The most hated man in Formula 1

Comment

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

Advert | Go Ad-free

154 comments on The most hated man in Formula 1

  1. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd May 2008, 16:53

    So, Dan, you’d dislike any rookie who joined McLaren or, presumably, Ferrari or BMW?

    NDINYO, I have no idea what you’re suggesting. Are you saying that Mosley and Ecclestone played some role in putting Alonso and Hamilton together at McLaren and making them hate each other?

  2. Dan M said on 2nd May 2008, 17:04

    I also question weather these other young drivers will get the same opportunity as Hamilton. F1 is very much a copy cat sport, but if Hamilton starts to falter this year, other teams may prefer to ease the young drivers into the sport (testing) . It only took Kovi a half the season to orient himself and he had a dreadfully awful car in the 07 Renault.

    I think the only reason that the Hamilton experiment was attempted is because they had a 2 time world champion joining the team who has a history of being number 1. There was no risk in putting Hamilton into the car (in hindsight it was an amazing decision).

    Of course if Hamilton bounces back this year, everyone will copy Mclaren’s approach.

  3. Dan M said on 2nd May 2008, 17:07

    So, Dan, you’d dislike any rookie who joined McLaren or, presumably, Ferrari or BMW?

    I very much like Kubica, but thats because of his humble attitude.

  4. Ack! no more, please.If its not ITV apparently ‘going on’ about Hamilton then its people complaining about ITV ‘going on’ about Hamilton.All this apparent hatred seems entirely unjustified to me. If you dont like ITV mentioning Hamilton so much then complain about ITV but remember they were just as bad if not worse about Schumacher, James Allens sycophantic toadying to to Schuey was just plain disturbing compared with the totally expected focus on Hamiltion.ITV is British, Hamilton is British, McLaren is British, Hamilton is a good driver, a WDC contender – ergo he might get more of a mention in the British press than the rest. Its hardly brain surgery.Get over it and move on. Jesus.

  5. The events in 2007 that have involved the British media and McLaren have made me like Alonso more because he got quite bad rep in Britain.

    That said, I’m sure the Spanish media do the same to Hamilton, but I’m British so I don’t know what Formula 1 media is like in Spain.

    This is why I’m a Raikkonen fan.

  6. Josh said on 2nd May 2008, 17:25

    The guy is 23 and being bombarded more media exposure, criticism and pressure to perform than most people face their entire lives. He’s going to make mistakes, say things he will regret later, screw up some relationships, lie sometimes, etc.Give the guy a break.

  7. Journeyer said on 2nd May 2008, 17:27

    "Are you saying that Mosley and Ecclestone played some role in putting Alonso and Hamilton together at McLaren and making them hate each other?"

    Ndinyo is pushing it a bit too much, I think.  BUT… I’m sure Bernie and Max don’t mind all the Lewis-Fernando kerfuffle.  In other words, while they’re not actively pushing it, they’re not doing anything to stop it, either… they’re just letting it play out and letting us fans react to it, discuss it… and word of mouth about f1 spreads, so more people watch it.  ergo, profit.

  8. Green Flag said on 2nd May 2008, 17:28

    At first I did not like Lewis much – he came across as brash and full of himself. But I’ve come to like, even admire, him; getting beaten on a regular basis has made him less cocky. Sure, he’s still self-confident, but why not? He has enormous talent. BTW, this whole thing about hating a driver is ridiculous. Dislike, disrespect, maybe, but hating someone you don’t even know, weird.

  9. Paul Sainsbury said on 2nd May 2008, 17:43

    It truly is worrying to see some of those youtube videos and the remarks that people leave. I was particularly amused to see one entitled ‘Lewis Hamilton, biggest loser 2007′. I don’t quite know what measurement of ‘loser’ the author was using, but possibly he was a little confused there I think.

    So what causes this ‘confusion’?

    Most importantly, I think I have come to reluctantly conclude that there is a really worrying undercurrent of tacit racism amongst us. I think it is possible that even those responsible are unaware of it. A really good example is the frequently heard/read innocent remark about Lewis when he appeared on the scene that ‘he is very articulate, isn’t he?’. Clearly this is not an insult in itself, but the fact remains that it is an odd thing to say, it almost implies surprise that he should be articulate.

    In addition to this think that the most likely scenario is simply that we have never before seen anything even approaching this level of talent and success in a rookie, and many people just don’t like it, and don’t want to accept it. It is well known that many here in the UK are somewhat resentful of success. I am British but work for 10 months of the year in the USA, and I must say that this is not a trait I have found with the Americans.

  10. Journeyer said on 2nd May 2008, 17:52

    "At first I did not like Lewis much – he came across as brash and full of himself. But I’ve come to like, even admire, him; getting beaten on a regular basis has made him less cocky. Sure, he’s still self-confident, but why not? He has enormous talent. BTW, this whole thing about hating a driver is ridiculous. Dislike, disrespect, maybe, but hating someone you don’t even know, weird."

    Couldn’t have said it any better, Green Flag.  I agree with you on this one.  :)

  11. Michael Dunn said on 2nd May 2008, 17:55

    Anyone under 30 who publishes an autobiography is an arrogrant ****. Hamilton is probably the biggest **** that F1 has seen in a long time.

  12. Rohan said on 2nd May 2008, 17:59

    I have 2 words for anyone who claims that Lewis is disliked just because he was succesful – Jacques Villeneuve. He was a rookie when he came to F1 and was immediately succesful (and none of this rubbish about him being better prepared than Lewis – Indycar is less similar to F1 than GP2 is, and JV had less testing than Lewis before the season started).

    As for why I dislike Lewis – it has to be his attitude. I find him smug and arrogant in the extreme, with no care for how he is perceived by other people. Furthermore, he has shown himself to be a sore loser, and while that may be a desirable quality to some extent, I feel that Lewis is "too sore" of a loser.

  13. Rohan said on 2nd May 2008, 18:00

    Forgot to say that JV was not disliked by the majority of people in his first few years, despite his success.

  14. Daniel said on 2nd May 2008, 18:16

    I think Hamilton is simultaneously the most hated and most loved driver in Formula 1…

    When a genius arrives (Hamilton might be the next one, but still needs to prove a couple of things) he makes himself noticed, even without a winning car…

    The last examples:
    Senna with Toleman, in 1984, scored his maiden podium in Monaco, under heavy rain, and could have won if they didn’t interrupt the race… the next year he was hired by Lotus, scored his maiden win, the last six victories for the legendary team, and paved his way to McLaren…

    Schumacher qualified seventh for Jordan in 1991 on his debut race, and was immediatly hired by Benneton, team with which he won his first GP in 1992, and his first titles, 1994 and 1995…

    Hamilton had the luck of starting with a winner car, and made the most of it, but we should remember that quite a few drivers have had the same luck, but very few had the same fate (most notably David Coulthard, who was a replacement for Senna in 1994)…

    I think that he is hated for the over-exposure, for the envy that many many people feel for seeing him shine so brightly, yet so early, and, to some extent, for the "good boy" image he desperately tried to build…

    Even though I feared that racism could be a problem for him, I don’t think it is the main cause for the hatred… Instead, its the "lucky rookie" image, "doesn’t matter if he is black or white", that annoys his detractors…

  15. Paul Sainsbury said on 2nd May 2008, 18:51

    41 Michael Dunn 2 May 2008 at 5:55 pm ‘Anyone under 30 who publishes an autobiography is an arrogrant ****. Hamilton is probably the biggest **** that F1 has seen in a long time.’
    This is precisely the type of comment that has me so concerned about current attitudes. Okay, Michael, so you think that 23 is a little young to be putting out an autobiography. Well, I agree with you. but ‘arrogant ****’…….? the dictionary definition being: 1. a highly offensive term for a woman’s vagina or genital area (taboo) 2. U.K. a highly offensive term for somebody regarded as unintelligent, worthless, or detestable (taboo insult) Is this REALLY necessary?

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.