Lewis Hamilton has been making gossip-column inches again, dancing topless while smoking on a party float in Barbados. What would 1970s F1 hero James Hunt have made of that...
The advent of social media has been a double-edged sword for Formula 1 racing drivers. On the one hand, it opens up their world to their fans, allowing them to engage (well, stare at) and essentially follow their heroes. Like stalking, but without the need to be served with a restraining order.
And for that there’s no better medium than Instagram, with its photo/video-heavy slant, to get an inside view into the lives of the rich and famous.
But what’s this? Lewis Hamilton has dared to put photos of himself dancing, smoking (like Bill Clinton, there’s no proof he’s inhaled) and generally having a whale of a time on holiday in Barbados. Like he’s a human being, having fun on the spur of the moment, and not just some kind of well-paid driving automaton.
Good for him, some say. “Outrageous!” shout others. So which is it? Behaviour fitting of a reigning world champion, paid millions by one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, and currently in the middle of another title campaign?
My view, for what it’s worth, is this: if it was good enough for James Hunt…
Lewis’s life in pictures
Hamilton’s Instagram account is undeniably fascinating, no matter how mundane some of his photos might first appear.
On day one of his summer hols, Lewis was feasting on pancakes and bacon (definitely not on the F1 menu). Then he was showing off his lion-tattooed pecks, and treating us to some great mountain views of his Colorado getaway.
We see a video of him speeding past in a wicked-looking dirt buggy, a fun vid of him receiving a NFL pass while jumping into a lake, working out in the gym and a selfie of his new haircut (which some of old friends in Stevenage would surely label a ‘dodgy barnet’).
And, as we’ve come to expect from Lewis on social media, there’s plenty of pics of his dogs Roscoe and Coco too. Look! She's wearing a little dog lifejacket! #toocute
Then we get to Barbados, a beautiful place I’ve visited on many occasions. Great people, fantastic times to be had there. And while you can sit on the beach all day drinking cocktails, which is what I prefer to do in my downtime, there’s also some wild fun to be had – especially on the annual Kadooment Day, to celebrate a period called 'Crop Over'. A full-on Caribbean party time.
There have been plenty of pap shots of Lewis hanging out with the singer Rihanna, who hails from the island and is a local hero, plus tons of speculation in the gossip columns linking them romantically. Apparently, Real Madrid footballer Karim Benzema is also ‘in her circle’, and so-called insiders report: “She is still talking to Karim but she is also talking to Lewis and keeping her options open.”
A bit like Ferrari with Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas then.
This is no drunken slip-up
If I had advice for anyone on social media, it would be this: never post when you’re drunk. On the face of it, one might assume that’s what happened here. However, I do detect a vague scent of a rat here…
Anyone who has followed Lewis on Twitter for years, like I have, will have recognized the point at which his account was taken out of his own hands and, for want of a better way of putting it, placed into the hands of someone who could spell and use punctuation.
In fact, you could probably trace it back to the day when he tweeted a photo of his McLaren’s telemetry to prove a point – which instantly gave away exactly what rideheight they were running.
I’m not privy to whether Lewis has a social media manager who follows him around all day, but he’s certainly not taking all of these photos himself. His fans appear to love them, though.
I also couldn't possibly say whether this whole Barbados scenario has been dreamt up by shadowy PR people to ensure ‘brand Hamilton’ stays in the public eye. I mean, next you’ll be suggesting he turned up at Wimbledon not adhering to its dress code for the Royal Box on purpose so he wasn’t allowed in, thus guaranteeing him major column inches the next day, right?
But if you were going to do that, as some grandiose PR strategy, you’d surely Instagram a photo of not only the invite but the guide of Royal Box etiquette, plus a pic of what you were wearing beforehand…
PS: Other conspiracy theories are available.
PPS: James Hunt wouldn’t have been let in to Wimbledon’s Royal Box either, as he’d have turned up barefoot. And he almost certainly would have treated Rihanna to a test drive by now…