• Danny Lee

Lewis Hamilton Hate - Why It's Time To Eject It

I’m hoping for and backing Verstappen to win this year. Keep that in mind with what you hear from this point on, this isn’t a PR campaign for Hamilton by any means but recent events have brought me to write this.

When you sit down to watch F1 these days, do you wish to see Hamilton have a few setbacks to see him properly fight for his victories? Do you hate how much he and Mercedes have dominated F1 as of late? Is Max Verstappen your new shining hope against the monotony of back to back Mercedes titles? If you said yes to any of that, that’s fine. I confess to some of these, too - but amidst the desire for closer competition I still hold Hamilton himself in the highest favour. In the heat of the 2021 battle with Verstappen I’ve seen some really depressing sentiment levelled towards Hamilton by the fans completely undeservedly, from many sides. What follows now is why I think that Lewis Hamilton was the ideal person to become the most successful motorsports athlete of all time, and why we are lucky to have him as the global figurehead of the sport.

I write this piece as both a supporter and denigrator of Lewis at times - in 2007 and 2008 when Hamilton was toppling the establishment of the sport in his first appearances, it was absolutely fantastic to witness. In those early campaigns, he was ruthless and rapid, fighting for greatness, suffering major setbacks, team drama and even horrifying, undeniable racism at times. If you’re new to F1 and you’re not aware of those incidents then I urge you to look it up as it provides so much context for why Lewis is who he is today.

To me, Hamilton seems at heart to be a somewhat shy and vulnerable person with an awful lot in common with the average bloke beneath the paparazzi photos and such, but he now has a suit of armour unlike nothing else - he can stand in front of the world and say that he is the most successful F1 athlete of all time. His transformation from a reserved character when he first joined F1, to a now expressive guy that lives confidently and without fear is proof of this galvanising fact working.

There’s no doubt that the majority of the Hamilton hate comes from a place of boredom and frustration that F1 has been ruled by Mercedes for far too long with one name at the top far too often for anyone’s liking. I understand this completely, I also plugged into this sentiment in recent years, but this isn’t just an F1 problem, nor is it a Hamilton problem - fans of any sport, be it Football or Tennis or whatever, inevitably start hoping for a usurper to rise up and topple the current holder of the throne. It’s always exciting to witness a transfer of power at the top of any sport.

Being the king of the hill means you will attract more scrutiny, that’s a given, but what reasons do some people, including fellow brits, give for their criticism or dislike of Hamilton himself?

He didn’t work his way up as a rookie

Some folks devalue Hamilton as a driver because he was placed in a competitive car from the beginning. This is true, he didn’t have to endure a stint in a slower car for a year or two like pretty much every other rookie does, and it would be a good point if not for the fact that he absolutely did it justice. Many drivers get bumped up to top teams after a year or two acclimatising to F1 and then wither under the spotlight. Hamilton being placed in a top team from the start was arguably a more brutal baptism than a rookie typically undergoes, a real sudden death scenario - succeeding would be spectacular, failure would be scarring forever. If there was a new driver introduced to F1 and was placed alongside Verstappen for his Rookie season, people would already be out digging his metaphorical grave. Imagine then, if that new Rookie was matching and at times beating Verstappen? Such a driver would be seen as heroically talented, yet this is exactly how Hamilton introduced himself to the world of F1 alongside a double world champion and it was amazing to witness. Sometimes I think this needs to be remembered when talking about Hamilton as a driver today, he proved himself from the start.

He’s always had the fastest car

Of all the things said to degrade Hamilton’s success, this is by far the most objectively valid, it’s a hard fact for much of his career. Although Lewis wasn’t in the top car between 2009 and 2013, since 2014 he has been in the best car, that’s 7 unbroken years of victory for Mercedes. At this point we know Hamilton is blazing quick, he always has been, but what Mercedes’ dominance has done is rob us of regular chances to see him really fight anyone but Bottas on the odd occasion. Everyone wants to see the champion at work, not just drive in clean air out front and this fuels the frustration. There is a part of me that wants Hamilton to switch to a midfield team so he can fight for positions consistently and although we have seen many times how Hamilton can slice through the field in a recovery drive quite easily comparative to Bottas in the same machinery, it’s not quite what we want. Mercedes’ decision to stick with Bottas for so long despite clearly not being able to match Hamilton has also taken the teeth out of F1 for years and we have all pined for them to drop in a teammate to Lewis that can spar with him, but this is not Hamilton’s fault. Thankfully 2021 has put this right with Red Bull finally squaring up to Merc.

I’ve thought to myself before that if I was Hamilton, I’d switch to a lower team to really prove that I can race and that it’s not just the car. But then I also think to myself, why would I do that just to silence my critics when I have a wonderful team that I have grown so close to? It would be a type of betrayal to leave them when they’ve done nothing wrong and I would be the first F1 driver to leave a team that I love and who clearly loves me back.

And then I remember that Lewis did once do exactly what I described - when he left 2nd place constructors McLaren for 5th place constructors Mercedes for 2013, a lot of people saw this as a bad, illogical decision. In the following year, Mercedes improved to place 2nd in the constructors championship above McLaren, before the turbo engine introduction in 2014 which finally cemented Mercedes as the new front runners.

Point being, if you enjoyed working with your team, would you leave just because a minority of people still aren’t convinced that you, a 7 time world champion, earned it? Personally, I’d tell you to do one.

He’s bringing politics into F1

Some resent Hamilton because since 2019 he has become vocal about those pesky lefty activist causes such as environmentalism, racial equality, human rights, animal rights and so on - He is accused of hypocrisy by preaching these things and simultaneously driving in F1 which itself pollutes and panders to countries that don’t fit the ideal. This new focus gave rise to a new angle of criticism - one popular vector of attack concerns Hamilton’s private jet, which he owned up until 2019 and then sold to reduce his carbon footprint.

When you have such a large global platform and following like Hamilton currently does, you can say almost anything. Of all the things he could do with that platform, giving voice to these causes is far from the worst thing he could be doing. I think many of us would try to do the same with this kind of influence - initially we’d just soak up the stardom and fame for a bit, then eventually after that novelty wears off we’d settle back down and figure out our own values. Vettel has wholeheartedly joined forces with Hamilton in the kinds of equality messages being conveyed, clearly because he too is no longer worried about what people think of him, and it’s made Seb a more likeable character to many.

If you dislike Hamilton for this reason, would you rather he say nothing and not even try to deflect this slice of the world towards more equal and sustainable ground? The argument of all or nothing is a paralysing mindset and it’s one you often see in critics' arguments, not just about this but lots of things in life in every subject. Something is better than nothing and the fact that there was a marked organised pushback against the horrendous comments on social media after the Silverstone collision with Max Verstappen goes to show that Hamilton’s efforts have actually made a difference.

Fact is, whenever people stick their neck out they will attract criticism for it - hating on him for choosing these issues out of everything he could possibly choose to say or do is pretty harsh.

He Loves Himself Too Much

Some dislike Hamilton because they see him as having an ego or that he acts a bit holier than thou. To them I say I see your point, from some angles Hamilton could come across in this way, especially if you read news about him in certain UK trash papers, and I too thought this at one point. But the more I reflected on it the more I could see that it’s not really the case. Compared to the top athletes in other sports, Hamilton keeps a fairly low profile and he’s probably one of the most respectful drivers towards his colleagues on track. I can’t remember Hamilton ever squaring up to another driver to try and humiliate them in the paddock like some of them have been known to do, I don’t recall him dressing anyone else down or attacking their character in interviews even informally. I’ve never known him to give the ol’ hand gestures out of the cockpit like you sometimes see. For the most part he appears to have one of the calmest and mature heads in the grid.

Think back to the hostile and hateful environment Hamilton sometimes found himself in during the early F1 years when he was raining on Alonso’s parade in his rookie season, and this is just what we the public could see with our own eyes. He talks a lot about feeling ostracised as a racial minority in the world of Motorsport from a young age, and although it’s hardly the same, anyone who's experienced bullying can see a slice of themselves in Hamilton’s attitude of keeping your head down and letting what you achieve speak for you until you’ve mostly silenced your opponents. If you’re a driven person and you experience hostility, you tend to raise your guard, put all your energy into your talent and focus on succeeding until your achievements become your suit of armour, your own sanctuary. This to me explains why Hamilton now, after so much victory, feels free to just be himself.

I know for a fact that if I was in his position and I had to face the kind of critical headwind that Hamilton gets, I would be a lot less restrained in my own defense. If Hamilton really had the ego that they love to label him with, we’d know about it. I can only suggest that this angle of criticism stems from just not watching enough F1 and getting to know him.

Hamilton didn’t deserve a knighthood

Now this is a really easy one to sink because it’s just flat-out unjustified, but if you’re not from the UK and are unfamiliar with knighthoods, I’ll explain. A knighthood is a ceremonial title given to British people of prominence that have given exceptional service to the United Kingdom, be it cultural, sporting, societal etc. Lewis Hamilton’s official title is Sir Lewis Hamilton thanks to being given this knighthood. Some recognisable knighthood holders include Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Elton John and Tom Jones.

So to all you non-UK viewers, imagine a British racing driver wins 7 F1 world titles and proceeds to put a British name firmly at the top of Formula 1 history books for years to come. What do you think the reaction of the British public would be to this driver receiving a knighthood and royal recognition from the British monarchy? If you guessed unanimous agreement and appreciation for giving the nation something to be proud of, you’d be wrong.

I have never seen a British sportsman bring so much success and victory to this nation and get so trashed and denigrated by a portion of his own countrymen, it just doesn’t make sense at all and it’s the homegrown hate that I will never ever see eye to eye with. The bloke is literally sticking the Union Jack on the top race after race but despite the fact that being the best in the world is what British people yearn for in other sports, somehow this just isn’t good enough for some people.

Why I wanted to make this piece

It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Hamilton is held to a far higher standard than anyone else on the grid, as is customary for the dominant competitor in any sport. If Norris or LeClerc make a huge mistake, it’s condolences and ruffling of hair all around, never mind sport, get ‘em next time. If Hamilton makes a mistake I can guarantee I’ll flick open social media and read endless ridicule and mocking, pointing comments firing out from all sides. Indeed if you look at this stuff too often it can get nasty and depressing.

At the time of recording the last race I watched was the Hungarian grand prix, where all sorts of crazy stuff happened, but like so many times before Hamilton found himself with the task of getting as high up the order as possible from the back end of the grid following a unlucky strategy call. I’ve witnessed this many times, where Lewis manages to salvage a podium or even a win from unrealistic circumstances by setting consistently blazing pace. For other drivers, such a recovery drive would be an automatic Driver of the Day vote straight away, but for Hamilton it seems to be a typical Sunday.

During the post race interviews at Hungary 2021 his name was met with a blanket of boos and whistles from the crowd as he stood visibility dazed, exhausted and close to passing out. As I watched Lewis’s face turn drearily to the hostile crowd whilst he listened to the broadcasters questions it just seemed really shameful, especially sandwiched between the huge cheers for Ocon’s first win and Vettel’s surprise podium. At that point, it was more of a jeering mob than a crowd. For context, in the race previous to this Hamilton and Verstappen collided at Silverstone igniting a backlash against Hamilton which no doubt was the foundation of much of the crowd’s anger. That incident highlights which way the wind is currently blowing amongst public sentiment and I feel like this is another classic case of not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

When Hamilton eventually is no longer a dominant force in F1, just like Vettel before him and Schumacher before him, the sharper edges of public opinion will go away and he’ll be remember fondly for his unparalleled success in F1 and his barnstorming entrance to the sport, missing out on the championship in his rookie year by a single point. For the time being, Hamilton’s act is so polished that there are no obvious cracks or gaps for the highly pressured atmosphere of criticism to get in, so even the slightest mis-step is blown out of proportion and people will take almost anything if it helps them justify chucking a hateful comment under a post or news article.

It’s reasonable to hate how F1 has been a foregone conclusion for so long. It’s reasonable to hate how it’s always the same name on top year after year until now. I have also been hoping for a fresh challenge for a long time and now we finally have it, but in the process of rooting for Verstappen this year I will know full well that Hamilton has carried the global motorsports crown with a high level of dignity. Maybe Lewis is just too clean-cut and perfect for some, but after he’s moved on from F1 and a less restrained F1 champ takes his place, they might just miss him.

That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, maybe I’m mischaracterising some folks reasons for disliking Lewis Hamilton but in any case I hope one day we see an end to the hate.

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