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. S Hughes said on 5th May 2008, 11:54

    Lady Snowcat, the ITV guy was near the “posh” seats (see my post above) and he was horrified by the behaviour there. There’s just no excuse for it.

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th May 2008, 12:09

    There’s no way I can respond to all these comments although I assure you I have read them all! I thought Sri’s comment #117 was quite telling:

    let me see Lewis make that charge at Brazilian Grand Prix with 2 punctures

    I’m guessing you’re talking about the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2006, when Schumacher started 10th, got up to fifth, fell down to 20th with a puncture, and rose back to finish fourth. (I counted one puncture by the way, not two).

    In last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix Hamilton fell to 18th at the start and raced back up to seventh. Yes, he didn’t make up as many places, but unlike Schumacher he didn’t have a car that was substantially faster than everyone else’s. Schumacher’s fastest lap was 0.8s faster than anyone else’s; the McLarens were no faster than the Ferraris in 2007.

    Hamilton has done some excellent driving, and some people choose to minimalise it because they don’t like him. That doesn’t make him different to any other driver of course.

    But here’s the point: you asked this question:

    Better than Schumacher, do i hear some say?

    In all honesty, I don’t think I can ever remember hearing anyone describe him as being better than Schumacher. Certainly I never have myself.

    This makes me think that those who don’t like Hamilton exaggerate how big a role the media plays in hyping him so they can use it as an excuse to hate him more.

  3. Sri said on 5th May 2008, 12:17

    S Hughes, you may be right about him being hated in his own country. Not my laundry mate.

    About being unjust to him. Am sorry, he indeed said a few things he shouldn’t have. About how he’d like the world champions trophy, visiting Senna’s grave(which the pompous so and so could still have had). We all do. As a consequence we are liked/disliked by people around us. What is there to not understand?

    I do not hate/dislike him for doing some sponsorship related work(am pretty sure 99% of the world is sane and they don’t as well). For all i know, i still am a huge fan of Michael and for the record he was the highest paid sports-person(should i add ever???).

    There’s a world of difference between Schumi/Kimster and Hamilton. Schu for instance donated 10 million of his own money for Tsunami relief in Asia(in ’06 and does a heck of a lot more). This only became public, when one of his friends informed media of the same, couple of months later. For all that he hated, he still does so many promo’s for road safety and others for which he does not charge even a penny. Do you see Michael talking about anything? Perhaps some people wonder why this chappie mouths off so much, without accomplishing much.

    Just my $.002

  4. Sri said on 5th May 2008, 12:23

    one edit… i meant to say.. “for all that he’s hated..”

    my bad…

  5. Lady Snowcat said on 5th May 2008, 12:45

    Hi S Hughes…

    I wasn’t saying that there wasn’t a bit of cat calling but it was absolutely nothing to being at the first corner at Monza when Alonso came to grief in 2006…

    And sitting in amongst the expensive seats I had no worries about the crowd reactions at all for the various Lewis fans that were sprinkled in the seats around me, often accompanied by a fan of another hue…

    There were a large number of Ferrari fans as well as those supporting Alonso…

    I think that the ITV guys were playing it up for the home audience…

    I was very impressed by the security guys who wouldn’t let people stand in the walkway at the front of the stand as that blocked our view… they were firm but fair and probably the best organised I have come across… and I think they were there to react in case any real trouble…

    So from personal experience, rather than hearsay, I can say that apart from a small amount of partisan behaviour of an incomparably lower level than at an average football match it was fine…and the crowd really was very good natured…

    I am intrigued about the ITV comment about Lewis in the pitlane on Friday as with the Macca garage being opposite a blank area Lewis wasn’t really viewable from the grandstand except on the big screen ….

    I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend attendance at Catalunya next year or at Valencia on the basis of my experiences… even if you are a Lewis fan…

    I was, of course, extremely happy as I support the Kimster….

  6. Sri said on 5th May 2008, 13:07

    Keith… you’re right about the puncture bit… another slow-down was something related to fuel pump. My bad.

    Hmm, McLaren did win a few races(8 to be precise in ’06) and they ought to be good, in order to achieve that. Now, we all know Michael is the one and the only guy who did a race on 4 stops and make it work. So i would not shy away from saying, that he perhaps was there making the difference more than the car itself. Do you not think it to be possible after all those years of winning in dogmatic Ferrari’s(96-98)and underpowered Benetton’s(92-94)?

    No, there was no criticism of yours or your work as far as i remember. Read it again. Why yes there are people who proclaim him to be Messiah, Tiger Woods of F1 blah blah and yes “greatest ever”. Just google it, there’ll be a lot to read.

    About not liking Hamilton for getting all that much more coverage, i did write to F1racing, to remind them that Kimi was champ(in December, when they had Lewis on cover) and at other times reminding that there were other drivers. However, hating Lewis for that would be stupid, me thinks. I hold F1Racing fully responsible for that(ITV for their broadcasts).

  7. Cristina said on 5th May 2008, 22:46

    One question, is it true that Hamilton said that he garantee podium for the next races till the end of the Championship??? That is what I heard in Spain

  8. Melanie said on 6th May 2008, 4:31

    I think the like and dislike for Lewis Hamilton is more balanced then it sometimes seems. For all the people that dislike Lewis there are just as many that like him, it all depends on where you look.

    But if I would have to guess about the reasons that some people don’t like Lewis, I would have to go for the Media, Personality type and his fans.

    Because we are on the internet the whole day we interact with different people and everyone wants to prove their point and at the same time convince everyone that their convictions are right. The problem is that many fans often go to far or tries to discredit others to make their statements more valid, or at times overvalue or overestimate their favourites. Which is exactly what often happens in the case of Lewis and Alonso, it is like a bad cycle. Someone makes a statement, and others has to agree and disprove it, and so it goes on and on. Lewis obviously has talent but to proclaim he is at the same level or even greater then some of the best throughout the years, is a bit premature. He still has a long career ahead of him where many things can happen. This is also properly just placing extra expectation on him which is not necessary so early in his career. You must also expect that if you do have the “foresight” to make predictions such as these you will come under fire if it doesn’t materialize, just like you will properly be smug in the end if it does materialize.

    The problem with the media is that some reporters will rather publish their opinions or the popular opinion then just sticking to the facts. This just leads to extra controversy among the internet dwellers (which is exactly what they want). I also get the ITV feed, and I have often wondered, does the other countries/TV stations pay ITV for the feed or is it for free? If other countries has to pay for it then I believe ITV has a responsibility to produce a program that extends more towards international needs. However, if other countries receives the feed for free then ITV properly has no obligation to provide something more suitable for international viewers. I will say that although ITV’s nationalistic undertones can at times get out of of hand, I don’t believe their coverage is that bad. (I have heard and seen worse.)

    It seems (to me at least) that Lewis has a very “me, me, me” type of personality, which is properly useful when you are a racing driver. If you want a good example of opposite personalities at display you just have to watch the post race presentation at Barcelona. When Kimi speaks his first sentences are about Heikki, and about his concern for Heikki also when he speaks he doesn’t refer to himself he usually uses “we”, always implying his whole racing team. On the other hand Lewis doesn’t immediately comment about Heikki, and when he does he almost immediately reminds everyone of his own accident. Personally I don’t have a problem with it (I have many friends exactly like this), some people just like to talk about themselves and are more comfortable doing this. Many of us properly knows someone like this. And like all different personality types some people will find it acceptable and likeable and others will find it selfish or unlikeable. People just respond and click differently with different personalities.

    I personally feel very neutral towards Hamilton, I first have to wait and see before I make a judgement about him, I will not be influenced by the media or the fans. But what I cant understand is why are some people giving him this much attention, if they don’t like him? If you don’t like him don’t read news about him, articles about him, threads about him and don’t comment about this all the time, in other words just ignore him.

    ——

    As a side note the fact that Lewis isn’t liked by many British people or his own nation, is not such an uncommon phenomenon. It might be that many of our own socieceties with the help of media exposure are in themselves creating a “hate” culture for successful individuals. They build the individuals then systematically take them apart again. Interestingly if you look at Alonso for example the exact opposite is true, he is much more appreciated almost to a hero status because of his success, he is viewed with national pride. While for instance Kimi is almost in the same boat as Hamilton, where many Finns have commented that Kimi is much more appreciated and liked internationally by for example the Italians then in Finland.

  9. Martin B said on 7th May 2008, 0:08

    @114 Pink Peril: Sure, go ahead.

    I think it’s noteworthy that the two posters who have actually met Hamilton, S Hughes and Pink Peril, both report that he seems to be a genuine and friendly guy. More reports like this and I am prepared to change my opinion that he’s two-faced.

    But nothing will change the fact that he’s a disappointment. He seemed so promising the first few races of last year — a genuine star in the making. A hot young racer who would keep the established stars on their toes. No more Schumi *yawn* inevitable victories. Now they would have to fight to be first.

    But guys in his position are supposed to do it the old-fashioned way; with guts and with heart and the energy of youth allied to a blazing natural talent. Somewhere along the line an element of manipulation and calculation and skewing of the odds seems to have crept in, and his star is tarnished now. Maybe I’m wrong, but I really think Ron Dennis tried to influence things in an underhand manner, and Hamilton colluded in it.

    For me, Hamilton has a lot to prove; more than the fact that he is a quick driver.

  10. RunningMule said on 14th May 2008, 20:25

    Obviously, people who hate Hamilton are losers in life… only winners love winners… :)

  11. qazuhb said on 15th May 2008, 12:09

    How ironic… I’ve been an Argentinian fan starting from the Fittippaldi’s era, and I support Hamilton, and hate his rivals JUST FOR THE FACT I CAN’T STAND the local TV commentators (Fernando Tornello and “Tano” Fazzini) praising Alonso and Ferrari, everything Fernando does (including hitting the wall under Mt.Fuji’s rain, etc.) is RIGHT, you can hear them speculate if “el morenito” (Lewis) will make it to Q3 at EVERY qualy session, and so on. Ferrari are absolute geniuses, McLaren are just plain fools, Ron Dennis doesn’t have a clue… you know, the flip side of what appears to be happening in Britain. So I “have no choice” but to be a Lewis fan (but I acknowledge that nor him -neither Alonso- are anywhere near Ayrton or Gilles, for instance).

  12. SBH said on 16th May 2008, 17:20

    I no longer watch F1. The reason? Lewis Hamilton. He must be one of the most irrating people around. I don’t believe for one minute that he is as “nice” as he, and the press, would have us believe.

    I never liked Michael Schumacher but I never felt the need to stop watching F1 because of him.

  13. Kanyima said on 17th May 2008, 9:08

    SBH, what are you doing on F1 Fanatic then? Surely if you have given up watching F1 you shouldn’t be trying to follow it any where else, otherwise you are going to bump into LEwis Hamilton. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose?

  14. David Watkins said on 18th May 2008, 19:58

    The misinformation and outright slander of Hamilton in the Spanish “press” (especially MARCA) is a continuing disgrace. Every story about Hamilton is deluded with profane commentary (much of it extremely racist)

    After the Malaysian GP LH was asked how he was feeling during the muffed pitstop. Lewis said “I could do with a beer”. This was translated by MARCA as “I could have done it with a beer” thus creating a totally false insinuation.

    MARCA also had a go at Ed Gorman who had called Alonso a “miserable Iberian” (in an end of season review) The tone of the sentence was sympathetic to Alonso but unfortunately the Spanish word “miserable” translates into English as “despicable” or “disgraceful”. So MARCA, quite deliberately, ignored its true meaning and published an attack on EG which illicited a predictable reaction. Marca and its readers are obsessed with the British press for some reason and the paper skilfully exploits the chips on both shoulders of the average Spanish F1 fan that reads the paper.

    I think I’m gonna start an official Marca watch. Their lies are appalling.

  15. Peter Moore said on 26th May 2008, 18:44

    I’m tired of the ITV sycophants who praise this youngster throughout their coverage of qualifying/race day.

    He’s not your bog standard ‘rookie’. He’s very privileged in that McLaren have been funding him on £1 million a year for the 10 years leading up to his F1 introduction last year.

    Tired of seeing his father or younger brother’s face flashed across my tv all the time. We’ve all got dads and brother ffs!

    Put him in a Force India – Ferrari and see how great he is then!

    He has to have a few seasons under his belt before we start comparing him with the likes of the past masters. Cut the Senna crap, please! Yellow helmet and all that!

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