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. Kanyima said on 4th May 2008, 19:08

    S Hughes, I’m absolutely with you. Frecon, that line has been overused. Some people in Spain hate Hamilton because he upstaged Alonso, some hate him because, well, he’s just a fine individual, a really good guy at his job and some do hate him because he’s plain black, yes Frecon, “people hate me because I am black” is a valid line. You however wouldn’t know this unless you are black or any other race that has been discriminated against.
    Again, S Hughes put it better for you ubove so I need not repeat it. This sort of “hatred” is not limited to F1 alone. In case you follow American socio-political trends, the same situation applies to a Barack Obama in his running for the Democratic nomination to contest for the US presidency. Some people are uneasy about a blackman just making it and being on top of his game, challenging the establishment. That my friend is the reason you appear to hate Lewis Hamilton with all the lame excuses you give. You betray all this through your postings right here, my brother.

  2. didn’t Hamilton state he’d ram Alonso off the track last year?

    Can we all throw unsubstantiated rumours that we may have made up on the spot/heard from a mate in as fact into this discussion?

    Great. :/

    Well said S Hughes.

  3. Rabi said on 4th May 2008, 19:32

    S Hughes I agree that certainly some proportion of the people that are anti-Hamilton do have a underlying racism issue. It’s always been the case in the UK as well as much of Europe – in particular France, Spain, Germany and Italy. I’m not white and I’ve travelled Europe and I feel it so I’m not suprised it exists. This is the same situation of another game I love – cricket where the white teams do cry a lot when they are beaten by non-white teams, and they hardly ever give the proper credit when it’s due.

    I’m not racist, I don’t like ludicrous overexposure and as I’ve said I never hated Hamilton as a person but rather the image created by the PR/media of him. For instance I’m really suprised ITV haven’t followed him into the toilets when he goes for a poo before the race. Innocent at all times is the attitude I totally dislike which is what goes with him (from the PR/media POV not from him).

  4. frecon said on 4th May 2008, 20:04

    I’m not sure that in Spain people “hates” Lewis because of his race. I think if the same events last year happened with Alonso-Hamilton-Dennis-Mclaren, it had happened with Alonso-Vettel-Dennis-Mclaren, now we were talking about the abuse suffered by Vettel last week in Barcelona.

    As i said before, racism can cause the reaction of some people,can increase the reaction of others, but can’t not explain why thousands of people all over the world dislikes Hamilton.

  5. Kanyima said on 4th May 2008, 20:25

    Frecon, in case you haven’t noticed, Hamilton is the only black guy in F1. Your statement that Spanish people don’t hate Hamilton because of his race is ridiculous too, otherwise how can you explain the monkey make up at Montmelo complete with the banners with racist writing, monkey chants whenever he comes out of the paddock, racist videos posted on web social networks like the one where they’ve got him with a head of a monkey washing Fernando’s feet. Oh, and those postings have got loads of similar minded people’s comments condoning them. And I know you are probably going to come out with the same lame excuse, “Oh, that’s just a section of people”. Think beyond the box, Frecon.

  6. frecon said on 4th May 2008, 20:47

    Ok, maybe i’m not being able to explain my point. I’ll try again.

    People who abused in tests didn’t hate Hamilton because of his race. They hate Hamilton because they considered Lewis damaged Alonso’s interests. They chose the most offensive way to abuse Hamiltom: racist insults. Is it racism? Of course it is. But abuse happened several months after people starts hating Hamilton. For me racism in the tests or GPs is one of the consequences of the hatred, not one of the causes. I know is racism anyway, and it doesn’t matter when happened.

    But i think, if Lewis hadn’t drive in Mclaren last year, if he had drive for BMW (i.e.), probably most of the people who hates him, they wouldn’t now.

    And that’s my point to say that, even existing racism, that’s not the main factor because people hates Lewis.

  7. Cristina said on 4th May 2008, 22:41

    Kanyima, do you really think that all Spanish fans of Fernando Alonso are racist???? For me things are more simple than that. If you have a favourite driver you get a bit hungry when you think it is not treated fairly. And “some of them” reacted this way. I am not saying this is the best way of reacting, but this is clearly not racism. Racism would have been if they get angry becouse Alo was driving in a team with a black boy. And this did not happen.

    I disagree with that reaction but I also disagree with you when you say this is racism. It is obviusly not. If you ask any of the spanish funs why they do not like Hamilton they would give you many reasonable arguments based on what had happen on the races, and I am sure no one will say “becouse he is black”

  8. Rabi said on 5th May 2008, 0:06

    Can someone (preferably Spanish) clear something up please. And hopefully what I ask makes sense :)

    In regards to racism in Spain if someone was to call someone a monkey (and they happened to be black) would that be taken with racism in mind?

    And before anyone calls me an idiot and says yes it’s obvious may I remind you that’s not the case in all countries, case in hand the India-Australia tests and there is an excellent article at cricinfo.com that explains this in greater detail.

  9. Martin B – that is probably the most astute take on the events at McLaren last year I have read. Do you mind if I use that? ;)

    Regulars will know I am a huge Alonso fan, and having met ALL the current F1 drivers I must say that I think Lewis is one of the nicest of the lot. Friendly, always willing to stop & chat or sign autographs and comes accross as a down to earth, nice person. Sure he seems like he might have been ‘groomed’ in the PR arts and is a bit more polished than some of the other drivers, but is that any reason to hate him?

    I may not agree with absolutely everything he says or does (or everything Alonso says and does, or any driver in fact) but I think on the whole, he is a good bloke.

    And the ITV coverage is appalling, but that should only reflect badly on ITV, not Hamilton himself.

  10. frecon said on 5th May 2008, 7:19

    Rabi,

    Yes call someone monkey, or imitate monkeys sounds is racist insults.

    can i make another question? why do you ask this preferably to spanish people? I have heard this kind of abuse in several Champions League matches all over Europe, not just in Spain

  11. Kanyima said on 5th May 2008, 9:19

    Cristina, you will probably get more informed when you read Rabi’s question above, as well as Frecon’s response. Frecon, I’m glad that, you finally get the point. Thanks Rabi. Remember that when they say there are some racists, they don’t necessarily mean the whole country or all the fans – no one above has said that in any post here, but I may remind you that it takes a few bad oranges to create the rot of the lot.

  12. Sri said on 5th May 2008, 9:56

    Hmm… am a brown man, from India. We’ve endured a lot during the Raj, god knows what all(much worse than this…i can assure you). I do not like Lewis. Do i think he is genuine? Sorry, to me he comes across as a two-faced phoney. He tries to show that he’s chummy and all goodness and then he bites the back of his team(Monaco anyone?). It is quite thankless a job for team McLaren, isn’t it? Also me thinks he’s an airhead. Does my disapproval of some acts of Lewis or himself for that matter, make me racist in any manner? I think not. So S Hughes has to perhaps just ease a bit, me thinks. Yes i agree that some are perhaps indeed racist, but, it makes one equally worse when one generalizes.

    What i do not like about him is the way he starts off comparing himself with Senna, Prost and Schumachers’ of Grand Prix Racing. There were British Drivers who won the Grand Prix’s and Championships(Hill Snr, James Hunt, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart etc to name a few. Do i think Hamilton has reached that level yet? Nopes. Its just marketing and am sorry if it displeasures you that i’d(and i think am not the only one) not buy into a gimmick(Bernie on many occasions have confessed that Hamilton is good business). This is not to say that Hamilton is no good. He is just not that good yet to be compared with all time greats. Many have said that they have yet to see him come from back and win a race or finish on podium. Better than Schumacher, do i hear some say? Well let me see Lewis make that charge at Brazilian Grand Prix with 2 punctures or finish on Podium with only 1 gear working(Spanish GP ’95). Last i remember was that he failed to score 4 points in 3 races(mostly he had himself to thank for that).

    What i think is, that he is just a year old in to this world of F1. He should just try and get his head down and race. There’ll be a lot of interest in him. Though people may not like it, he has a lot to learn from likes of Kimi, Schumacher. He has to learn not to put his stock by what is mentioned in the press. He has to stop reading and sadly as is apparent, buying into the hype. Period!

    Also, i’d like to point out just like someone else did before me. It is not his instant success that most of us hate/dislike. For crying out loud’s sake, i thought JV was the the first rookie to be so successful. Lost championship thanks to lack of reliability in the last race. Oh, he also won 4 races in his debut year(Lewis did no more). Also, he won the championship in the following year, Lewis however will not. Yet, we all know what became of JV…

  13. Rabi said on 5th May 2008, 10:15

    Frecon I only ask because of the incident regarding those guys dressing up in monkey suits in Barcelona earlier in the year.

  14. Lady Snowcat said on 5th May 2008, 10:27

    S Hughes thinks my experience false and idealised…

    I am sorry if my personal experience at the track in the main grandstand didn’t tie in with others experiences… but it was my personal experience…

    I can only talk for what I saw in my three days at the track… and those of guys who were in different points on the track…

    Although probably more of my chums were at the first corner in stands E and F than anywhere else some were elsewhere…

    I’d love to know which Grandstand at Turn 3 your quote is from….

    There is no doubt that the general admission sections were more ardently Spanish than elsewhere… but that’s to be expected…

    Beer at 10 or 12 euros a large plastic beaker inside the track put off all the average fans and my friends, who usually pack it away, waited until outside the track where it was a lot cheaper…

    There was a lot of good natured banter with clowns on stilts and a carribean style steel band…

    Sorry that my friends and I didn’t have the horrid experience of others…

  15. S Hughes said on 5th May 2008, 11:49

    Sri, how do you know LH will not win the WDC this year? Can you see into the future? Also he never commpared himself to Senna, etc. The media do and stupid people put words into his mouth. I notice he is not as prominent in the media anymore, which is good for his racing as he will be able to concentrate on that more, but I hope it’s not because of the hate thrown at him. He has to do all the sponsorship stuff, so to hate him for that is unjust.

    I suppose if you don’t like him/hate him, that’s your prerogative and I’m sure not all hate him because he’s black. But I am convinced that if he was white, he would not be as hated in his own country as he indeed is!

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