Lewis Hamilton; superstar & antidote to boredom
One of the problems about working in or following Formula One for a long time is that you lose a sense of perspective. It becomes hard to see the wood for the trees, and taking a genuinely impartial, objective view becomes pretty well impossible. We all develop our likes and our dislikes, have our favourite drivers, our best memories, the teams we follow and those we don’t care for. It’s human nature, I suppose, and it can affect anyone; whether someone like myself with a commercial background in the sport, or team bosses, engineers, media and, yes, even fans.
I was thinking about this the other day because I opened up my laptop and came across a photograph of Lewis Hamilton arriving at an airport hand in hand with his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger. Lewis has always been photogenic, and Nicole isn’t exactly unkind on the eye, but it struck me how much I have missed the entire point about Lewis; that not only is he one of the very greatest drivers of the modern era but that he has transcended Formula One to achieve a level of global celebrity that has not been seen in this sport previously. He has also, it seems, reached legions of newer, younger fans.
Maybe I am late to the party in fully recognising this fact, but the recent report which stated that Lewis was Formula One’s most marketable driver helped me along the way. And I must confess I needed something to make me reappraise him, because I am not a traditional Lewis fan.
I have always appreciated, admired and at times been mesmerised by his sheer speed, notably in the lower formulae and especially when he burst upon the Formula One scene at McLaren. But I haven’t cared much for the other baggage; the public falling out with his father, the appointment of a ‘celebrity’ management company, and the on-off stories about personal relationships. I also admit to finding whether we will have ‘positive-Lewis’ or ‘moody-Lewis’ turn up each weekend rather frustrating. Come on, I would say, why the long face when you have the world at your feet?
All this is without going into the details of Lewis’s dalliance with the music industry, his rapper friends and monosyllabic interviews with professional broadcasters who are just trying to do their job.
Looking at that photograph the other day, I realised that these views are exceptionally unimportant because frankly, as a 52 year old who has worked in motor racing all his life, the fact that I ‘don’t get’ some aspect of the Hamilton story is my own problem. His talent, his appeal and his personality belong to today, right now, and his legions of fans buy into that. He is very much a sports star of the 21st century and, frankly, I am not his audience.
Lewis is not only a superlative racing driver and, let’s face it, clearly a bit quicker than team mate Nico Rosberg when the Mercedes chips are down, but he is also a league ahead of everyone in revealing a genuinely interesting off-track persona. At a time when everyone bemoans the age of the pro-racing driver with his perfectly articulated soundbites, sponsor mentions and sanitised lifestyle, Lewis is providing the antidote to such boredom.
In Monaco we saw him utterly furious with Rosberg over that qualifying incident. In true Lewis style he wore his heart on his sleeve, and made it clear what he thought. I didn’t like what I saw. But it certainly made for great television, gave the sports writers acres of content and has helped to ensure that in a season dominated by one team, the duel between the two Mercedes drivers will be as visceral as any we have witnessed during Formula One’s illustrious past…
He may be a ‘marmite’ personality but, like him or not, Lewis Hamilton is fantastic for Formula One, and a great news story for a sport which has always thrived on speed combined with passion, personalities, glamour and celebrity. He has it all.
During an interview with Sky Sports earlier this season, I said that I fancied Nico Rosberg could win the Championship simply because he would prove to be more consistent and less emotional than Lewis. But, again, that was me missing the point about Lewis, because it is precisely the raw emotion that he feels which drives him on, and will probably prove to be decisive in 2014. If anything it’s Nico who needs to dig deeper and feel angrier to get even with his team mate.
Canada this weekend will see their battle rejoined, and although Lewis has tweeted that he and Nico have chatted and ‘we’re cool, still friends, #noproblem’, we all know that when he takes to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve he will attack the weekend with renewed energy after the disappointment of Monaco. Emotions and all, it will be fascinating.