The most hated man in Formula 1

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Lewis Hamilton, Laureus awards, 2008

Lewis Hamilton: Formula 1’s most successful rookie, 2007 championship runner-up, five times Grand Prix winner. And the most hated man in Formula 1.

From the banners at the Spanish Grand Prix, to the streams of abuse on internet forums, the crop of hate websites that have sprung up and even the series of anti-Hamilton Youtube videos, the British driver has taken over Michael Schumacher’s mantle as the man who is liked and loathed in roughly equal measure.

Why is that?

Popular is uncool

Lewis Hamilton, 2007 Canadian Grand Prix victory newspaper coverage, 470313

Hamilton may be hated, but he is also very popular. Taking Britain as an example, F1 fans today can be broadly divided between those who have followed the sport for years, like myself, and those who’ve been drawn to it recently by the popularity of Hamilton.

According to ITV, their F1 broadcasts were watched by 40% more people last year because of Hamilton, so we’re talking about a significant number of newcomers to the sport.

Now I like F1 a lot (you may have noticed) and I’ve got nothing against Hamilton, but even I find the saturation coverage of Hamilton a lot to take.

And I think a lot of other people react negatively against the fawning, sycophantic tripe written about Hamilton, and don’t like him as a result.

‘Twas ever thus, of course. Before Hamilton the British media’s darling was Jenson Button, and it was pretty clear from the debate we had about Button earlier this week how his over-exposure earlier in his career had coloured people’s opinions of him.

With Hamilton, there were some insinuations last year that his value to the sport made the governing body reluctant to punish him, which no doubt deepened the growing dislike.

Insincerity

Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Nurburgring, 2007, 470313

There is a perception that Hamilton has a false media persona. A typical example of which was be that painful interview with Heikki Kovalainen ITV broadcast before the start of the Australian Grand Prix, with all that unconvincing chummyness. It brought back memories of the photo calls with Fernando Alonso last year when the two plainly weren’t getting on.

Hamming it up is one thing, but Hamilton’s not shy to use the media for his own ends either. His frustration at the team’s strategy in the Monaco Grand Prix last year, which he felt cost him the chance of beating Alonso, bubbled to the surface in his now notorious words: “it says number two on my car and I’m the number two driver.”

This, his critics say, is the real Hamilton: sweetness and light until something goes wrong – and then he bares his teeth.

The Fernando Alonso factor

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 2007, Interlagos, 470313

It should have been a perfect match. Experienced, confident, double champion meets paired with the rookie to whom everything is new. Alonso does the winning, Hamilton does the learning.

But it became clear things were not going to work that way as early as the first qualifying session of the season, when Alonso reacted to Hamilton’s speed in Q2 by choosing to do an extra lap to guarantee himself first choice on strategy.

As we all know all hell broke loose between the pair in 2007. There are essentially two competing explanations for why that happened:

(a) Hamilton was so quick it rattled Alonso, leading him to demand preferential treatment from McLaren and, when he didn’t get it, blasted the team in his home press. He leapt at the opportunity to blackmail Ron Dennis when the spy scandal blew up. Alonso’s fans sympathised with their hero’s plight, believe everything he said, and hate Hamilton as a result.

(b) McLaren misled Alonso over whether he’d be the number one driver in 2008, and then undermined his efforts to win the world championship. Ron Dennis lied and claimed Alonso threatened to blackmail him over the spygate affair after Alonso had been double-crossed by Hamilton in qualifying at Hungary.

What do I think? As with most things I think the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes – although not halfway between.

Hamilton is no angel. What he did at Hungary last year was clearly an attempt to provoke Alonso. But the idea that McLaren would bring a double world champion into the team specifically to compromise his ability to win the championship defies logic, common sense and history. Even Pat Symonds of Alonso’s beloved Renault team acknowledged Alonso could not stand being beaten by a team mate even if Giancarlo Fisichella only managed it once or twice.

I don’t think there’s any doubt Hamilton’s catastrophic relationship with Alonso is the largest cause of the widespread hatred of Hamilton – whichever explanation for it you agree with.

Incomprehension

Fernando Alonso brought legions of new fans to the sport in Spain. You only have to look how packed the Circuit de Cataluya has been in recent years compared to the late 1990s to see that.

Inevitably, many of those fans may have little or no knowledge of F1 prior to about 2005. As far as they are concerned, Alonso is number one – this is the man that beat Michael Schumacher, after all.

Many have reasoned that it is simply not possible Alonso could have been beaten by a rookie, and as Hamilton is a British driver in a British team they suspected a conspiracy.

Racism?

No. I honestly don’t think racism has anything to do with it.

I know many of you disagreed with me when I said I supported the FIA’s anti-racism campaign. I still think it’s the right thing to do.

But I do think the racism that was displayed at the Circuit de Catalunya in testing in February (and may have been seen at the Chinese Grand Prix last year) was intended as an expression of hatred towards Lewis Hamilton the person and not his race. That does not excuse it, of course.

Over to you

Do you agree Lewis Hamilton is the most hated driver in Formula 1? What has he done to provoke it? Is it deserved or undeserved?

If you’d like to dip into the stack of articles that touched on this subject last year – which provoked pages of debate – here are a few places to start:

Lewis Hamilton biography

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154 comments on The most hated man in Formula 1

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  1. Cooperman said on 2nd May 2008, 12:49

    I may knock ITV for their poor coverage (oh and I do!), and I can see that this must reflect on Lewis, but I like to think I’m smart enough to not pin that factor onto Lewis himself.

    At the end of the day, each and every driver has had to be hard nosed and selfish to get into the highest level of motorsport so it’s no surprise that by the time they get there, they’re not all the most friendly people in the world. It’s cut throat out there and that famous line of ‘nice guys don’t finish first’ that has plagued a number of top British drivers over the last 20 years. You can’t blame Lewis if he plays the part to show harmony in a team, regardless of whether it exists.

    I loved to hate Schumacher because of his on-track antics but the nearest that Lewis has come to that is a handful of minor start-line-chopping accusations and not letting Alonso lead in qualifying for the Hungarian GP last year.

    I imagine it’s a case of a few people with their noses out of joint because Lewis has come into a top team immediately and become a sensation. Reading his (not all that great) book, he’s had this all his life when competitors pinned his success on the McLaren Mercedes contract he had in his back pocket.

  2. There’s a lot of pretty hostile anti-Coulthard stuff out there, but it’s of a different nature as it doesn’t have the backlash against media hype aspect to it. I don’t think anyone else on the grid comes close to those two, though.

  3. Theo Kyriakou said on 2nd May 2008, 13:17

    I don’t like Hamilton any more because of the media overexposure and his unnecesary attempt to cash in by books etc. Before he een completed his first season in F1  abook with his pretty face in the cover was out.
    All the repetitve media BS talk about how he has been preparing for F1 all his life about how focused he is and then crashes his car in the pit entry, about how perfect things are inhis life etc makes him boring to a degree that makes even Kimi’s press conferences interesting.

  4. William Wilgus said on 2nd May 2008, 13:21

    Just think of the hoopla there will be with the first female F1 driver!

    If Hamilton weren’t black, would the FIA still be having an anti-racism campaign?  No.

    I can’t like a person who is dishonest:  Moving to Switzerland for privacy rather than taxes lie, etc.

  5. ade said on 2nd May 2008, 13:26

    Part of the reason Lewis is unpopular is because of his self-confidence, which is standard issue with all racing drivers.
    .
    Where other British drivers have been older and wiser enough to play it cool, like Damon Hill or – to a certain extent – DC; Lewis hasn’t been shy about telling us how good he thinks he is. I think that gets a lot of people’s backs up.

  6. Kris said on 2nd May 2008, 13:35

    I feel that its very easy to confuse resentment of our (the UK’s) grotesquely Hamilton slanted F1 coverage with hatred of Hamilton himself.

    Speaking as someone who feels a great deal of the former, I find it frustrating when people who have sipped the Hamilton kool-aid dismiss entirely valid criticism of media coverage as mere Hamilton bashing.

    Of course, I would never claim to be completely immune from said confusion myself. As ITV move into their second hour of Hamilton Basking on a Sunday afternoon it becomes entirely too easy to take pot shots at him, despite the fact that my frustration is in fact not at Hamilton himself, but his portrayal.

  7. KB said on 2nd May 2008, 13:57

    I DISLIKE him….hate is too strong a word
    Main reasons……

    1 -ITV protray LH as some kind of niave angel who has brought new life to the sport….was OK the first time they said it, and the rookie did good…niave no

    2 – ITV’s insistence on having his father talk on his behalf…ok maybe a manager or whatever, but please he has a voice and an ability to talk for himself….not his fault I know but it is a Motorsport show, and it gets right up my nose, a lower profiled driver interview would be better

    3 – The Lies – By this I mean the reasons given for leaving England….(press) LOL, How silly did he think his fans where..THE MAIN REASON, shows complete disregard for English fans

    4 – The Alonso/Hamilton relationship, I am a fan of neither, but a truly great spporting personality is someone who can work with anyone, and this goes for the 2 of them. Spoilt Brats should have made more effort to make it work

    5 -He spoke out about Mr Mosely saying he should be setting a good example for young people, the same weekend as he was fined for speeding in France

    I dont like to judge any driver on a personal level, but Keith you are right, the media coverage has put me right off LH, but I do not hate him…Just feel to urge to switch channels when ITV rant on about him…..what about other ‘Home nation’ drivers

    RACE DOESNT COME INTO IT!

  8. Sush said on 2nd May 2008, 14:06

    I don’t like him because he says the word "cool" and he’s 23 years old.

  9. Trig said on 2nd May 2008, 14:09

    I started disliking Hamilton when he said "I tricked Massa into out-braking himself" in Malaysia ’07.
    I suspect he believed the hype he’d heard on ITV.

  10. Well as a Canadian, I dislike Hamilton mostly because I’m stuck with ITV’s constant worshiping of the ground he walks on.  To take the recent China event in particular, rather than talking about the events on track we were treated to Martin Brundle spending a couple of laps muttering about how he’d like to string Alonso up for engineering a collision with our hero.

    Is Hamilton good?  Unquestionably.

    Is he entertaining?  Yes.

    Is he the next Nigel Mansell, or is he merely another Couthard/Button/fill-in-blank-here?  Well, that remains to be seen, but please let him get a few more seasons under his belt before we canonize him.

  11. Fireblade said on 2nd May 2008, 14:10

    This article sheds the light on a very important issue,namely the weapons of mass distraction.Media are forming opinions and do not leave it up to the audience/spectator/fan to form his/her own opinion.
    For Lewis Hamilton,I only disliked his driving style behind the safety car last year at the GP of Japan.And i liked the episode with Jeremy on Top Gear.Other than that…no complain!

  12. Nathan said on 2nd May 2008, 14:18

    I dislike him because he seems to feel the need to continuously remind us about how humble he is. He’s always telling us how he "couldn’t have done it without the team" etc. If you ask me, if someone needs to keep pointing this out then they are the opposite of humble, but refuse to admit it. Personally, I think that’s worse than just being arrogant.

  13. Michael K said on 2nd May 2008, 14:25

    I don’t like Hamilton either, mainly due to him starting to believe the hype like a certain Jenson Button also did. He is of course much better than Button, whether he is a real all-time great remains to be seen.
    I think his character is quite two-faced and he is very calculating in his statements, which seem fake as a consequence.
    This is not something that many other drivers display, Schumacher hardly did this, mainly by avoiding to pretend that he is a great mate of everyone in the team. Kimi is just a very straight guy who doesn’t care about what people think and says what he thinks, the best example being his comment about having recently been to the loo before the race a few years back.
    Alonso is of course as bad as Hamilton when it comes to sincerity, but I still feel he is less calculating than Hamilton and his entourage.
    As Keith already mentioned, his real personality comes out when he has something to complain about.
    I think he lost it magnificently at the end of last season and simply folded under the pressure. This can of course be down to his youth, so let’s see what happens next time when he is in grasping distance of a F1-Championship. I’m sure this time will come, probably not this season, but let’s see…

  14. Dare I be different here and say I don’t dislike him?  Well I don’t.  ITV, Alonso, the books, Switzerland etc… so what.  Fernando Alonso whines far more than Lewis and he is adored.
    Every high profile athlete that has made the grade quickly gets ground to the ground with criticism from the media as well as drooled over.  Take a new song a band has produced and you hear it everywhere for months.  That’s the nature of things, but do we have to jump on the bandwagon and dislike a driver because maybe someone else dislikes him or he gets a lot of attention?  Not me.

    I don’t understand how he can be disliked because ITV talked about him too much, or he has a few books at a young age.  How can he be disliked for beating Alonso and competing hard against him?

    Maybe I’m under a rock or something, but I just don’t get it.

  15. TommyBellingham said on 2nd May 2008, 14:55

    He’s cool to hate because F1 wasnt that popular in the UK until Lewis came around. Now everyone knows about F1, even if they watch it to see how Hamilton does who cares!? Before all the conversations were about football, now all my mates want to talk about Grand Prix and its great!

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