Isn't it time we gave Lewis Hamilton more respect?
If you are looking for a sportsperson who can transcend their discipline and be a fitting representative for your values around the world, you can’t do much better than Lewis Hamilton. He is a superb ambassador, a brilliant driver, and he continues to keep fans engaged with motorsport.
So why is he still treated with such disrespect?
Let’s get some irrelevancies out of the way first. There are some unfortunate moments from Hamilton’s back catalogue which can register a cringe; the juxtaposition between his environmental reasoning for turning vegan, while also spending £16m on a private jet - a literal emissions machine; his unfortunate description of Stevenage, his home town, and its ‘slums’ while attending the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award (one that he immediately corrected) and his insensitive comments to his nephew upon discovering him wearing a dress. So he’s far from gaffe-free.
But in the scheme of his achievements, minor infractions such as these are totally meaningless. Yet at his home British Grand Prix this weekend, he was forced to field the type of unconventional questioning that only Hamilton seems to attract.
Firstly, he was asked why people were keen to question his ‘Britishness’, given his residence in Monaco and houses in the US, a bizarre, loaded question that he did well to respond to with a positive stance.
He replied: "I feel like every day is an opportunity to try and turn those who have a negative view on things. I go to all these races and lift the British flag proudly. There's no-one else in this sport that's raised it so high.
"For now maybe I've not done enough, I'll keep looking out for what else I can do. For those who do follow me, I do really appreciate their support."
A man who drove around Silverstone with a Union Jack emblazoned on his helmet, and who regularly drapes himself in the flag upon victory, had his heritage questioned on the basis of where he resides. Not only does this transparent double standard not apply to the countless other celebrities and sports stars who leave Britain for their own reasons, it doesn’t even stand up to the scrutiny of other British F1 drivers - such as Jenson Button, David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert - who all moved to Monaco and who would never be subjected to such spurious lines of inquiry.
Even his ‘Americanised’ accent was up for debate, as was his decision to travel to Los Angeles then back before arriving at Silverstone. Nico Rosberg commented that he would struggle to break the top 10 on the grid with such a commute, and this was doubled down on in the press conference. Should Lewis be ‘partying in LA’ before such an important race? Once again he remained mature, but forceful, in his response.
"I do have five world titles and they didn't come on their own,” he said.
“I prepare the best I can but I do what I want, I don't do what you think I should do or anyone else thinks I should do, and that's what has led me to five world titles."
Hamilton is, probably, the most interviewed sports star, at the top of his game, in the world. Just about every press commitment at every race, he is there, civil, well-spoken and enthusiastic about F1. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to find out more about a man who is already among the greatest drivers of all time.
But there’s a weird British trait that likes people to be successful… but not too successful, now. Remember where you are from, and don’t get ahead of yourself.
And it intensifies when it comes to Hamilton. He’s living a lifestyle no different to any other rich F1 star, but is the only one called out on it. Toto Wolff was even forced to defend him, saying: “I realised very early on that giving him the freedom of pursuing his interests, we were able to extract more performance on track.
"I have the feeling that he needs to get his mind off motor racing. He forgets about the racing side, and he can come back stronger and more energised."
Hamilton, five-time world champion and huge odds on to make it six, doesn’t need to explain himself to Wolff, so why should he explain himself to anyone else? In a weekend where cricket’s hero of the hour, Ben Stokes, has a far more chequered history than Hamilton, the coverage is striking. It’s talk of redemption, and making things right. Hamilton, in comparison, seems like he should be apologising for simply being him. If that is racially motivated or not in an overwhelmingly white sport, maybe Rio Ferdinand can be the judge.
And Hamilton does not just represent diversity of race but diversity of background. In an era where financial backing and nepotism is more prevalent than ever, his modest beginnings still serve as an inspiration for what’s possible. That is not nearly embraced enough.
So I’ll ask again - what is it about Hamilton you really don’t like?
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