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

  1. steve thompson said on 2nd May 2008, 15:06

    I think deep down it is racism. We are not used to the corporate selling of black people as anything other than as performer or as macho-mandingo. Black men have to be funny or ultimately macho to fit the stereotype, LH is neither. That being said McLaren are hopeless at presenting drivers as anything other than as personality free machines – that doesn’t help, Alonso came with a personality Hamilton has not been allowed to show his since he was a kid.

  2. George said on 2nd May 2008, 15:08

    Steve, whilst I am pretty uncomfortable with the stereotypes you evoke, I have to wonder at the point you make with them.  Are you seriously suggesting that driving a 200mph racing machine is anything less than the ultimate in macho?

  3. steve thompson said on 2nd May 2008, 15:12

    That’s a very good point George. I really meant, but didn’t express it very well, that he doesn’t do the male black man sexual beast posturing – instead, (and this is what some people have said they hate about him!) he is humble and thanks those around him, in a kind of feminine, new man way.

  4. George said on 2nd May 2008, 15:14

    Well, there’s a can of worms opened… worms all over the floor…

  5. steve thompson said on 2nd May 2008, 15:17

    it has to be faced up to, sadly.

  6. Dan M said on 2nd May 2008, 15:20

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

    I resent that! I am also 23……

    My dislike for Hamilton has cooled a little now that he is getting a taste of reality. I think one of the major reasons i dislike him is the "spoiled" factor. Kimi, Fernando, Micheal, and Hiedfeld (to name a few recent examples) all came from lesser teams, they had to work their way to the top, where as Hamilton was given a great car from the start… He didn’t even need to pay his dues by testing for a year.

    My other problem with him is his disregard for the other drivers on the course, and refusing to join the Drivers Association.  I am all for someone who will do anything to win, but to avoid meetings on safety concerns is absurd.

    That being said, Mosley is "the most hated man in F1", Lewis is the "most hated driver in F1".

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd May 2008, 15:28

    22 comments already!

    Let me ask a question on that point Dan: why should he have to "pay his dues" in a lesser car?

    Hamilton’s route to Formula 1 was obviously quite unusual: McLaren began supporting him very early in his career. This may now become more common – Honda have signed a 16 year-old karter in recent weeks.

    He’d won championships in consecutive seasons in 2005 and 2006 and was clearly ready to move up to F1. What would McLaren have gained by making him a test driver for a year? Renault did that with Heikki Kovalainen and Nelson Piquet Jnr in the last few years and both looked race-rusty on their debuts. Would Hamilton really have done better had they kept him on the sidelines for a year?

    So I don’t understand that whole area of the discussion, in terms of what McLaren are supposed to have done wrong and why it’s a reason not to like Hamilton.

  8. sChUmAcHeRtHeGrEaTeStEvEr said on 2nd May 2008, 15:31

    for the people who are moanin about him moving to switzerland how can you complain about that, he did say it wasnt just for the privacy and dont pretend youv never complained about the amount of tax that gets taken off your pay cheque i dont blame him for moving.All great sportsmen, especially in sports where the individual gets alot of the praise you need to be ruthless, hamilton is, like it or not thats just they way you have to be to get far in such a competitve world. It would of been very easy for hamilton to start last year let alonso dominate and just learn from him, but then hed be regarded as a number 2 like rubens.
    Look at how senna behaved when he was paried up with prost at maclaren, similar circumstances (i know senna wasnt a rookie) but prost was a double champion.
    at the end of the day hamilton look s to be the best british driver since mansell, lets see how the next few years go but he out raced alonso last year whatever way you look at ti he did get over it hes a very good racing driver. the public image sadly is part of the world today everything is about image so he has to follow the company line.
    if you watch f1 for the sport where hamilton lives an why wouldnt come into it!

  9. George said on 2nd May 2008, 15:32

    On the whole subject of the McLaren support it’s worth adding to Keith’s excellent points above that their support was never a given, but based upon performance.  Lewis simply had to deliver at each stage of his career or that support would not have continued.  You could argue that, whilst on one level it removed a pressure, on another it created it’s own quite different ones.

  10. I watch F1 in:
    ITV And find laughable that the commentators go on saying things like (in spanish GP) "Hamilton has the edge and drove an incredible race" (or something like that, about winning by the edge), and "Massa was trashed by Kimi, couldn’t do a thing about it". Well, Massa beat Lewis.

    Tele 5 a spanish channel, and they’re as mental as the british ones, all for Alonso and the blame is in everybody else. I really love to see their faces everytime Alonso DNF.

    Fox Sports LA and the commentators there are three argentinean guys, who are very knowledgeable and have the great advantage of not having any countrymen driving right now, so I find them to be the least biased and more accurate.

    Televisa and some backwater channel with some moron commentators that couldn’t tell MS apart from RB when they were both with Ferrari. I can see and scream things happening minutes before they even notice.

    So, I think that the more knowledge you have paired with the least mental you are (i.e. not having a favourite driver) is the way to go in F1 to NOT go mental.

  11. NDINYO said on 2nd May 2008, 16:30

    Maybe Bernie and Max the Perv love some controversy

  12. Journeyer said on 2nd May 2008, 16:35

    "Maybe Bernie and Max the Perv love some controversy"

    You may be closer to the truth than you think, Ndinyo.  Do remember that some of the more watched F1 races this decade came after controversy (2002 and 2006 Monaco GPs prove my point).  Controversy, as long as it doesn’t get too poisonous, tends to make for good audience numbers.  And we know what Bernie likes, right?  ‘Nuff said.

  13. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd May 2008, 16:40

    What does that have to do with Lewis Hamilton?

  14. Dan M said on 2nd May 2008, 16:46

    I was not suggesting what Mclaren did was wrong, in fact its worked out better than even Ron would likely admit. I was simply stating that it was a reason to not like him.

    To me, seeing a young driver get a great ride and immediately be classified as the next Shu is nauseating. Its kinda like when you first start driving in your ****box car, while your peers get a brand new car. They may well have payed for that car themselves but out of spite, I still don’t like them.

    I don’t dislike him because he received the car he did, its the attitude hes developed from starting at the top. He seemed overwhelmed at Canada after winning (like any rookie should be), but toward the end of the year he struck me as arrogant and deserving. I think if he started at the bottom he wouldn’t have that cocky demeanor. Plus I always root for the underdog so after Canada I started rooting against him.

    Sorry for the poor sentence structure…. I’m American!

  15. NDINYO said on 2nd May 2008, 16:53

    Oh come on Keith – all this Lewis hate campaigns and Alonso fanatism dont look a little bit engineered to u? Even the two occupying the same real estate on the track is treated like a Mohamed Ali fight … come on, that can’t be news worthy, not for this long. Remember how many sensational stuff was ‘leaked’ as true in 2007 when it didnt even exist? I remember at least two journalists apologising for reporting pure hot air as fact.

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