“Look in my eyes, what do you see? The cult of personality.”

Lewis Hamilton. Hard to believe he’s now nearly 30 years old and coming off the back of his eighth season in Formula 1 now. It only feels like yesterday when this phenom of British talent burst onto the scene with McLaren in 2007, coming off the GP2 Championship as a rookie, and coming just one point shy of becoming a rookie F1 World Champion. Eight years on, in near-dominant fashion, he captured his second World Championship over Nico Rosberg in a tile fight that went down to the wire.

And almost immediately, yet more debate took place over the new champ. Eurosport and the Telegraph seemed to call into question his lack of popularity and why the country hasn’t build him a gold and diamond encrusted statue somewhere in Stevenage. I found this intriguing. Then a friend of mine on Facebook, not even an F1 fan, posted an interesting article from The Guardian here, where Joseph Harker goes in depth, making some comparisons to other black athletes, and his article in general has a strong racial flavour to it, insinuating it may come down to race as to why Lewis Hamilton isn’t so widely embraced.

Those who know me well, know that I get more abuse than most people on here for not declaring Hamilton the second coming of Christ the Redeemer, and that I’m “out to hate him”. Turns out, I’ve been pretty neutral on Hamilton since 2011, but have seen both sides of the coin in terms of how he’s received, so I’m going to break down Harker’s article and add some views of my own as what I’ve called: “The Cult of Lewis Hamilton.”

So, the race angle. Is Hamilton disdained or divisive because he’s black? My short response: Probably not? Look, I know for a fact there’s a lot of people who are quietly racist between their own four walls (My own parents included), and very smartly keep that to themselves where they can get away with it, but I honestly think that there are far more obvious reasons.

And let’s talk about his barometer of popularity, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. There were comparisons made to other black athletes, like Mo Farah, and Jessica Ennis. It’s a poor example, not because of their colour, but because of the fact that track and field and athletics just aren’t on the same level in terms of popularity and has been on a bit of a downwards trend, UNLESS its an Olympic year. Me personally, have never heard a bad word ever, when it comes to Farah and Ennis, unless it comes from silly issues such as immigration and whether Sheffield United hiring rapists is a bad idea or a terrible idea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that Mo Farah should have at least made the Top 3 in 2012, but y’know who was the last track and fielder to win the SPOTY? Oh yeah, Kelly Holmes, 2004. There’s definitely validity to Hamilton NOT winning in 2008, considering Chris Hoy was incredible in Beijing in an Olympic year as well. And if it was really down to race, wouldn’t Jenson Button had won in 2009 instead? Because he was a runner-up too. The last F1 winner was Damon Hill in 1996. Maybe it’s just F1 itself isn’t as popular on a large scale, as many think it is. We ain’t soccer, let’s not pretend like we are here.

Harker does point out a lot of truly viable reasons that people might dislike Hamilton though, even if he spends his time in the article, picking them apart subjectively.

Lewis Hamilton Formula One Monaco
The sulking and the media handling. Now, in Lewis’ credit, on the whole, tends to make for an good interview, but despite the Monaco 2011 Ali G impression, he still had flashes where he let it slip. Monaco this year, he denounced his friendship with Rosberg out of sheer petulance for what was at worst, a questionable mistake in Qualifying, that indirectly ruined his shot at pole position.

And at Spa, obviously being frustrated, he accused Rosberg of crashing into him on purpose. Obviously the smart call when you’re leading the Championship to put your car at risk, right? Remember, this was Lewis leaking the details of a private meeting to the print media, and putting his own team in a PR spin trying to fan the flames down, Toto refuting what Lewis had said hours later.

As much as I agree that we as fans need to choose a side in terms of “Playing the PR game” and “Honesty is the best policy”, Lewis definitely came off the worst and this season proved he can still put his foot in it. Remember his “He’s not really German” comments? I suspect Nico’s birth certificate says otherwise. Little things like this, don’t help, but are ultimately minor in the grand scheme of things.

So, the culture difference? Meh. We British are an incredibly patriotic and proud bunch, especially when Sir Sterling Moss chips in, who’s about as British as tea and scones in Hyde Park. Hamilton likes the finer things in life, has the high class superstar girlfriend, likes his jewelry and bling, lives in Monaco now, etc. My answer is…so? Who wouldn’t if they were given such an opportunity?

Jenson Button had the same playboy lifestyle, until he started winning and now, he might be the universally liked driver in Formula 1 now. Not to mention countless other Brits like Paul Di Resta, JB, Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell live off-shores. Because in the eyes of many, British people have gotta pay British taxes,

otherwise they’re going straight to hell!

The problem is, having that lifestyle doesn’t make him “American” (He’s not BA Barracus), to many, it just makes him look obnoxious, and not the humble, likeable British kid from Stevenage we all rooted for in 2007. And that’s what I think the crux of it is. He’s clearly not the same breath of fresh air he was when he first entered the sport. His personality has clearly changed in time, like it would for many person after eight years in the pressure cooker than is Formula 1. And to me, that’s okay. For many others, it’s a culture shock they’re not comfortable with.

When Matt Smith’s Doctor left Doctor Who in 2013, his last words were poignant and beautiful: “We are all different people all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good. You’ve got to keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” And I think that what a lot of what he said then boils down to here.

And let’s not forget, Lewis Hamilton is a Double World Champion, the first British of its kind in 43 years. He is the most successful British driver this sport’s ever seen, has brilliant racecraft and is one of the most naturally gifted drivers we’ve ever seen grace this sport. That alone is a good enough reason to get behind one of the most entertaining drivers the modern era has produced.

What doesn’t help when you have the ITV and Sky F1 hype machines keep reminding us of that to the point where its shoved down our throats like bad medicine. I’ve spoken about this before here too. When ITV hosted the sport for the first two years of Hamilton’s career, they were OBSESSED with him. And to a degree, I could see why. His first two years in F1 were by a mile his best, and he was an exciting new talent. Sky have made almost their entire programming revolve around him in their first two years, even in 2013 when he just wasn’t relevant at all.”Our Lewis”? The crew constantly analyzing where Hamilton went wrong, rather than breaking down whenever Rosberg was legitimately faster? It’s no wonder so many of Lewis’ fans “drink the kool-aid” whenever F1’s on their television sets.

If anything, Hamilton and Rosberg’s Monaco fall-out was the exact golden carrot that Sky and the British media needed, because at that point, their pot-stirring would make witches jealous. And I think that artificial, than natural split, created a camp. The people who loved Hamilton, vs the people who didn’t like him, and any minor Rosberg fans left over. I felt ridiculously sorry for

Mercedes social media accounts, who had to deal with fans who were accusing Mercedes of being biased, or having conspiracy theories. As much as many Hamilton fans get a bad wrap for being over-defensive, there’s also a large degree who attack him for no good reason either, and that’s just as bad.

See why I call it a cult? The sport really does revolve around him these days, especially now he’s back at the top for the first time in so many years. For many of us, it’s been a shot in the arm. There’s a million reasons to like, or dislike Lewis, and those reasons have probably changed in the everlasting circus that is Formula 1, each as subjective and as personal as the last. I don’t think Lewis Hamilton isn’t popular.

If anything, we’re talking about him more than ever before, so the guy must be doing something right. He’s brilliant, he’s polarizing, he’s the center of one of the most exciting sports in the world. And you know what…That’s okay. The people who appreciate him, always will. And the ones who don’t, won’t. All the great sportsman have their divided outlooks. And who needs a camera-based trophy based on a popularity contest on a mantle-piece to prove that?