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. Michael Counsell said on 3rd May 2008, 13:34

    Most people who "hate" Hamilton are probably are not describing their emotions very well and are misplacing them.

  2. De said on 3rd May 2008, 14:01

    Wow 70+ comments already! Rabi, what if ITV talked about your favorite driver/team all of the time? You’d be hoping them to retire early too? If you dislike LH, just admit it!

    Hamilton is not my favorite driver/I do not like him, but I think all this hatred toward him is unjustified. Hamilton is a F1 racer, as long as he don’t cheat on the track like Schumacher did, for me he can do almost anything, I even mean he can use the word "cool" till he’s 80, or whatever… it won’t disturb me a bit.

    Of course he has his faults, that why I can not like him, that does not help, but I believe the real reason why he’s most hated, is simply because he’s doing so well that he becomes a threat to Kimi and Alonso, or Ferrari, sure that’s can’t not be a reason normal fans to dislike Hamilton, but I see there are too many fan boys of those out there. 

  3. N Smith said on 3rd May 2008, 14:11

    I’ve been watching F1 for 14 years now, and I personally like Lewis Hamilton a lot.  I’m a big fan of any driver who is fast and exciting to watch on the track.

    My solution to the problem of Hamilton Saturation is simply not to bother watching the pre-race build up and not to read any tabloids or biographies. 

    The only part of F1 I’m interested in is racing.

  4. Robert McKay said on 3rd May 2008, 14:17

    Lots of comments, lots of very weak reasons given for disliking Hamilton (and of course some sane comments in there too :-D).

    People can think what they want, they are entitled to do so. But what I really think it comes down to is that people are displacing their hatred for ITV’s smarmy, Hamilton-centric 2007 coverage (2008 is better – not perfect, but better) onto Hamilton himself. Either that, or they are jealous that a rookie came in and nearly won the WDC in his first season when even the other modern greats like Schumacher and Alonso served some apprenticeship in tail-end/midfield teams. I don’t mean jealous of Hamilton, but jealous on behalf of the other more experience drivers who were there first but had to watch some kid stealing "their" good results.

    I bet if Hamilton had come in, had a good season in a mediocre team and then did what he did at Mclaren last year in his 2nd season we’d have heard a lot less "hatred" for him.

  5. Rabi: Going into every race I’m hoping Hamilton retires early, ..[rant].. Seriously going by ITV’s coverage you’d think Hamilton drives on his own out there!!You seriously believe that? ITV’s coverage isnt great (asides from Brundle) but really? really? I wonder if Im actually watching the same programme as some of you from some of the comments. Get a grip and a little perspective please. 

  6. Martin B said on 3rd May 2008, 14:24

    I don’t like Hamilton. I think he is two-faced and calculating with a smooth, PR-trained facade. He is like the smoothie son of a Mafia don. And I blame Ron Dennis.

    When Ron started last season with the World Champion and a rookie, I think he anticipated the Alonso/Hamilton pair would be like Schumacher/Barrichello, and would prove to be just as successful.

    Then Hamilton turned out to be unexpectedly, blindingly, fast. So Ron Dennis got a new dream. His protege would become the first rookie in the history of F1 to be champion. And Ron Dennis whispered his dream in Hamilton’s ear and led him to believe he would be the anointed one.

    And Hamilton bought the ********, and became puffed up and proud and grasping and arrogant, all behind that smooth PR facade, of course.

    Meanwhile Alonso, who was sold the old Alonso/Hamilton dream, saw his boss turn away from him and his teammate become his rival, and realised he would have to fight a bitter fight to get what he believed to be rightfully his. And it all fell apart.

    What Ron should have done was what he has done now. Firmly declare a No 1 driver, Alonso, and explain to Hamilton that, fast as he was, he was getting a lot of input from Alonso and the team and he should be a good team player in his first season, learn the ropes, make friends, build up a personal following, and the future would belong to him.

  7. Kanyima said on 3rd May 2008, 15:47

    Lewis Hamilton should not change his personality to court fan support. When things are going right, I don’t see anything wrong with smiling and waxing lyrical? On the contrary, when things go wrong, why not bare his teeth as indeed he did in Monaco and tell it as it is? Methinks that’s absolutely a normal thing to do. People like Kimi don’t smile or talk to the press alot and they are not less liked because of that. Every F1 driver has his unique personality and people should just accept it. The most important thing is if they get out there and do the job and entertain us.

    I live and work in Spain and I can tell you there’s no way I can see the majority of Spanish F1 fans never hating Lewis for what they saw as their star’s missing out on the championship trophy. In case you didn’t know, F1 here is called "Alonso". That should tell you where their loyalty lies.

    If you find the "fawning, sycophantic tripe written about Hamilton", hard to take, you should be thankful you don’t live in Spain. I know this may be a bit of an exegeration but there’s always a risk that if Alonso crashes or goes out of a race for a particular reason, they might switch off the whole thing altogether.

    Finally, please do not undermine the effect of racist acts if you have never been at the receiving end of such. It is all very easy to say "it is not racist", "they are not racist" etc but until you fill the victim’s shoes, you will probably never know how it feels.

  8. Rabi said on 3rd May 2008, 17:17

    De:
    Wow 70+ comments already! Rabi, what if ITV talked about your favorite driver/team all of the time? You’d be hoping them to retire early too? If you dislike LH, just admit it!

    I said I don’t hate Hamilton, and yeah I always want my team to do well but even I get sick of it when the commentators start spewing crap about how great they are when they aren’t even 1/10th of what the commentators claim for them to be. I hate the hype and overpromoting of certain drivers/teams. Why? Because in it’s midst there are teams and drivers who deserve media attention that don’t get it just because someone is running a biased coverage. Fine for the average joe blog and sickening to the purist – it’s the same in ALL sports.

    matthew: You are watching the same coverage as us, but perhaps you have the ITV sound off and Radio 5 Live on, in which case I envy you for that. It is plain as day that the ITV coverage is hugely biased – ok we’re in England and I can understand the promoting of British teams and drivers, but to harp on and on and on and on and on and on and on …… and on about a single driver ignoring the plights of Coulthard, Hamilton and Button is just pathetic. What I am sick of which I’ve stated enough times in here is the 24/7 broadcasting of how Hamilton is the saviour of motorracing. Yes F1 needs a saviour and I’ll tell you now it’s not Hamilton, it’s whatever uncorrupted prick that replaces Mad Max they are the only ones that could be the saviour of F1.

    Martin B: I reckon that your theory of what could have happened last year at McLaren is pretty spot on and the two spoiled brats just threw their toys out of their own prams, and at Hungary they threw the toys out of one another’s prams meaning the situation had already spiralled out of Ron’s control. Keith did say there was a middle ground where the truth lies and I reckon your pretty close to it.

  9. Shahriar Ahsan said on 3rd May 2008, 18:46

    Well… to be honest i dont DISLIKE him but i certainly DO NOT LIKE the guy… yes… the guy can drive… awrite… but so can Robert Kubica… I say put this guy in a Ferrari or Mclaren and he wud out-perform Hamilton. Hamilton got the focus because of him being a “Good Rokkie” + because of him being in a “Top” car. Media has somewhat exaggerated the matter. 

  10. De said on 3rd May 2008, 19:02

    Rabi: OK. My point is that, because of some people’s personal dislike of Hamilton at first place, they must find ITV’s bias extra hard to take.

    I admit I only see ITV coverage once or twice through live stream. But still, it’s hard for me to believe that a person who is objective towards Hamilton, will claim that he is not even 1/10th of what the commentators claim to be, it couldn’t be. 
    German TV has biased coverage towards german drivers, spainish TV has biased coverage towards spainish drivers/Alonso. How comes I hear no one want those drivers to retire early, but Hamilton? Because there are much more purists in the UK?  Sorry I’m just not convinced. I believe that people who hate the biased coverage so much simply because they feel the show was stolen form their favorites. It’s not like ITV was showing nothing but Hamilton’s car, other teams and drivers deserve more media attention because their fans care much about it.  (BTW I’m interested, who’s your favorite?)      

  11. Astur said on 3rd May 2008, 20:24

    Hamilton + Mclaren = cheaters

  12. Jolene said on 3rd May 2008, 20:39

    What is it about us humans that we have to trample on those who are successful? Most of the F1 drivers have acted unsporting at some point in their career yet we hardly hear about it. We only hear on and on about the behaviour of the very successful ones. Schumi is a perfect example, till today he is mentioned coz some still refuse to acknowledge him for the dominant driver he was and the same will go for Hamilton ( not that he is anywhere near Schumi’s greatness ). The guy is young and will make mistakes,let him be. At least he is more exciting than Kimi ( I switch off the tv when it comes to the interviews coz he has been winning and is soooooooooo boring ). I am just so grateful that we dont have to listen to the commentators droning on about Jenson Button. At least Hamilton has talent.

  13. Robert McKay said on 3rd May 2008, 21:15

    “Hamilton + Mclaren = cheaters”

    It’s stuff like this that frustrates me so…

  14. Kanyima said on 4th May 2008, 0:20

    Robert McKay, there’s no need to get frustrated. Astur can’t hide the fact that he’s from Asturias, the birth place of Spain’s F1 favourite son, Fernando. I live in Spain and hear this every single day. As I mentioned earlier, F1 here in Spain is called Alonso. You hear people asking, “What time is Alonso?”, “Have you watched Alonso”. Most of them are not F1 fans but just fans for the one and only “piloto” in the whole race. Therefore, save your frustration for something more worthwhile, Robert.

  15. Kanyima said on 4th May 2008, 0:27

    Rabi, you don’t need to please anyone by telling us you don’t hate Hamilton. Your postings smack something totally different, my friend. I think they are a little strong on the language used to describe someone you don’t hate.

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