People notice him when he walks through the F1 paddock. He’s very British, to begin with, and he has that unmistakable swagger that goes with being a Grand Prix star – and knowing it. He relishes attention, but sometimes he just loves a bit of peace and quiet.
No, not Lewis Hamilton – Roscoe, that’s who we’re talking about. Roscoe is the Mercedes star’s pet bulldog – the one that has its own F1 paddock pass. Since the start of this year Roscoe’s consoling presence has accompanied Lewis Hamilton to most of the places a Formula 1 driver has to go to, which means this is one pooch that goes everywhere in style. Roscoe is one of the features that make Hamilton a one-off among the current crop of Grand Prix drivers, a man apart in many ways, and one who, despite the smiling countenance and the high-profile presence on social media – most recently in a series of tweets relating to his on-off relationship with ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger – remains something of an enigma to many F1 followers.
Can it really be seven years in F1 now for Lewis Hamilton?
It seems like only yesterday that the fresh-faced kid from Britain exploded on to the Grand Prix scene, seizing a podium finish on debut for McLaren right here in Australia. This was the same Lewis Hamilton – Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton, actually, named in recognition of all-round American athletics hero Carl Lewis – who a decade earlier had waltzed up to Ron Dennis and told him he wanted to drive for his F1 team…
The same Lewis Hamilton, too, who had played alongside Ashley Young in their school soccer team: Young now plays for England and was in the Manchester United team beaten by Liverpool at Anfield on the opening day of September. The two have something else in common: they’re black.
Perhaps that’s why Lewis Hamilton’s career was bound to be different. He was trumpeted from the start as ‘the first black F1 driver’, being of mixed parentage: his mother Carmen Larbalestier was a white Englishwoman, his father Anthony Hamilton the son of British immigrants from Grenada.
The racism issue has reared its unlovely head on more than one occasion in Hamilton’s racing life, most notably when he was targeted by Spanish fans at pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2008. But that had more to do with their F1 fortunes than the colour of Lewis’s skin.
Hamilton, after all, had re-signed with McLaren on a lucrative five-year deal McLaren while Spaniard Fernando Alonso was shown the door. They had endured a disastrous year together as teammates at McLaren in 2007, Hamilton’s rookie season in F1.
Leaving his physical make-up aside, Hamilton has always made a name for himself through his prodigious gifts as a driver. He was a star karter; he was a title-winner in British Formula Renault and in the F3 Euroseries before graduating to then-new F1 feeder category GP2 in 2006 and becoming its second champion – the first was the man who now partners him in F1, Nico Rosberg.
In the Grand Prix world controversy has always been Hamilton’s companion. Think back to 2009 and the infamous incident in which he deliberately misled the Melbourne race stewards after an incident with Jarno Trulli; think of 2011 and a season-long series of incidents with Felipe Massa, who famously accused Hamilton of being unable to use his brain; think, more recently, of the decision to leave McLaren, his ‘home’ for so many years, to seek greater opportunities with Mercedes.
Off-track moments have not been hard to find, either. In late 2007 Hamilton was pinged by French police after being clocked at 196 km/h on one of their autoroutes. Closer to home, on the eve of the 2010 Australian Grand Prix, he attracted the eye and the ire of the local constabulary for what was termed ‘deliberately losing traction’ in his rental car as he left the Albert Park circuit. “What F1 drivers always used to do,” said some… “Hoon,” said the magistrate… “Sorry,” said Hamilton… “Nanny State,” said our own Mark Webber as Lewis was fined $500 and told not to do it again.
Hamilton also failed to endear himself to some in Britain when he elected to move overseas, first to Luins in Switzerland and then to Monaco. “Getting away from the media bunfight,” said Lewis; “Avoiding paying taxes in the country that raised him,” said the critics.
But perhaps it’s time to talk about Lewis Hamilton the F1 driver?
Within 20 months of that thunderous Melbourne debut Hamilton was World Champion – although there, too, he didn’t do it the straightforward way. Massa, the man who would become his nemesis a couple of years later, thought he had done enough to win the title by winning the final race of the year in his native Brazil. But half a minute after Felipe’s Ferrari crossed the line, so did Lewis’s McLaren – and fifth place was all the Englishman needed to become World Champion by a single point.
Many seasoned observers consider Hamilton the fastest man out there and one of the finest racers in the game. He claimed his first F1 pole position in his sixth race, in Montreal in 2007; he used it to great advantage, securing his first Grand Prix victory the next day. Four wins in that maiden year, five wins the next: this was a young man in a hurry. Lewis Hamilton had won 22 times at time of writing. His most recent victory in Hungary before the summer break made him the first British driver to win at the wheel of a Silver Arrow since the legendary Stirling Moss at Aintree way back in 1955.
Moss never did win the World Championship; it’s the frustration of having won it only once, and that title being already five years in the past, that goded Hamilton into leaving what many saw as the safe haven of McLaren for the ‘alien’ environment of Mercedes.
“I believe that the combination of Lewis and Nico will be the most dynamic and exciting pairing on the grid next year,” said Ross Brawn when news of Hamilton’s impending arrival broke. And Brawn was right: in 2013, up to the Belgian Grand Prix, the two old pals had claimed nine pole positions and three race victories between them, with the promise of more to come at Merc-friendly tracks like Singapore.
So far, it’s Lewis who’s having the last laugh. And Roscoe hasn’t stopped smiling since that paddock pass first dangled round his British bulldog neck…