Lewis Hamilton has more personas than the Man of a Thousand Faces, as the old stage and film actor Lon Chaney was known. We have the rock star, the rapper, the playboy, the motorbike designer, the cosmetics salesman, the social media junkie, the fashionista and a collector of tattoos that Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man might envy.
At times he appears younger than his 31 years, someone still striving to discover his true self. Happily, roughly every fortnight, he finds it, abandoning his multiple incognitos to reveal himself, and it is one of the most exciting, glamorous identities anyone could possibly hope for, as the outstanding Formula One driver of his time.
Here on Sunday he will attempt to become the first driver to win a hat-trick of Silverstone grands prix. Jim Clark, the shy, quietly spoken genius from Fife with a farming background, the Lotus man with his Pioneer goggles and checkered handkerchief around his nose and mouth and someone who never seemed to have an identity problem, had a hat-trick of successes in the British Grand Prix between 1962-64, but they were at three different circuits, Aintree, Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Then he made it four in a row at Silverstone in 1965.
Jim Clark was always “Jim Clark.” Or “Jimmy” to his friends. Hamilton occasionally refers to him as “James Clark” which no one else has ever done, though this says more about the absence of a sense of history than any lack of respect.
Hamilton, who also won here, heroically, in 2008, is looking for his fourth success in his home grand prix, which would put him level with another great local hero, Nigel Mansell, though the first of his victories, in 1986, was at Brands Hatch. “I’m massively proud, and to be up alongside the great Nigel would be an incredible honour,” he says.
Hamilton has won three world championships and 46 races, so only Michael Schumacher (91) and Alain Prost (51) stand ahead of him.
In the essentially conservative world of Formula One many F1 fans, and indeed the sport itself, does not know quite what to make of the man in their midst, his myriad excesses, his insatiable desire for self-promotion.
Perhaps, a little shocked by the latest headline, or the most recent Instagram image, we forget to be sufficiently grateful to the man who, almost single-handed, flies the flag for his rigidly controlled and introverted sport.
The latest headlines were about TV comments made by Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, who said that Hamilton had trashed his room after crashing out of qualifying and also “lied” about his relationship with team-mate and arch rival Nico Rosberg. Lauda later backed away from his incendiary remarks.
Hamilton said here on Friday: “I was sitting on the beach and was soaking up the sun enjoying my day, thinking: ‘I’ve just won the [Austrian] Grand Prix,’ and felt amazing and then saw what had come out and I was like wtf … A friend sent ‘wtf …’
“I read about it and didn’t fully understand what was going on. I sent it to Niki and said: ‘What’s this because I didn’t understand where it had come from,’ and he and the team did a great job to address it. Unfortunately, the damage was already done, it was on my social media, Twitter and Facebook and people have read that stuff.
“People see that and they think it’s true. Having come off the win it turns a whole positive into a negative. People say: ‘Don’t worry it’s what racing drivers do,’ but ultimately it was a little bit damaging. As I said I am grateful that what he said was not the case. It’s not true.”
Talking about his relationship with Rosberg, he added: “Honestly, up until the last race, even with Barcelona, it is the best place I have been with Nico because we talk about things. We get in a room and, even if we don’t like it, we say what our issue is and we deal with it.
“We’ve never had that before. Before, he wanted to kill me and I wanted to kill him. So that’s why I say we are in the best place. It’s not that we are best friends. We will have our ups and downs. That was definitely a down, the last race. We have plans to talk and discuss it. But I don’t feel I have much to say. We will move forward and it’s just important as men we take responsibilities for our actions.”
Hamilton has a habit of embracing each F1 circuit as if it is his favourite in the world on that particular weekend. At Silverstone, however, the feelings are obviously special.
“I remember being here when I wasn’t even in Formula One and dreaming of driving Formula One, so it’s crazy to think I’ve had those wins here and I hope I can continue to raise the flag proudly,” he said.
“Honestly, I draw a lot of energy from the fans. When I come to Silverstone the energy is in abundance. It’s amazing to absorb that people have saved up their money to come here and put all their energy towards getting you across the finish line first. It’s pretty much impossible to describe how amazing that feels.”
As if Hamilton and Rosberg didn’t already have enough on their busy minds they must now take on board Mercedes’ latest strictures, their Rules of Engagement to discourage more self-harming crashes between the two.
Will Hamilton, now just 11 points behind his great rival and able to take the lead here for the first time, be thinking about the new sanctions?
“Nope,” he said. “I’ll be giving it everything I’ve got but that’s how I race anyway. As Ayrton Senna said: ‘If you are no longer going for a gap you are no longer a racing driver.’ I live by that.”
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