Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2014: Will Lewis Hamilton be Britain’s unappreciated double world champion?

COMMENT: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain

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The Independent Online

In quantifiable terms Lewis Hamilton is already in exalted company. Only four men in the history of Formula One have won more races.

His 32nd victory in the United States earlier this month eclipsed Nigel Mansell as the most prolific Briton, a significant achievement given this nation’s deep racing tradition, one that has shaped the modern sport.

An 11th win of the season would move him alongside Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel in chequered flags taken in one campaign, and this with an uber-competitive  team-mate, Nico Rosberg, who has pipped him for poles and might yet wear the crown himself, a feature that neither of the mighty Teutons had to negotiate in any of their respective romps to the title.

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Lewis Hamilton would equal a season record for wins with first place

Most important of all Hamilton can afford to finish second and still bring home the bacon. On the evidence of Mercedes’ crushing dominance on the opening day of practice in Abu Dhabi – Hamilton led both sessions – only the parting of the seas or the return of the gremlins from hell can deny Hamilton a second world championship and a place beside the great Jim Clark and Graham Hill. Oh, and one other thing. He is not yet 30, plenty of time to reel in Sir Jackie Stewart, the pre-eminent Brit with three world titles.

Hamilton is arguably the most misunderstood figure not only on the grid but in British sport. It is hard to imagine a more genuine, down-to-earth high-net worth individual, which makes his lack of traction outside the racing milieu all the more baffling.

It is a pity McLaren did not record for posterity his post-championship address the morning after his first world title in Brazil in 2008. Maybe then his detractors might have understood better the man rather than the construction.

Hamilton suffered heavy PR losses in the fallout during his fractious first year alongside Fernando Alonso. Somehow the positive message associated with a kid overcoming socio-economic obstacles like never before was lost, allowing resentment in some parts to take hold. All innocence was shredded in a swirl of negative headlines projecting unseemly ambition and avarice over talent and derring-do.

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Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg stands in his way

Thus by the time he reached the summit in 2008 he had become the brat with a sense of entitlement, who, among other misdemeanours, had turned his back on his country for a tax haven abroad. Blame advisers who thought it wise to account for his retreat to a Swiss canton in terms of a need for greater privacy. They should have just told it how it was. Living in the same tax-friendly neighbourhood for the best part of his career never did Sir Jackie any harm.   

There was no sign of that risible caricature when Hamilton accompanied the euphoric McLaren team to the traditional post-title thrash. He felt no compulsion to dive headfirst into a swimming pool or meet any other standard convention. Weirdly there was no euphoria, only a sense of destiny playing out.

Though he had immense pride, Hamilton did not feel anything out of the ordinary because he expected it of himself. In this there is something of Ayrton Senna about him, a man with a profound attachment to his faith, who believed he was acting out the grand design of a higher authority.

 

So after a couple of flutes of bubbly Hamilton was away to his bed, leaving the lads and lasses to it. And the next morning he utterly disarmed journalists gathered in a hotel with his humility. He acknowledged almost everybody but himself for the success bestowed upon him, at 23 the youngest world champion.

There were heartfelt words for the McLaren hierarchy, who had supported him for the past 10 years, for the staff detailed to his side of the garage, and of course for his family, particularly his father and step-mother who had sacrificed so much before Ron Dennis began picking up the tab at 13 years old.

There was no attempt, either, to embrace the role of ethnic stereotype buster. He never saw himself as a black trailblazer, just a racer. It would be for others to attach significance to the rise from a Stevenage council estate of the world’s first mixed-race Formula One world champion.

He was asked how the riches coming his way might change his life. He couldn’t care less, he said. Of course it would be nice to have money, buy his own house etc., but that was never the priority. He would race for nothing, and perhaps a hundred quid to buy a new pair of trainers.

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Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain

Six years on much has changed materially but little essentially. As he said on his arrival in Abu Dhabi, he occupies a different dimension now. How could he not after seven seasons immersed in this mad business? He is for the most part, however, the same humble fellow he was when he bolted into view in 2007.

Yes the promised millions have been banked, there is more than one house in a property portfolio that bookends the Atlantic, a pop idol partner and a host of Hollywood A-listers that he calls friends, yet none of these accoutrements have warped his soul. Give him a guitar and pet bulldogs Roscoe and Coco and I give you a man at one with the world.

Outside of the Olympic environment we have too few sportsmen or women we might regard as the best on the planet. Curiously the calendar has thrown two together this weekend an hour apart on the Arabian Peninsula. Up the road in Dubai Rory McIlroy continues his imperious march across the world of golf.

Hamilton is no less a genius, smoking the opposition with a frisky combination of innate skill, savage commitment and relentless desire. All he possesses he has earned. There are no free tickets for council-estate kids with Afro-Caribbean blood in their veins, especially in this sport. 

So win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain, an ethnic beacon and raving good news story at the end of a week in which a gormless football club chairman reminded us that the fight against prejudice and casual racism in sport is far from won.

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