Does Lewis Hamilton’s image overshadow his talent for the British?
Lewis Hamilton is on his way to clinching the second title of his career this season. His team, Mercedes AMG Petronas has been dominant for most of this season and Hamilton has won 10 races. Hamilton is on the verge of being listed amongst a handful of British drivers who have managed to clinch the world title twice, namely Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and Graham Hill.
Even the great Nigel Mansell missed out on the opportunity and has only one title to his name. This brings to question why Hamilton does not enjoy the same popularity amongst British people as some the gentlemen listed above do. Mansell and Clark were darlings of the British Formula 1 fans. They were looked upon as warriors who risked their lives in these relentless machines and were a symbol of pride for United Kingdom. So why is Lewis Hamilton not given the same kind of hero status?
Formula 1 originated in Great Britain and Silverstone was one of the first tracks to host a race back in the 50’s, many claim it to be the home of Formula 1. Despite it’s rich history, there are only 3 drivers of British origin on the track today - Lewis Hamilton (born in Stevenage), Jenson Button (born in Somerset) and Max Chilton (born in Reigate, Surrey). With Button’s and Chilton’s Team’s (Marussia F1) indecisive future, British Fans have one driver who has outperformed the rest of the grid and is their only hope for British glory in F1 in the future.
The reason why Hamilton is not counted among the greats
I am not suggesting that Hamilton has a dearth of fans in Britain. The reception he recieved in Silverstone this year was evident of his ever growing popularity and he has managed to be a track favourite in many other parts of the world, but it’s been a tricky ride. The problem is two-fold:
- The way F1 is perceived by the media and world today – It is a much more complex world that is dominated with money and technology at its helm. It’s no longer about the risk and will to put lives at stake and win, or about seasoned rivalries.
- The way media and the world perceives Hamilton, despite his abundant talent and ability he is always in the news for his lifestyle choices, whether it’s his expensive cars or jets, the bizarre jewellery he likes to sport in conferences or his pop-star friends and girlfriend.
To simply put it, he does not have the image the traditional British driver had – that of a “gentleman”. Take for example Damon Hill who lived up to the family name, being the heir of Graham Hill who joined the sport at a relatively late age, but still managed to be successful. Hill himself confirms Hamilton’s talent by accepting that he does not share Hamilton’s natural speed, and ability and the fact that he has matured as a driver.
Stirling Moss, one of the greatest British drivers never to have won a Championship stated “He can be more of a pop idol than he is a racing driver, But he is bloody quick – we cannot take that away from him. He’s gone off to America more, I think that’s why he’s not so well loved.”
His talent rivals the legends
So, returning to the original question – Why does the media and public refuse Lewis Hamilton a place in the pantheon of the greats of F1?
British people are known for a lot of things – mannerisms, etiquette, garden parties and elegantly designed cars to name a few. A Ford Mustang probably won’t hold as much importance for a British folk as an E-type Jaguar. This maybe one of the reasons for Hamilton’s popularity issues.
But the part they are missing over here is that despite the bling, the tattoo’s or the crazy hats, he’s still the same guy from Stevenage who races hard and is always himself. Hamilton’s tastes may not always sit perfectly with the traditional motor racing community. People may have a problem when he showed up on Austin’s press conference with a gold pendant, but he wears the Union Jack proudly on his hat, his tees and his shoulders.
The British people ought to realise that no matter how much we argue about who’s great and who’s not, Lewis is an incredibly successful driver and he has in his sights all the records that F1 drivers have set all these years.
If Hamilton wins this Sunday and clinches his second world title, it should assure the British fans about his strong future ahead in F1, with a capable team. It should also provide hope for many more years of dominance and they should embrace and cherish this victory for him, with him.