IN GOOD CONSCIENCE

Like Beckham, Hamilton's becoming a one-man industry

While Lewis Hamilton eyes overtaking the track record of F1 greats, he is also driven by other causes, such as child poverty.
While Lewis Hamilton eyes overtaking the track record of F1 greats, he is also driven by other causes, such as child poverty. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Shortly after winning his third Formula One crown in Texas last weekend, Lewis Hamilton greeted his court followers with the line:

"While I get to enjoy driving a Formula One car, this is really a platform for me to inspire young people."

Great racer driven to delusions.

But Hamilton wasn't finished. "And I hope that if there is anything inspiring from today," he added, "it's just that: Never give up on your dreams, on your hopes, and on your desires. Just keep working at it."

Hamilton will be serious when the visor comes down. The rest is public relations - whether it be telling President Putin that Russia is a wonderful country or telling the folks in the US how great they are.

Before the week was out, he, or the people he pays to look after his personal website, had looked up on BrainyQuote.com and abridged (without accrediting the author) the words written almost 200 years ago by German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

"Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move hearts."

Hamilton signed off with the words: "If I can do it, so can you. #God Bless# Team LH."

Actually, you probably couldn't.

You would need to be blessed indeed, to be one of the two drivers for Mercedes whose particular engine this year and last is such an outstanding piece of machinery, tailored to the specific change in F1 regulations that pushed Red Bull and Ferrari into its slip stream.

The one driver on more or less equal footing to Hamilton is his team-mate Nico Rosberg.

But they are less than matey after Hamilton pushed Rosberg out of his way at the first corner in Austin, Texas last Sunday, the second time in three races this has happened.

"Nothing to discuss," Hamilton told the press.

"I can understand in many respects how it is."

And then, with a smile, the newly re-crowned champ said: "It's the worst thing being my team-mate... I've seen Nico in lots of different lights over the years."

So quiet it came almost in a whisper, Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff acknowledged that one of his drivers had been too aggressive on that first corner.

"It was too hard," he said.

"We need to pick it up and discuss it."

Austin was not the time or place, Wolff suggested.

Better to let Hamilton bask in his glory and have a quiet sit-down with the two of them before the next race in Mexico tomorrow.

There was, the team leader accepted, a danger that Rosberg might see this as a green light to have a go back at his Mercedes team-mate and rival.

"It is a crucial moment now to make sure this race and incident doesn't release consequences within the team and split the two sides of the garage," Wolff concluded.

Good luck to him.

Tempting Hamilton down from Cloud Nine might not be the easiest of tasks.

While Wolff was taking the media heat, Hamilton was holding his own media "gig".

He told everyone that he knew he would win because he's always been faster than Rosberg anyway.

Hamilton in any case was doing his post-race thing, thanking everyone on "my side of the garage", saying as he does ad nauseam that he couldn't do it without "you guys" and thanking Elton John for coming to Texas to watch him race.

There was another little ceremony for Hamilton to carry out. A Mercedes team photo, with the crew behind him and Hamilton proudly draped in a British flag.

In moments like these, he's proud of where he comes from, although he hasn't lived in Britain since he set up home in Zurich in 2009, and after that, moved to the tax haven of Monaco.

Hamilton, who took to the stage at the BBC Sportsman of the Year award in Glasgow last year with his pet British bulldog Roscoe wearing a heavy gold chain, is annoyed when people say he is a tax exile.

"It doesn't matter what country you live in," he told The Sunday Times Style magazine.

"I was born here, man. What people don't realise is that I pay tax here but I don't earn all my money here.

"I race in 19 different countries so I earn my money in 20 different places and I pay tax in several different places - I pay a lot here as well.

"I'm contributing to my country and, not only that, I help keep a team of more than 1,000 people employed.

"I am part of a much bigger picture."

Much bigger.

Hamilton is, like David Beckham, a one-man industry. He shared with Beckham the agency of the image-builder Simon Fuller's XlX Entertainment until last year.

But, preferring to negotiate his US$36 million (S$51 million) per year Mercedes contract without the agency, and to be free to build his own image rights, Hamilton split with XIX and signed up instead with Purple PR, the people who work on the public arrangements for Beyonce, Adele and Prince.

But it isn't all Louis Vuitton and showbiz around Hamilton.

His targets are moving now towards the legends of motor racing. He described himself as "picking up the baton for Ayrton Senna" whose record of three F1 titles he has now equalled.

But there are still Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel on four, Juan Fangio on five, and Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion.

Quite where this road ends for Hamilton, who began in go-karts when he was eight and is now 30, only time will tell.

His personal fortune is rated by Forbes magazine to be worth a net US$280 million.

His aims include campaigning against child poverty.

His next target is winning in Mexico where he walked into the paddock with two mates, all wearing sombreros - like the Three Amigos, he announced.

Hamilton will be serious when the visor comes down.

The rest is public relations - whether it be telling President Vladimir Putin that Russia is a wonderful country or telling the folks in the US how great they are.

Above it all, though, he never forgets his fans.

"I always say we win and lose together because I feel your love," he tweets.

And he's doing it in a German car.

Goethe would be so proud.


F1 MEXICAN GRAND PRIX

Qualifying: Singtel TV Ch115 and StarHub Ch209, tomorrow, 2.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Like Beckham, Hamilton's becoming a one-man industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe