World champion British racer Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly one of the greatest sportsmen of our time, proving himself time and again to be an unstoppable force on the track. So why is he not more popular among sport fans?
A recent survey of racing fans, completed by more than 200,000 people in 194 countries, put Hamilton fourth in terms of popularity behind fellow racers Finn Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. This finding forces us to ask why it is that Hamilton, the sporting great that he is, is not more loved by racing fans, particularly British fans?
On paper Hamilton ticks almost all of the boxes for what makes for a sporting hero. Started from humble beginnings and broke into an elitist sphere purely through hard work and talent? Check. Is at the top of his game and continuously pushing himself further and creating sporting history? Check. Takes pride in representing his country and repeatedly expresses his gratitude towards his fans? Check. (Oh and he’s pretty good looking.) Yet, the fact remains that the F1 star just does not appeal to sports fans in the way that others, such as Andy Murray or Jessica Ennis-Hill, do.
Hamilton, who always expresses his extreme pride in representing Britain and winning for the nation, does not seem to have that love fully reciprocated by British sport fans. After his latest win at the British Grand Prix Lewis gushed: “It's a very proud moment. To see a sea of British fans with all the flags and caps is a huge day for me. I can't find the words to say how special it is. Hopefully you can see it in my smile." He added, "I'm really honoured just to be here representing the Brits, to have the British flag up there."
Why do British fans not seem to fully embrace this British star?
Well, one reason may be that Hamilton’s “Britishness” is somewhat questionable. The matter of race and the fact that Hamilton’s skin is darker than that of any previous British F1 racer being put aside, Hamilton’s Britishness and loyalty to his country has been challenged. In 2007, shortly after he really shot to fame, Hamilton upped sticks and moved to tax havens Switzerland and Monaco. To some sporting fans this move was interpreted as an abandonment of the country which had supported Hamilton and which he was supposed to represent.
Is Lewis Hamilton’s luxury lifestyle and growing celebrity status distracting from his sporting talent and making it more difficult for the general public to identify with him?
Over the past few years especially Lewis Hamilton has transformed from being a sports star to simply being a star with celebrity status. Following on from his high-profile relationship with (now ex) girlfriend Nicole Sherzinger, Hamilton is now being linked to supermodel that the world is currently completely obsessed with: Kendall Jenner (sister of Kim Kardashian). Hamilton now fills almost as many headlines for his style choices and who he is dating or partying with as he does because of his sporting feats. Compared to, say, Andy Murray (who the nation has warmed to) it is easy to see why British fans struggle to identify Hamilton as one of their own. Murray, who is most likely to be photographed with wife Kim walking their dog in rural Scotland (rather than partying with supermodels or rocking out to Kanye at Glastonbury), had a traditional Scottish wedding where he wore a kilt, and who has opened a hotel in his homeland is more obviously identifiable as British.
Hamilton (centre) with rumoured model girlfriend Kendall Jenner
(second from left) and celebrity friends
Regularly attending fashion shows and glitzy prestigious events where he is photographed with an array of celebrity pals, Hamilton leads a different lifestyle to that of an older generation of racers. Whilst Hamilton’s celebrity status and partying lifestyle has long been accepted – even expected – of footballers, for example, when it comes to F1 racing he is something of an anomaly in this respect.
Hamilton with Samuel L. Jackson, Tinie Tempah and designer Oliver Spencer
at a GQ men's fashion event last month
Hamilton has previously addressed the matter of his being a distinctly modern sportsman, saying: “A lot of fans like to compare. (Jim) Clark did this or (James) Hunt did this and I’m like . . . so? This is my time and this is how I do it. […] It’s strange how people want everyone to do the same as the people back in the day. This is how a Formula One driver behaves, this is how he looks, this is how he should be, and how he should talk. It’s just funny.” Rightly unconcerned by those who judge him because he has not followed exactly in the steps of his racing forefathers and has instead chosen to shake up the status quo, Hamilton seems to embrace the fact that he is a distinctly twenty-first century British racing driver. “There was never ever a black driver before, firstly. So I’m much different to any of the ones in the past. Let’s do me,” said the racer.
To put Hamilton’s relatively low popularity among the British public down to race seems largely invalid given the way that the British public adores runner Mo Farah, who is Somalia born, and other black and mixed-race sportspersons. Similarly, the love shown for Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt by the British public suggests that their issue with Hamilton is not one of race.
Whatever the reason for Hamilton’s failure to win the hearts of more racing fans here in the UK and abroad, it is unlikely that the star – who is at the top of his game and only continues to improve – particularly cares whether he is the most liked sportsman or not. Popular or not, he is already a sporting legend whose achievements as a racer will go down in history. What’s more, having won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award last year, having a phenomenal 2.8 million Twitter followers and over a 100,000 fans going to watch his most recent race, there is still a lot of love out there for Lewis Hamilton.