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Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Still I surprise
The most topical driver of the past eight years, Lewis Hamilton, has polarised Formula One opinions worldwide. I would even say quite confidently that no other driver has evoked more primal feelings from racing fans in the past decade than the self-styled No.44 HAM.
Many times the debates among ‘serious’ Formula One fans about Lewis Hamilton quickly evoke a rhetoric and emotions of hatred, love, pure adoration, veiled and not-so-veiled racism, unwavering blinkered support, immovable blind resentment, a total dismissing of his massive accomplishments, a complete amplification of the very same said accomplishments, comparisons to the great Ayrton Senna and some comparisons to the not so great drivers also. This list is not exhaustive, but the point is clear.
What rarely occurs is a reasonably balanced discussion or even an unbiased but irreverent viewpoint from or someone broadly ambivalent to Lewis Hamilton.
I certainly am not positioning this article as either ‘balanced’ or unbiased, simply because I can be neither. I am equally affected by the entire spectrum of emotion Lewis’ brings out in many a debate.
I will however, attempt to examine the reasons why Hamilton has such an impact on the hearts and minds of those interested in Formula One. It is incredible that since Lewis’ debuted in F1, fans, media, team principals, team staff and other drivers (ex and current) are drawn onto the roller coaster of emotion which flows from Lewis’ heart stained sleeves,
At times the assembled quorum for the Hamilton debate demonstrate an almost bi-polar frenzy of opinion – and all in a single weekend!
Who Lewis’ purports to be, what motivates him, his lifestyle and what he represents – are all factors which play on our subconscious minds – no matter how much we protests the absence of these psychological effects.
In short, I will argue, Lewis Hamilton challenges us. He is a pioneer and as such we must reconsider our carefully constructed paradigms – head on – and at times be prepared to reconsider.
1) Lewis The Black Man in a Historically White Sport
Lewis’ race is hardly a secret and it is indisputable he is the first black driver to enter the Euro/British dominated sport of Formula One.
In the 21st century, this pioneering claim may appear amazing, but it is a sobering one too.
Whether Hamilton fully acknowledges this impact, or not, doesn’t change the fact that we all have to consciously, and subconsciously, confront the issues of racial equality and expectation. Stereotypes are habitually confronted when as Hamilton did, a representative breaks a mould.
Does this pioneering act of Lewis’ mean he is held to a higher level of account?
By definition as the first black driver, Lewis faced unprecedented racial issues within the sport.
Following the Hamilton/Alonso divide at McLaren in 2007, in both 2008 and 2009, Lewis was confronted with Alonso supporters sporting ‘blacked-up’ faces at the Spanish GP. No other F1 driver had ever faced such a particular brand of hatred for challenging the fans preferred driver in a way that they could not defend?
As the row escalated, circuit director Ramon Pradera said: “We would like to make a plea to the fans to behave correctly. “No type of offensive behaviour can be tolerated.”
In response to the racist abuse, the sport’s governing body, the FIA, threatened to axe the Spanish Grand Prix from the calendar. An FIA spokesman commented in 2009, “We are aware of the latest incident and will look into the matter further,” adding, “These types of fans are the absolute minority.”
Yes there had been fans previously expressing ‘anti-driver’ sentiments, some with even hateful intent, but the ‘blacked-up’ faces were about Lewis’ origins, not anything he had allegedly done.
2) Lewis The Celebrity
The 24/7 nature of TV news and the advent of the interweb has created in recent times a cult of celebrity like never before.
Has there been an F1 driver more driven toward the cult of celebrity? Or perhaps more specifically, has there been an F1 driver so at ease with his contemporary celebrities and their way of life before Lewis?
There have been party animals aplenty. James Hunt, Eddie Irvine and Mike Hawthorn to name but a few. However, those lifestyles had an air of superficiality about them, in the sense that those party animals KNEW they were superficial and used their F1 celebrity status to cock a snook at others in their world.
Yet despite the rumours of Hunt’s all night parties with 20 odd airline hostesses, were these drivers ever challenged by the masses that they were failing to deliver their best potential because of this lifestyle?
Hamilton challenges us in how he handles the life of celebrity. He has diverse interests away from the track; be they musical, celebrity friendships, the pampered first class dogs along with general 21st century fame. All of which he manages whilst while maintaining his single minded commitment to winning.
Yet these lifestyle choices are occasionally used as examples of how Hamilton has ‘lost focus’ and cited as reasons for Lewis’ failing to fulfil his true potential.
This lifestyle of Lewis challenges our pre-existing paradigms of what is required to demonstrate top level commitment in a Formula One context.
Is it necessary for a Formula One driver to exude the archetypical attributes of, self sacrificing, maximum personal stability and maximum sacrifice to the cause?.
Is it normal for a driver to be single minded and nigh on robotic in his desire to work with the team, and to race with all removed from clouding this vision? Further, is this what we the fans really want? Sebastian Vettel – 4 times world champion – by and large hides away his private life and reveals little about his real personality, bar his penchant for producing ‘the finger’.
Or this this an image, some would like us to believe is true, or a matter of perception and another challenge which Lewis presents to us?
Can a pseudo celebrity driver be as committed as Juan Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna?
To be continued tomorrow…