Lewis Hamilton: Spoilt brat or national treasure?

Almost a decade ago, I went to McLaren's swanky headquarters in Surrey to interview Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, newly joined together as Formula One teammates.

I hadn't met Button before and had been warned he could be prickly. He was full of charm.

Hamilton, who I had met, was not. Co-operative, but not warm.

Is there a sense of that behind the British reluctance to take this extraordinarily successful driver to their hearts, even as he closes in on a fifth world title in the US Formula One Grand Prix?

Mo Farah and Andy Murray have been knighted. When bookies shortened the odds about Hamilton also being invited to kneel before the Queen's sword, in the wake of his fourth world title a year ago, the negatives flowed.

And cynics love to jibe that anyone could win races in the current all-conquering Mercedes. It's not about the driver, in other words, it's the car.

Let's keep this within bounds.

He is adored by millions who recognise Hamilton's achievement in emerging from a Stevenage council estate to become the best in a rich man's sport, closing in on Michael Schumacher's seemingly unmatchable seven world titles.

At the British Grand Prix each year, crowds totalling more than 200,000 over three days worship their champion. It's mutual.

He crowd-surfed after his 2016 victory there, and this year joined a marshals' picnic on the campsite. "I love you guys," he told the fans.

And yet his triumphs have not been as widely and warmly celebrated as those of, say, Sir Andy. And Hamilton has merely an OBE next to his name.


It's reasonable to suggest the following: accent, tax exile, lifestyle, skin colour.

He shares the mid-Atlantic twang with Murray, the foreign residence with Olympic golf champion Justin Rose, the lifestyle with David Beckham and not being white with Farah and world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

But Hamilton has the full set.

And beyond that, he's dull, right? Actually he's not. But having spent so many years (from childhood karting days) under McLaren's zealous PR protection, he came very late to the notion of projecting his own personality.

Now, he is happy to do his thing his way, and hang the critics.

So while other drivers spent time in heat chambers to prepare themselves for last month's Singapore Grand Prix, he flew 25,000 miles in 10 days, attending fashion shows in Shanghai and New York, with a friend's wedding thrown in.

He won the race.

For many, it will only enhance his legend - "what a guy".

Those who need their heroes to sweat their way through public agony on their way to glory will stick with Murray.

It won't worry Hamilton.

And the older he gets, one suspects, the more we will realise the magnitude of his achievements, and the more he'll relax.

Before we know it, perhaps, like Beckham, and Murray before him, his public image will be transformed from spoilt brat to national treasure