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GP Week : Issue 232
OPINION MiKe doodSoN Whatever you or I may think about him (and we'll get to this later), there's no denying that lewis hamilton is rather good for Formula 1. The cameras can't get enough of him and his social life is a blessing to gossip columnists writing in a dozen different languages. He has hauled the sport into areas which nobody, least of all the nabobs of Formula 1, could ever have imagined it might go. The fusty old image of Mercedes-Benz as the purveyor of carriages to elderly fat businessmen has been well and truly demolished. Everyone profits and it draws attention away from the fact that F1 currently seems bent on self-destruction. Lewis had already been world champion twice before he zipped past his team mate Nico Rosberg's spinning Merc to take his 10th win of the season and secure his third title in Texas one week ago. He therefore knows what's expected of him. His team and sponsors will be preparing a tidy schedule of travelling lined up in order to show him off over the European winter. They will want to ensure that he becomes known as a good world champion. Actually, I'm not convinced that there is any such thing as a good world champion, whatever sport you're involved in. As long as you're polite to people and don't try to knock policemens' helmets off their heads, you're probably going to be a success. Come to think of it, though, James Hunt broke those very rules, and he once showed up at a gathering of influential businessmen wearing tattered jeans and sand shoes. If it's true that there's no such thing as bad publicity, James and his funny cigarettes hit the spot. We hacks used to have a sort of trade association which handed out prizes to the drivers whom we'd voted to be the most and least agreeable to the media. One year, when we awarded both the Orange and the Lemon prizes to Jody Scheckter, we provided unarguable proof that journalists know nothing. But any nominations for the worst champion ever would have to include Nelson Piquet, who had a small coterie of friends in the most influential areas of the media (all of whom loved him anyway) and deliberately pissed off the others. He was more interested in testing next year's car than in smooching the smelly socks brigade. Surely the most insulting champion of them all, though, was Alan Jones, who in 1980 actually failed to show up for the FIA's high-voltage prize-giving in Paris. It's true that Jonesy had nothing but contempt for FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre, but there was a war going on between the team owners and the FIA at the time, and he was under instructions from Frank Williams to stay away. These days I understand that entrants are obliged by contract to ensure that their employees attend the FIA bun-fights (though working press people like me, strangely, are not allowed to attend). I am sure that Lewis Hamilton will be there, all teeth and affability, and there's a good chance that he will be wearing some sort of silly headwear. My view of Hamilton is that he's a fast, calculating and ruthless driver with all of the on-track qualities you want in a WC. He's been that way ever since he started racing in the big time. Some would say that he's pushed things a bit too hard on occasion, most recently with that rather cruel move on Rosberg at the first corner in Texas. But F1 is a hard business with little room for soft hearts. Right from the start, Lewis nominated Ayrton Senna as the driver on whom he models himself, and most of his underhand behaviour has come straight out of the Senna textbook. I'm less impressed with him as a human being. You probably know what I mean: grotesque tattoos, diamond ear-rings, hair replacement, rappers, etc. There's even the occasional bit of Senna- esque God-bothering, which grates with me because (as I may have mentioned here before) I don't believe there's any place for religion in an activity as blatantly selfish as competitive sport. As GPWEEK Publisher Lambden has gently pointed out to me, it's possible that my objections to the Hamilton life-style arise from a yawningly wide generation gap. I have to accept the stricture. My father, who's been dead for half a century, taught me that a gentleman takes his hat off whenever he enters a building, so it grates with me when I see Lewis still wearing his when he sits down to dine. I think it's insulting, but I have to concede that James Hunt could be (and was) equally contemptuous. The difference, I suspect, is that James knew he was behaving badly, while Hamilton doesn't. Hamilton, to his credit, handles his own affairs and has landed a new fat renewal of his contract with Mercedes which will take him to the end of 2018. He has said that he'll probably put a lid on his career then. The downside of being your own manager is that there's nobody around to tell you how to behave. It's all very well to boast to the world, as Hamilton has done, that you've learned to drink, because alcohol takes the edge off a man's performance, even if you ration it to non-race occasions. Somebody should tell Hamilton. Dare I mention a certain fading Finn? By his own admission, becoming a triple world champion has left Hamilton slightly non-plussed, because this title puts him level with Senna, his long-time idol. He will need no reminding that he is now in reach of becoming an all-time great. He has already edged ahead of Sebastian Vettel's totals of race wins and pole positions. Now, with 43 wins, he needs only nine more to overtake Alain Prost and become the second most successful F1 driver of all time, behind Michael Schumacher (91 wins). It is safe to say, I think, that Nico Rosberg, despite his four consecutive pole positions at this stage of the season, can no longer be regarded as Hamilton's most serious competition. For that, we must look to Vettel, whose four world titles must surely be the British driver's next target. With Ferrari gaining in strength, and Vettel having recovered the mojo which disappeared at Red Bull last year, it is the German on whom we must now rely to put up the strongest challenge to the rampant Englishman. At present, the two world champions are obviously comfortable in each other's company. If (or when) the gloves come off next year, don't bet against them becoming a lot less likeable, at least towards each other. 12 GPWEEK.com // 12 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION can a champion be 'likeable'?