As an American, I have to say that in some ways it seems like I am a bit of an observer in the continued debate in the UK over the deific standing of Lewis Hamilton. Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Fleet Street, the accusations and defenses have gotten relatively chippy to be honest.
I’ve read accusations ranging from tax exile to possessing the personality of a piece of lettuce. I’ve read defenses ranging from “The greatest of all time or GOAT”, to accusations of “racist” for anyone who dare challenge Lewis’s GOAT status.
Watching this from afar is like watching a car crash in slow motion. The people who engage in personal attacks of Lewis beget personal attacks themselves from Lewis supporters. It’s a cycle of criticism vs justification. A cycle of character assassination vs deification or idolatry. A cycle of the bravery of being out of range vs outrage mobocracy. All this is riding on the crest of social media and the wave of infantilism it has ultimately reduced itself to.
As an American, I’m somewhat removed from this debate from a nationality standpoint. The last time we had someone to crow about was when Mario Andretti won the title and Twitter didn’t exist, so we were all spared the infantile sniping and insults as well as the worship and unabated praise. Although I can’t imagine Mario garnering the kind of negativity I’ve seen regarding Lewis.
Part of the fun of Formula 1 is having debates such as these. Who was the greatest? You can’t compare across era. Yes you can, Lewis did more in bad cars. No he didn’t. Yes he did. Michael is the GOAT. No he’s not, Fangio was based on strike rate and age. You get the point, it goes on and on.
Suffice it to say, Martin Samuel went so far as to take several comments he had read and individually address all detractors as well as agree with all those praising Lewis in his recent piece at the daily Mail. It’s entertaining to read through each comment and Martin’s rebuttal.
We all have our own opinions on the matter and our own criteria and perhaps even more than the material constraints of cross-era comparisons and poor performing equipment, is the simple fact that what I value in a driver may be different from what you value.
You may like Max’s personality or Lewis’s personality a lot and that adds to your appreciation for them. Perhaps you are a numbers person and that’s all that matters to you. Maybe you tend to dig around the strike rates and skill levels along with the often less measured race craft.
Whatever it is, you can be sure of one thing, someone is going to disagree with you. That’s how things go in the world of F1 fan opinion. I’ve been accused of being a Lewis hater and racist to a Lewis fan boy and team LH sycophant. The reason for either? Depends if I was praising Lewis or being critical of him. That’s how kiddie-pool shallow we’ve become with social media.
For me, you don’t become a 5-time champ, or four for that matter, by being a no-talent hack or chump. Lewis is incredibly talented and, in my opinion, this season was the best I have ever seen him drive. I respect the hell out of Lewis and what he has achieved no one can take that away from him. I like underdog stories of humble kid from a couch in Stevenage to 5-time champ. I love stories of upward mobility for those who have less and having done so on merit and an environment that fosters and rewards it.
Lewis and his father worked hard to catch the eye of Ron Dennis and regardless of how they parted company, they both owe a lot to Ron’s investment. Lewis owes a lot to his father and mother who sacrificed a lot to create the opportunity he flourished in. That’s sacrificial love and determination for a better life for their son and the entire family.
It put a lot of weight on Lewis’s shoulders and if you read my editorial from back in 2007, you will see I was cautioning people about that. It had an impact, but Lewis came out the other end ok. He’s a 5-time champ and one of the greats of F1. Is he the greatest of all time? Not for me and my criteria but who cares? Back in 2007, the British press already affording him greatness he hadn’t even come close to achieving yet. Now ten years on, they have every right to feel chuffed about their predictions as it seem they may be right and their local champion could beat seven titles.
If Lewis beats Schumacher’s seven titles, will he be the GOAT in my mind? No, but then Schumacher isn’t either and he has seven titles (although he’s damned close to the top). You get my point, some of it is indeed factual and some of it is isn’t.
One comment that Martin addressed at the Mail was that the best drivers tend to be in the best cars and unless you’ve been ignoring Fernando Alonso, that isn’t always the truth. If you discount Tommy Byrne, then maybe you can start to make a comfortable case but while I agree in large part, it isn’t always the case. I believe that if Fernando were in the second Mercedes, he would give Lewis all he wanted and then some such is his skill. I think Seb and Ricciardo would too. Nico did and Nico won (perhaps we should give Nico more credit now?). Regardless, part of being a champ is timing and unlike Fernando, Lewis managed that portion of his career far better and deserves the credit for doing so.
Lewis is awesome, there is no doubting that. He is among the greats in F1 and I truly believe that. He’s much younger than I am and I get a chuckle out of his personality, brand building and pretentiousness but we all have quirks and oddities and personality traits. That’s what makes Lewis, Lewis. I just resonated more with Jim Clark, Phil Hill, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Tazio Nuvolari, Senna and Prost…oh and Jacques-Henri Laffite.
As the social media world dismembers each other over just how great Lewis Hamilton is, I’ll not be taking part in the debate. I know where Lewis ranks in my all-time greats and he’s well up there and that’s good enough for me. While I’ve seen plenty of people chalk Schumacher and Vettel’s title up to the best car, it is fun to see them make the argument that Lewis hasn’t been in the best car for the past 5 years. That’s fine, it’s part of their criteria and I’m elated for them and Lewis for the fifth title, it is no easy feat and an incredible achievement by a great champion. “Get in there, Lewis!”
Hat Tip: Daily Mail