Formula One: Paradise Papers revelations will delay but not derail Lewis Hamilton's quest for a knighthood

Mercedes' Lewis Hamiltonahead at the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Nov 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Not surprisingly, there is a hashtag at the heart of the hiccup in the recent campaign to ensure a knighthood for Lewis Hamilton, Britain's first multiple Formula One world champion of the social media era.

The tag in question - #redjet - appears frequently on the Mercedes driver's social media posts, and refers to his now-contentious acquisition of a red Bombardier Challenger 605 private jet in 2013.

The jet is registered in the Isle of Man, which has a less stringent tax regime than mainland Britain, and the recent Paradise Papers revelation - still unproven at this stage - is that the driver has derived a potentially debatable seven-figure monetary benefit from his use of the aircraft.

His representatives were quick to point out that the leasing arrangement is not only compliant with existing laws but is also completely above board.

However, it is likely that Hamilton's stated purpose of using the jet for business and personal trips alike - and the varying financial implications of both - could attract closer examination by British financial authorities. There is also the question of whether he was actually entitled to the entire refund of £3.3 million (S$5.8 million) in Value Added Tax (VAT) on the transaction involving the jet, or just two-thirds of that amount.

Hence, there could be a delay en route to what surely must be an inevitable knighthood for the four-time world champion, who equalled Sebastian Vettel's tally of world titles even though he finished ninth at the Mexican Grand Prix last month.

Why this potential delay? Simple, when you think about the big picture.

First, consider this salient point. Knighthoods are the result of a lengthy process involving high-level committees whose final recommendations are submitted by Britain's Prime Minister to the Queen. She not only rubber-stamps them, but is then the royal most likely to confer the honour at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Second, consider another salient point. British authorities will look closely at the nature of the registration and use of the jet to ascertain whether Hamilton has benefited from an undue cash flow advantage and whether he potentially acquired more in British tax refunds than was perhaps warranted. The peak body overseeing this jurisdiction is HM Revenue and Customs, a non-ministerial department established in 2005 to replace the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

Next, join the dots between those two salient points. The Queen approves all knighthoods and personally confers most of them. And, of course, the administration of Britain's tax system is governed by commissioners appointed by none other than the Queen.

So when you look at the Hamilton situation in this light, it is improbable - but not entirely impossible - that the reigning monarch would unhesitatingly and unquestioningly confer a knighthood on a person whose complex financial arrangements with regard to the jet are being examined by her very own taxation authorities.

That apart, when examined purely in the sporting context and unencumbered by debate about finances, legalities and taxes, Hamilton's candidacy is certainly a worthy one. Only three Formula One drivers have ever been knighted - an Australian, an Englishman and a Scot - and the 32-year-old Mercedes driver would have to be odds-on to become the fourth at some point.

However, there has never been an inordinate rush to give knighthoods to racing drivers. Consider the facts.

The late Antipodean three-time world champion, Jack Brabham, who won his world titles in 1959, 1960 and 1966, was knighted in 1979 - nine years after he retired. Britain's beloved Stirling Moss, one of racing's earliest pioneers and the driver synonymous with the dangerous developmental years of the F1 circuit, never actually won a world title but was knighted in 2000 - almost 40 years after his retirement in 1962.

And the most recent racing knight was Jackie Stewart, one of a select group of people in F1 who are unlikely ever to receive a Christmas card from Hamilton. He won world titles in 1969, 1971 and again in his final year, 1973. Significantly, he also waged a relentless campaign to improve woeful safety standards in the sport before he was knighted in 2001 - almost 30 years after he stopped driving F1 cars.

Historically, there is an interesting link between Britain and Formula One. When the grand prix racing circuit was in its infancy in the post-World War II period, the country had many aeronautical experts who faced a sharply declining demand for their skills in peacetime.

Their understanding of the relationship between high speed and lightweight machines, allied to valuable knowledge of aerodynamics, airflow, high-performance engineering and efficient design elements helped shape the nascent racing industry, leading to the Midlands boom region now known as Motorsport Valley, where many of today's teams have their bases.

Not surprisingly, Britain has more F1 world champions than any other nation. Ten British drivers have won a total of 17 world titles - Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill (twice), Jim Clark (twice), John Surtees, Jackie Stewart (three times), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Hamilton, who now has four and is hungry for more.

The quest for a fifth title, to overtake Vettel, is at the very top of his agenda and shortly after Hamilton unfurled the Union Jack in his cockpit, having sealed his latest world crown in Mexico, he found it impossible to resist a dig at his former team-mate Nico Rosberg, last year's champion. "I want (world title) No. 5 now," he said. "I could do the easy thing like Nico, which is just to stop and retreat, but I think that there's more in me, that there's more to come."

Whether or not you agree with his propensity to lob verbal grenades at others, you have to acknowledge that the bookmakers are right and that he will eventually become a knight of the realm, kneeling before the Queen and receiving the ceremonial touch of her sword on his right shoulder and then his left. Notwithstanding the #redjet revelations, the knighthood is not a matter of if, but when.

For now, however, he must endure the financial questions, the legal scrutiny and the hovering sword of Damocles. Later, assuredly, after an interval yet to be determined, it will be the sword of the monarch.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.