his W07 beast. However in some parts of the media, he was heavily criticised for such a reaction. Now I can understand the criticism had this just been a one off situation, but it wasn’t.
Lewis has had a very difficult start to his season, be it mechanical failures or being run into by other drivers. Everyone was eagerly waiting for him to self-implode, but he has kept a lid on his emotions and remained upbeat and positive. But to some, that was viewed as merely a false pretence. During Monaco’s pre-race driver parade, Johnny Herbert a man who is not known for his journalistic qualities, opened up with a rather unsavoury question, “Why are you so grumpy?” ….Ugh? However Hamilton dealt with the situation in a rather diplomatic manner, much better than how Alonso dealt with comments made about him by said reporter. Imagine that question being asked to Kimi?
Today Herbert’s fellow co-presenter and former World Champion Damon Hill, weighed in with his criticism of Hamilton’s post qualifying behaviour/posture/attitude/sulking etc.
“He has to be careful. He has had a very unusual upbringing and he likes the lifestyle but everything depends on how he performs in the cockpit and out of it, as well as the messages you give out.”
“It can all slip through your fingers really quickly. He is 31 and in the prime of his career and it won’t be long before he is one of the older guys out there.
“If I was ever to presume to offer him some advice, then he has got to get things into perspective.
“He could go down as one of the all-time greats or as someone who is not magnanimous in defeat. He has got to be careful.”
“He has employed all sorts of techniques to help him in his battle with Nico Rosberg, but he has to be careful that it does not descend into bitchiness, which would be a great shame.”
But no criticism of Hamilton would be complete without some reference being made to or by Lord of the Manor, Sir Jackie Stewart;
“Sir Jackie Stewart has a set of values and he is right and he tries to convey those values and they do mean something in sport.
“It is about your conduct. Sport is a test of how you cope in adversity during the bad times, not necessarily just about how brilliant you are all the time.”
I am always amused at how much unsolicited advice some have for a driver who has achieved so much more than they ever did in their F1 career.
Now contrast that to what Mario Andretti's observation on how Lewis has dealt with his various issues so far, in a recent article published on ESPNF1;
"He's had to deal with a lot of bad luck this season, but he's kept his head up. How you handle setback and defeat is a testimony of your character. All of this plays in his favour. I compliment him in every way for what he's done and continues to do"
But here is my gripe with what Hill had to say - his comments may have been warranted, but some of the words and language used were pretty inflammatory., 'bitchiness' and my personal favourite, “He has had a very unusual upbringing"….Hmmm ok then. It would've been nice had the interviewer asked him to elaborate as to what he meant by that.
Is there a specific type of upbringing that a Formula one driver needs to have? Should they be born with a silver spoon in their mouth? Should they be the son of a former WDC? Is it the fact his upbringing taught him about hard work, perseverance and excellence that is unusual? Was he raised on the planet Mercury as opposed to earth?
Should he not enjoy the lifestyle that comes with being a 3 times world champion? Sterling Moss once said, he would waive to a lady he fancied in the crowd as he drove around Monaco and then retire to his hotel room with her after the race. Damn and he wasn’t even a WDC, so talk about enjoying the perks that comes with being a F1 driver. Oh and please don’t get me started on James Hunt.
Is Hill implying that to be considered one of the sports true greats Hamilton would first need to change his attitude during adversity? But does that attitude not further illustrate his desire to win? Hamilton himself has said he hates to lose, but with time and maturity, he has grown to appreciate both winning and losing. And whilst I am asking these questions, when will his ‘lifestyle’ stop being an issue to everyone? Because on the evidence of things, his current issues have nothing to do with who he parties with or which red carpet event he’s at. But if you are one of those people who are easily lead by tabloid stories, then you would believe that it was.
So I ask again, what exactly does he mean? I can only assume he is referring to the fact that Lewis was part of the McLaren young driver program (This has been said so many times, you would get the impression that he was the only one in the program, Gary Paffett anyone?); That's everyone’s go to line, as if that’s somehow a stain on his record. But how long will they continue to make reference to that? Will Stoffel Vandoorne be subjected to the same if he’s as successful as Hamilton? I mean, I have never heard anyone saying the same thing about Sebastian Vettel. What, didn’t you all know that Seb was signed to the Red bull junior team at the age of 11?
The double standards in driver treatment by the media………
To say that Ricciardo was less than complimentary towards his team following the mistake that cost the Australian his first win of the season would be an understatement. The guy pretty much told his team to f*** off, but rather than being critical of him, he was given a free pass, because it was the ‘team’ who screwed up and he’s generally a nice guy.
‘Save it, I don’t want to hear it, nothing you can say to me will make up for this’
'I want to say thanks to the fans for sticking out in this weather. I guess from the outside we put on a show but it shouldn't have been as exciting as it was.
'Two weekends in a row now I've been screwed. It sucks and it hurts – but thanks to everyone for sticking out.'
Don’t get me wrong, I felt for the guy, because up until that point, he had done all that he needed to do to win the race and I can understand his frustrations, but I believed he went a little too far.
So now let me take you on a visual journey. Sit back close your eyes and visualise that those words came out of the mouth of Lewis Hamilton and he exhibited the same behaviour and just watch social media explode. Hell, Hamilton was in that very same position last year and he was subjected to some rather harsh criticism for showing how disappointed he was for losing a race that he had dominated all weekend and was leading by 20+ seconds.
It has been said by many journalists, commentators and team principles that Hamilton ‘wears his heart on his sleeve’. So if that’s the case, what is the basis of Hill’s comments? Why 2 days before the start of another race weekend has this story surfaced when Hill's interview was done post qualifying? I smell a stitch up and given which rag tag paper the story was in, I would not be surprised at all.
I get it, we get it, Lewis is not your ‘typical’ formula driver and won’t be liked by everyone, but he is still a formula one driver and a bloody good one at that. He has earned the right to be respected not to have every facet of his life micro analysed by everyone and told what he should or should not be doing. I honestly that thought having already won 3 WDCs, 44 wins and 52 pole positions would have been enough to silence his critics, but I guess not.
Follow Fortis on Twitter @Hamfosi44