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. the limit said on 3rd May 2008, 3:16

    Sush, it depends on what your opinion is doesn’t it? Its just that I can remember the lean years in F1, 2002 springs to mind, when the competition just wasn’t there.
    You knew who was going to be on pole and you knew he would win, it has to be the worst F1 season in recent memory for sure. I havn’t forgotten those times ‘unlike’ alot of others who, I have a sneaky suspicion, starting watching F1 after Hungary 2007 and know little, or nothing about the sport.
    I can remember watching Senna in 1984 come so close to winning, I can remember his first win in 1985, his first championship. My opinion may not be as ‘glorious’ as yours but atleast I have one, and atleast my memories are from first hand and not from a book or a newspaper.
    My heart bleeds for F1 and for my former nation, when I come across foul mouthed persons such as yourself, who just delights in insulting people but has no opinions himself.

  2. well I came to this one late on and I dont hate/dislike lh – the media hype yes – itv most certainly yes – but as we the fans? of F1 are really probably frustrated that we have never had the opportunity to drive never mind race an F1 car – could we really be just a bit envious of a young guy going out and doing what we would love to do??
    As for the racism side I would say it has no place in life period whether through colour or religion and should be stamped out wherever it occurs.

  3. Steve said on 3rd May 2008, 7:08

    Judging by the responses, this is a hot topic.  The funny thing is the kid hasn’t even won a championship and it doesn’t look too promising this year either.  If he doesn’t win in the next two years, he will turn into a sentimental favorite to win.  We see this all of the time in America.  We want our athletes to pay their dues and come back from adversity.

  4. Samuel said on 3rd May 2008, 9:05

    I thought that the most hated driver in Formula 1
     was Fernando Alonso, at least in the anglo-saxon world, which is prevalent in Formula 1. For sure, Hamilton is hated in Spain, and may be in Latin America but that’s not too much.

    Some long time F1 fans don’t like him very much because he is overhyped, but the average fan probably thinks he is lovely.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd May 2008, 9:09

    Samuel, I don’t think so, but if Alonso gets the kind of abuse at Silverstone that Hamilton got at Catalunya I guess we’ll know.

  6. Toncho said on 3rd May 2008, 9:34

    Is always strange to talk about likes or dislikes when you never actualy meet the guy BUT from his public image I dislike the guy. The reasons for that are 1) Arrogant, ok he is good, but act like the best driver of all times when you have win nothing is a litle bit too much. 2) Cynic, in 2007 he asked for equal treatment, in 2008 he ran to clame his first driver status. 3) Ferrari has somehow a political weight and I don’t like them for that, LH has his entourage and I realy don’t like that. Re the ALO-gate, there was no angel in the history but in my opinion the first fire came from LH after Monaco.

  7. SeanG said on 3rd May 2008, 10:18

    The author claims racism has nothing to do with it but I find that really difficult to believe. While I don’t believe its the sole factor I do believe it is a factor.Other factors include the silly way the British press gets over a British/English F1 driver. Its quite comical because they behave as if this person is some combination of Christ and Churchill.Additionally, with popularity comes dislike.

  8. frecon said on 3rd May 2008, 11:04

    I think the small details grew up my dislike about Lewis.

    A few days before the Brazilian GP, he said that ater winning the championship he would go to visit the Senna’s tomb.

    I have been seeing sports for several years, and all i can remember before a final, is sportman cooling down journalists and saying: "first we have to win this match".

    Lewis was acting like a champion several weeks before the end of the season. I’m not talking about the ridiculous situation of lose the champion like he did. I’m talking about not having humility enough to wait a month to start the celebrations.

    I can’t remember a single big issue about Hamilton which dislike me a lot. But every race was two or three small thigs which pissed me off.

  9. cooper said on 3rd May 2008, 11:38

    People pick their own truths. I for one would simply like to pick a few factors that make things more clear cut for me. Number one: Lewis is there not simply because he was pushed by McL. No! he is the real deal – he has talent and lots of it and understands how to utilize the tools set before him to his best.  afterall he beat Alonso no matter which way people want to look at it he beat him and not just that he rattled Alonso’s nerves real good. Number two: Race car drivers are selfish ******* and rightfully so, but first and foremost they are human and by fact not perfect. Number three: Jealousy! just listen to some of Mark Webber’s remarks on Lewis Hamilton 2007.  Number four: The media SUCKS big time. They – I always wonder who "they" are – will not hold back given the chance to pervert a single GOOD in man’s life. It’s a business so numbers matter to them, but we as viewers attach emotions to Lewis and the other drivers so the media business and our feelings don’t go hand in hand on that point but rather on the cashing in through the antagonism created. All in All I rather liked Alonso because he was always able to say the right things at the right time during his Renault years and that on any topic. Hamilton is a kid and a thoroughbred racer in one. I seriously believe he will win the championship this year.
    That is all that matters to me. Hamilton is there because he worked hard for the chance to get there. Anybody out there saying anything different is in fact saying  more about themselves than the issue.

  10. Sush said on 3rd May 2008, 12:42

    haha the Limit, I was agreeing with you, I just come across as a bit of a git!

    sorry if you got offended by me, it was not my intention, I meant it as you were bang on the money.

    I did giggle reading your comment though!

  11. Rabi said on 3rd May 2008, 12:53

    Going into every race I’m hoping Hamilton retires early, but that’s not because I hate the driver it’s so that James Allen and his ITV goons can shut their traps for the remaining race and talk equally and fairly about the other drivers in the race. Seriously going by ITV’s coverage you’d think Hamilton drives on his own out there!!

  12. Sush said on 3rd May 2008, 13:01

    I agree Rabi, last year I was excited watching the F1 in spain, because it wouldn’t be ITV.

    Unfortunatly they did put it on ITV, for the Brits in the bar. grrrrr

  13. Just one thing to add, really, and that to The Limit: Ayrton Senna may have been an idol but he was never idle.  ;)

  14. Lady Snowcat said on 3rd May 2008, 13:20

    Lewis and his fans didn’t have a hard time at Catalunya… a few cat calls when Lewis or Ron were on the screen but nothing too awful… and I didn’t spot any horrid banner either from the pit lane….

    Being at the end of the pits meant that Macca didn’t have a grandstand opposite them…. just a big empty space with no fan access…

    The worst point was when Lewis walked back to the grid before the start of the race with a minder walking alongside him with an umbrella blocking the crowds view of the guy, ie it was held to the side rather than above him and looked very silly…. that created a bit of an unfavourable stir…

    However at a number of times I saw a crowd of Alonso fans surrounding a lone Lewis fan, either in the grandstands or leaving the circuit and there was no obvious animosity at all… it all was fairly good humoured ….

    So we shouldn’t make too much of the idiots that turned up at testing a few months ago….

  15. M Smith said on 3rd May 2008, 13:33

    I did get sucked in by the hype that the British media had created with Hamilton, and as a result I disliked him very much last year. But now that he’s having a slightly off-colour start to the season this time round – getting a good taste of what it feels like to lose – I don’t dislike him as much anymore…Mosley is the most hated person in F1 at the moment.

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