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. DKSJ 93 said on 26th October 2008, 22:17

    Personally I think that one day when Sebastien Vetel comes to a better team than Red Bull and becomes potential champion wont be that much hated as Lewis.

  2. Parag said on 15th March 2009, 7:51

    useless article.
    articles should be written as a way to dissiminate information to others not as a way to attack someones personal integrity.

    well… i would better not try to write ********* about others. but Keith, this is a learning phase for you and hopefully you will learn.

    Why did you not write similar story about other drivers or are you jealous of his success?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th March 2009, 9:16

      I think you’ve either misunderstood the article or just read the headline and then gone straight to the comments. Where did I attack his “personal integrity”?

  3. Clare msj said on 16th March 2009, 10:41

    I think the article is well written and actually describes the reasons why I beleive people dislike Hamilton quite well. From day one Hamilton was always going to be someone that you either liked or disliked, the same as happened with Schumacher – there doesnt appear to be many people who occupy the middle ground. This means that there will always be debate between fans.

    I also dont beleive that, in the vast majority of cases, racism has anything to do with it – the only comments on this article which mention anything to do with race are those from people accusing others of being racist, none from any people who dislike Hamilton. The incident with the Spanish fans at Catalunya was a very small group of people, and whilst was a completely unacceptable incident, is not a reason to generalise all Alonso/Spanish/non-Hamilton fans – just because a handful of people chose to display their dislike in that way, does not mean that all people who dislike Hamilton think the same.

    I admit, I am not a fan of Hamilton, (and I have briefly met him, admittedly pre-F1 when I actually quite liked him, and he was very friendly and willing to have pictures taken and sign our race tickets), just as I wasnt a fan of the previous controversial driver Schumacher – yet when I admitted to not liking Schumacher I wasnt under pressure to defend my decision like it seems to be like with Hamilton. It was just accepted that people didnt like him – so why the big problem with people not liking Hamilton. I have never judged anyone for who they like in F1, and I dont expect to be judged for who I like/dislike. Even supporting Ralf Schumacher I didnt get the surprised comments I get for not liking Hamilton. Just because I am British doesnt mean I have to support the Brit.

    There are plenty of drivers who I have disliked over the past, Hamilton is just one in a long line of people I dont support in F1 – he’s also not the only one currently in F1 I dislike – its nothing personal against any of them – its just whenever you support any sports person/team, chances are you will dislike their opposition – its all part of competition. Its taken me until last year to forgive Alonso for the ‘tunnel incident’ in Monaco the other year where he blamed Ralf!

    As for Parag’s comment ‘Why did you not write similar story about other drivers or are you jealous of his success?’ – Hamilton is the controversial driver of the moment – its topical, its how journalism works. There wouldnt be so much debate over someone who many people are indifferent to. Its not a personal attack on Hamilton it is an article suggesting reasons why people may dislike him.

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