“Lewis has to decide if he wants to be an F1 driver or a hip-hop star. If your life was on the line and it was all down to one lap, you would back Lewis over Nico every time. But it is just not happening for him at the minute and he needs to start working out why.” John Watson
John Watson, the former British F1 driver, is never short of a controversial opinion, but does he have a point about Lewis Hamilton’s lifestyle?
The accusation will strike a chord with plenty of people. Mercedes, he claims, are ‘bending over backwards’ to let Hamilton live and behave as he pleases. The discipline that came with life in McLaren has gone, and the result is a man whose performance has been affected.
There's no denying that Hamilton at times projects an image of celebrity rather than of sport. His girlfriend is a former Pussycat Doll. His body is a canvas for ever-more elaborate tattoos. His dog has a paddock pass – which Watson, incidentally, suggests might be ‘animal cruelty’. His interests are represented by the company of a man who put together the Spice Girls, rather than someone who got his hands grubby in the pit lane.
Photo - Hamilton's Instagram account
You don’t have to like it – although one senses that Hamilton would still prefer it if you did. He has been writing a column this year for a rival site, and the reason, in his own words, is that he ‘wanted to give people an insight into the real me’.
Insight or not, plenty of people just don't like him. He occupies that odd place in British sport, at just the right angle from his pedestal of success for people to judge him with a cocktail of envy and contempt. Andy Murray, Wayne Rooney and a few others know a thing or two about that.
But who are we to judge him for what he does off the track? He breaks no laws, he causes no harm. Hamilton is who he is, celebrity dog and all. And there’s only one place where judgement of him really matters, and that is on the track.
And while Watson says he is failing to keep pace with Nico Rosberg this season, it’s hardly that clear-cut.
Sure, Rosberg has three poles and a race win to Hamilton’s one and none. But Hamilton has outscored him by 62 points to 47 this season, and in qualifying head-to-heads it’s three all from six outings. If you bear in mind that Hamilton is new into the team, while Rosberg has been a Mercedes fixture for three years already, that’s not a bad return.
“Lewis wanted more freedom from McLaren and he has got that,” Watson argues, “but it can go too far the other way.”
But has it?
Would I take my dog to the pit garage? No, probably not. However, Roscoe’s glum face is presumably because that’s just what bulldogs look like under those folds of skin, rather than because he’s actually miserable. Hamilton has more than enough people around him to make sure that his pooch is pampered, and frankly the RSPCA have more pressing issues.
Would I tattoo my entire back with a cross and the words Still I Rise? No, but then I’ve never liked needles.
Would I want Nicole Scherzinger to accompany me to work every day? Shhh. My wife reads this...
What about planning a museum in my honour? Maybe – might have to be a broom cupboard, though. Perhaps just a shelf in the cupboard, come to that.
And the question that interests the man himself is: how big will Hamilton’s museum be? That remains to be seen. He’s driving in an era of Formula One featuring two drivers in Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso who will be remembered among the very best the sport has ever witnessed. He has shared those narrow stretches of tarmac with a further three world champions. The challenge is enormous - and just one championship will not cement a place among the greats.
Whatever Hamilton has done outside the sport, though, he has always been dedicated to his work on race weekends. He’s not shied away from tough decisions – whether it’s been to part ways with his father (at least in his capacity as Lewis’s agent), or to leave his first team (a move that looks ever-more shrewd). Those kinds of calls, right or wrong, have not been taken to enable a playboy lifestyle, but rather to advance his career.
If giving his dog free rein of the garage corresponds to a consistent failure to beat Rosberg, then surely Hamilton will change things. But to decide that after the first six races of this season is unfair.