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. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd May 2008, 19:03

    Yeah can we drop the swearing please guys? Cheers.

  2. Dan M said on 2nd May 2008, 19:06

    I agree with Paul. My feelings toward Hamilton may be strong but I would never use that terminology toward anyone.

    I "dislike" Hamilton, but I "hate" ignorant remarks like that.

  3. Sush said on 2nd May 2008, 19:07

    does anyone else see the irony of people moaning that they don’t like him because he has too much exposure…. on an article about him and making it successful in terms of comments?

  4. the limit said on 2nd May 2008, 19:33

    I can remember the Australian Gp last year, at the end, when the three drivers were preparing to go to the podium. The lineup was predictable, atleast as far as the first two drivers were concerned.
    Raikkonen had led from pole to a comfortable victory, Alonso had slotted in second starting his second season as defending champion, and then there was this new kid.
    The smile on Hamilton’s face was one of pure joy and satisfaction, the grimaces on Raikkonen’s and Alonso’s faces were the ones of two men who had had their party gatecrashed by a teenybopper.
    Everybody had assumed that these two men would reign supreme, unchallenged, in the face of Michael Schumacher retiring. It would be a straight fight, Alonso vs Raikkonen, the two fastest drivers, one in a Merc, the other in Michael’s old car.
    That day, these two men realised that 2007 would not be quite
    as the pundits had predicted. When Michael was in F1, he dominated, now he was gone, the biggest threat to Alonso’s defence of his title, and Raikkonen getting his first crown, was finished. Surely now there would not be a problem? Wrong!
     I was caught by surprise too, by this new talent, his speed, confidence, and they way he conducted himself. As if he had been doing this since the cradle.
    In the races that followed, his stock rose, and his profile went through the roof. Nobody was talking about anybody else except the ‘rookie’, the underdog, Alonso’s teammate.
    It was an unbelievable situation, a rookie ‘could’ be champion, could beat the best of the best. The hatred that has followed is
    understandable, natural, and completely normal.
    Personally I always believed Raikkonen would win, he had always had bad luck in the past, he deserved to be champion.
    I knew Alonso would push him super close, to the limit and beyond, you could see how much Fernando wanted that third crown, to emulate his idle Aryton Senna.
    Hamilton came within a whisker of denying them both, and made alot of enemies whilst doing it, but he has helped the sport. He has broken the comfort zone for drivers and fans alike, we have now four or five drivers now that are champion material. Two proven talents, and three others.
     Lewis Hamilton is part of that, whether people like it or not. 

  5. Sush said on 2nd May 2008, 19:36

    the limit, you sound like James Allen.

    sorry about the swearing Keith, I promise not to insult anyone else like that again.

  6. At least anyone HATE or DISLIKE Lewis because he deals with his opposition doing a series of dirty tricks. Some guys hates him or dislike him just because he is a little spoiled or because he has a big hype around him… Not bad!   So let’s imagine the FEELING that this people will feel when Lewis became a champion…

  7. Phil B said on 2nd May 2008, 20:26

    Reading some of these comments I feel like someone is switching the words "Lewis Hamilton" for "peodophile" after it gets submitted.  This level of bile just doesn’t make sense to me.  For years we’ve been waiting for another world class British F1 driver.  I won’t get into the argument about how long (It’s probably more than 3 decades) but lets just say it’s been a while.  In order to be the genuine article in F1 you have to be confident, arrogant even, superbly skillful, ruthless and have the support of one of the best teams.  These are essential requirements in the modern sport.  Along comes Hamilton, espouses all of these characteristics and what do we have?  Backlash. 

    Lets get a few things straight:  James Allen is an idiot, he always was he always will be.  We saw it with Schumacher and we see it with Hamilton.  Don’t blame Hamilton for that.  He can’t help who likes him. 

    Secondly you may *think* that Hamilton has a false persona with the media.  Unless you have met him personally and had dealings with him you cannot *know* that this is evidence of him being two-faced.  You simply can’t, it’s not possible, you don’t have a second reference point.

    Finally, 23 is very very young to have an autobiography so I suggest you do what I did and don’t buy it.  It certainly is not evidence of anything sinister or warranting such vitriol.  If someone wanted to pay me millions for my biography aged 23 days they could have had it.  Let’s not pretend any of us would do anything different given the chance.

    In conclusion:  I always wondered what the British fans (I am one btw) would do if they had their own Schumacher.  We can now see, we have our own Schumacher, perhaps even a better one (who can beat any teammate, rather than hand picked also-rans) and it just doesn’t sit very well, does it?

  8. Lady Snowcat said on 2nd May 2008, 20:58

    Interesting how much heat the guy generates in posters….

    He’s very very good but has had more advantages than any other driver I can think of …. which may be because he is so good but may also have an element of right place, right face, right time….

    Do I hate him?… no of course not….

    Do I revere him?…. no it’s far too early….. and he’s yet to either drag a rubbish car up the grid or win from other than pole which, for me, are two sensible measures of  exceptional talent…. but I do expect him to do that sometime….

    Do I find the ITV and British media coverage off putting?….  certainly….

    I would like him to prove himself in a less than top car but he’ll probably never drive for a less than top team…. lucky boy….

    Do my views have even a small amount to do with Alonso?…. absolutely not… I even mentioned on another forum in his Renault days that he’d probably end up throwing his toys out of the pram at Macca and recommended Ron employ Super Nanny…..
    Lewis did right to cash in last year though, as he may never get another chance… that could have been his only one… I think that’s unlikely but you never know… these opportunities come rarely…. just ask DC and Jenson….

    I repeat that although I don’t warm to him he is a good driver….

    Just don’t ask me to change my allegiance from the Kimster… because that is not likely to happen…

  9. the limit said on 2nd May 2008, 21:36

    Sush, I have to admit, reading my own post, I do sound like James Allen. That was unintended, trust me!!
    One thing I do not miss about living in England was Mr Allen’s
    commentary, believe me.
    My point being, I believe the more ‘competitive’ drivers we have in F1 the better. I want people to get angry on the track, abit of excitement, wheel to wheel stuff.
    I remember very well James Allen and his opinion on Jenson Button, the hyping and everything, I can just imagine how he
    is on Lewis Hamilton. I admit it though, my post could come out of ITV couldn’t it. LOL. Sorry mate!!  

  10. AndyWolf said on 2nd May 2008, 21:53

    Blimey, all this hate out there…… Well I like him, in fact i like all F1 drivers, they’re lovely……. And I like ITV, I even like Max… Bernie’s got some nice points too, well, at least his wife has ;)  I’m also quite happy that West Brom got promoted……(but thats probably lost on most of you here). Come on folks, they’re just people, making a living. Could any of you make a better job of it? I very much doubt it , most of you sound like a right bunch of moaners who wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the F1 corporate image circus. Goodnight, god bless & have a merry christmas. (And, up the Wolves too!)

  11. Architrion said on 2nd May 2008, 22:11

    Dear Keith, I have to say that you are an instigator, man. Were you bored or needed some piece of action? Are you trying to beat some kind of record about number of posts per hour? Cool.

  12. Brar Soler said on 2nd May 2008, 23:03

    Imagine if Schumacher remained at Mercedes (he had a contract), and thus in Mclaren, in those Adrian Newey top times?
    They would win everything. And the universal hate.

  13. frecon said on 3rd May 2008, 0:09

    About the Hamilton/Alonso relationship: a friend of mine was in the Spanish GP, and told me that in the previous parade, both pilots were talking friendly.

    I think spanish and british media built a story where there is nothing

  14. Well said Phil B

  15. Sush said on 3rd May 2008, 2:45

    the limit, does that mean that you have a crap opinion or that you are bang on the money?

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