Lewis Hamilton has capped off a sensational year by claiming the BBC’s famous Sports Personality of the Year award. However, despite his impeccable driving in claiming a seventh F1 Championship, not everyone is a fan of the 35-year-old from Stevenage. We take a look at some of the common complaints against the ace driver, and ask whether Hamilton will ever be able to silence the critics.
It’s the Car, Stupid!
When attempting to diminish Hamilton’s achievements in Formula One, his detractors will regularly point to the fact that his Mercedes car out-performs the field by some distance. There is no doubt that the Mercedes team have dominated the sport in recent years, winning seven consecutive World Constructors’ Championships. Fans of Lewis will offer the retort that he has similarly dominated his team-mates Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas over this period, with the exception of the 2016 season when Rosberg claimed the Driver’s Championship over the Brit by 5 points. Even in that season, Hamilton won more Grand Prix (ten) than his team-mate, who claimed nine victories. In 2020 Hamilton won by an eye-catching 124 points over Bottas, the Finn claiming just two Grand Prix victories versus the 11 won by Lewis.
There was an interesting development towards the end of the season, when young George Russell stepped in to drive for Hamilton when the latter was diagnosed with Covid 19. Russell performed more than creditably, looking certain to win until an uncharacteristic mistake by the Mercedes pit crew led to him slipping down the order. Conspiracy theorists had a field day with that one, although rational observers concede that it was an unfortunate error on Mercedes’ part rather than a plot to retain Hamilton’s mystique as top driver. It would certainly be interesting to see Russell competing against Hamilton in a Mercedes, although that is not going to happen next year as Bottas has been confirmed as the number two driver. Were Hamilton to regularly beat a more accomplished team-mate it would certainly give the critics less ammunition, but we may have to wait to see that happen, if indeed it ever does.
The Critics Case Against Lewis
Click through to the Comments section of any Daily Mail article about Lewis Hamilton, and you will see a tidal wave of criticism mixed in with outright abuse. One of the sticks often used to beat the Englishman is the fact that he lives as a ‘tax exile’ in Monaco. There were also questions raised about his purchase of a private jet in 2017 where he appeared to avoid paying taxes by making the purchase via the Isle of Man. This was done on the recommendation of Hamilton’s financial advisors and lawyers, and there is no suggestion that what he did was illegal, although it did fuel the fires of the anti-Lewis brigade. And while he may be (legally) avoiding paying UK taxes by living in Monaco, he is by no means the first or only F1 driver to do so. The list of drivers living outside the UK in so-called tax havens includes names like Fernando Alonso, Damon Hill, Sebastian Vettel, Jensen Button, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and many more, but it doesn’t seem like any of these had to face the same levels of approbation for doing so.
One thing guaranteed to grind the gears of your average Mail reader is ‘wokeness’, something of which Lewis is regularly accused. Hamilton is the first – and only – black driver in the history of the sport, something which he is keenly aware of. The Englishman is happy to use his prominence to highlight the fight against racism, and led (most of) his fellow-drivers in taking the knee during the season which has just finished. The Black Lives Matter organization has attracted some controversy – we won’t get into that thorny subject here – but surely it is commendable that Lewis is willing to attract criticism while making public his support of anti-racist causes. Not to the critics though, as his every public appearance seems to attract brickbats and insults from those who decry him as being ‘preachy’ and overly concerned with his social media profile. It’s difficult to see how Hamilton will ever manage to shake off the ‘woke’ tag, but it doesn’t seem like the criticism will stop him from acting upon his beliefs.
Silencing the Doubters
So, will Lewis Hamilton ever be fully embraced by the Great British public? The public vote which awarded him his second Sports Personality of the Year trophy this month suggests that the driver does enjoy considerable support out there. Perhaps it is simply that his critics make more noise than the silent majority which admires Hamilton and respects his achievements as a racing driver. Hamilton will attempt to win an eight F1 championship, (he is a strong
2/5 favourite to do so at time of writing), which would break the record of seven he currently shares with the legendary Michael Schumacher. Would another title silence the doubters? Probably not, but we can certainly hope that when the time comes for him to step away from the sport, the public will unite in acclaiming him as one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time.