F1 Racing (UK) - - LOVE -

Once upon a time it was easy to cat­e­gorise a Bri­tish rac­ing hero. Bow-tied Hawthorn; canny Jackie, dash­ing James with an eye for the ladies. Ma­raud­ing Mansell. Da­mon, the valiant un­der­dog. We un­der­stood who they were. We knew what to think.

Through shift­ing eras they wrote their own chap­ters in the book of Bri­tish Sport­ing Greats, crys­tallis­ing our opin­ions through their deeds on- and off-track. Be it silk-sheets Jim Clark – all clas­si­cal el­e­gance at the wheel of yet an­other bril­liant Chap­man Lo­tus – or Boy-next-door-but­ton, they’ve formed a golden thread of win­ners whose pres­ence at the sharp end of For­mula 1 has helped ce­ment Bri­tain’s wider in­volve­ment in the sport. In­deed, for the Bri­tish mo­tor rac­ing es­tab­lish­ment, the sight of Moss, Brooks, or ‘Wat­tie’ win­ning for Cooper, Van­wall or Mclaren could only mean that all was right with the world. God in his heaven. The sceptr’d isle green and pleas­ant for an­other day. Phew!

And now we have Lewis Hamil­ton: a ground-shak­ing, bassquak­ing, shape-shift­ing megas­tar whose very pres­ence forced a reap­praisal of what it meant to be a top-line Bri­tish rac­ing driver, on ac­count of his mixed-race genes and blue-col­lar up­bring­ing. And that was be­fore he started win­ning ev­ery­thing.

These days, three world ti­tles and 3.3 mil­lion de­voted Twit­ter fol­low­ers later, Lewis has gone way be­yond merely blow­ing like a hur­ri­cane through the some­times stul­ti­fy­ingly con­ser­va­tive F1 pad­dock. He is ar­guably big­ger than the sport that made his name, and oc­cu­pies a po­si­tion among the globe-trot­ting glit­terati – seem­ingly as com­fort­able step­ping down from his cherry-red Chal­lenger jet as he is step­ping out in LA, Lon­don, Colorado, Bar­ba­dos, or wher­ever in the world hap­pens to take his fancy on any par­tic­u­lar day.

Fol­low Lewis through Snapchat, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram or Face­book and you’re granted reg­u­lar glimpses into a life­style pre­vi­ously the realm only of those sim­i­larly young and wealthy, or blessed with the most fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tions. He might be thwack­ing golf balls into the clouds from the slopes of a New Zealand moun­tain; tak­ing self­ies on a mo­tor­bike as he cruises down the black­top; maybe there’s the bump ’n’ grind of a Mi­ami sweat­box; or he’s off to the Caribbean for a cir­cuit demo in a 2013 Merc F1 show­car – all the while finding time to shad­ow­box on a clifftop over­look­ing the At­lantic at sun­set, or to pump a set of in­verted press-ups on the steps lead­ing down to the plunge pool of this week’s luxury ho­tel.

It ren­ders the oth­er­wise en­vi­able ex­is­tences of his gifted, wealthy and fa­mous peers al­most hum­drum by com­par­i­son. Post-sochi, Hamil­ton’s team-mate, Nico Rosberg, shared a few shots of a pris­tine first-light cy­cle blast along the Côte d’azur and some fam­ily time on the Monaco wa­ter­front spent with his baby daugh­ter, Alaïa. Very nice, too, if strik­ingly un­ex­cep­tional by the stan­dards of a thor­oughly mod­ern F1 driver. Fer­nando Alonso, mean­time, bus­ied him­self pro­mot­ing the Baku Grand Prix cir­cuit, for which he is an am­bas­sador. Nice work if you can get it. But ‘noth­ing to see here’.

Hamil­ton, though, streaks on, like some Mil­len­ni­alGen­er­a­tion comet, ex­ist­ing on what seems to be a dif­fer­ent plane from the rest of the For­mula 1 set – it­self al­ready rar­efied and dis­tant from any nor­mal walk of life. Not for him the cosy cadre of Monte Carlo, where he owns a prop­erty. Ob­servers say he’s rarely seen in town.

Such has been his emer­gence into the pub­lic con­scious­ness he was last month listed as an ‘Icon’ among Time magazine’s ‘100 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple’, along­side Usain Bolt, Nicki Mi­naj, Jor­dan Spi­eth, Adele and Leonardo Di­caprio. And this from a magazine based in a coun­try where For­mula 1 still strug­gles to gain wide­spread recog­ni­tion.

But celebrity has its price and for Lewis Hamil­ton that has be­come man­i­fest in the ex­tremes of opin­ion – both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive – di­rected his way. For all the warmth re­flected back to Lewis via #Teamlh, so­cial me­dia pro­vides the per­fect, zero-jeop­ardy plat­form from which ‘haters’ can spew forth bile, in a man­ner far more brazen than any would likely dare, face to face. A re­cent Twit­ter trawl un­earthed anti-lewis hos­til­ity such as “tit” and “if one of the most in­flu­en­tial ppl in the world drives cars in cir­cles for money we’re all fucked”. Hamil­ton’s wear­ing of tra­di­tional Arab dress dur­ing the Bahrain GP week­end at­tracted fur­ther pot-shots from sev­eral who ques­tioned the state’s hu­man rights record.

While these com­ments might be dis­missed as the pre­dictable reaction of a self-se­lect­ing mi­nor­ity to the ac­tiv­i­ties of a high­pro­file pub­lic fig­ure, Lewis is aware of the hos­til­ity and from time to time feels moved to comment. “I’m used to it. I’m not sur­prised by it,” he said at the Rus­sian GP. “I’ve been do­ing so­cial me­dia for a long, long time… So, to be hon­est I just see the pos­i­tives from it, not the neg­a­tive side.”

Surely more in­ter­est­ing though is why Lewis should be hated at all, for in many ways he epit­o­mises ev­ery­thing that Brits love about their sport­ing he­roes. For starters, he has suc­ceeded largely thanks to his own tal­ent. The evan­gel­i­cal guid­ance of his

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