27 Jul 2012

Lewis goes a bit bonkers (and sets the fastest Friday lap)

On the eve of his 100th Grand Prix at Hockenheim Lewis Hamilton took to twitter with a vengeance.  Lewis has been on twitter for some time but has always been an irregular twitterer.  Despite that he is followed by 930,065 people - not quite as many as Jenson Button who's followers surpassed 1,000,000 just before the British GP.

Then something strange happened.  On the Friday of Hockenheim he tweeted that he was, 'Very excited about my 100th race this weekend'.  And since then he hasn't stopped.

This has given us an insight into one of the biggest name in sport, indeed in popular culture.  Ever since his debut in 2007 at the age of 22 Lewis' name has been at the top of the time sheets and gossip columns.  His only World Championship came in 2008 but he could easily have won another two.

In 2007, and the well-documented years beforehand, Lewis was a nicely spoken young man brought up by a father who held down three jobs to support his career and who ingrained into him the principles of honesty and hard work.  Lewis fitted into McLaren well, indeed Fernando Alonso left the team after their turbulent season, together and moulded the team around him.  He was, and still is, a popular and well liked driver.  The arrival of Jenson Button brought a friendly relationship off track and a hard-fought one on it.

After initial speculation that Button would crumble under the talent of Hamilton and fact the McLaren team was essentially Lewis's it has turned out to be a mainly complimentary relationship although Lewis does seem to be able to extract more performance from the car went the chips are down.

On race day at Hockenheim Lewis tweeted early in the day, 'Rise & shine, it's butt whopping time!'  Note the correct use of the comma and apostrophe, despite the slang.

Lewis went on to tweet another 26 times that day - recording his routine with photographs and comments.  At one point he was driven to point out it was actually him tweeting (some drivers don't and their accounts are run by media or PR people).  He showed us his journey to the circuit, his room at the track, the steering wheel, a photo of him and Desmond Tutu, shouted out congratulations to Bradley Wiggins, took the photo of the year at the drivers parade, congratulated Jenson on his win and finally showed us the plane in which he would leave Germany.

All of the above was conducted in the same grammatically correct mix of English and slang - and always polite and with no swearing.

The next day Lewis then sent out a stream of 'hellos' to a mixture of other twitter users including Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Kelis and a bunch of rap singers this correspondent has never heard of.  It was slightly surreal watching these fanboy tweets enter the timeline.  Like a teenager desperately trying to catch the attention of their hero.  Only this time one presumes the recipients noticed and responded privately.

Thereafter Lewis continued at a rate of 10 or 20 tweets a day, often in slang - such as 'Chillin wit my homie @polowdadon & @fuckyopictures...let go!!!'

He told us of his impending meeting with Muhammad Ali and of going back to meet his brother in the UK.  He also occasionally tweeted psychobabble such as, 'Appreciate life even through the struggle because after your fall, a new you will be formed stronger than before.'

Note the full stop at the end.

Thereafter Lewis has continued to tweet at a regular rate with the same mixture of slang and grammatically correct English.  With the same mixture of fandom and interesting observation of a Formula 1 driver in one of the top teams and at the top of his game.

Earlier today he gave us this nugget - 'Just finished engineering, small changes to the car.  Having lunch now, grilled chicken salad, lucozade drink and maxi muscle shake.'  Note the full stop AND reference to two of McLaren's sponsors.

So what do we make of the Lewis Hamilton who has opened himself up to twitter and therefore the world?

The first observation one would make is that he is a happy young man, still excited with life and up for the next challenge to come along.  He is still prone to the hero worship, attractions and need to feel wanted that any young man of his age are.  He likes to hang with rappers and black icons yet he cannot (does not want to?) escape the principles and ethics of his upbringing.

In short Lewis Hamilton, despite all that he has achieved, is still finding his feet in life.  He is 27 years old and since a young age has been raised in a straitjacketed atmosphere.  At first by his father and then by Ron Dennis and the McLaren team.  And now, maybe, because Ron has left the McLaren Formula 1 team to concentrate on the road car business Lewis feels a little more able to stretch his legs and explore the life that is out there and that he has, arguably, missed.

It doesn't seem to be doing him any harm.  The Lewis of old was prone to the occasional mishap and accident, to accusations his private life was intruding on his driving and his relationship with his father has fluctuated over recent years.

The new Lewis, merrily tweeting away about rappers and aeroplanes, about the steering wheel of his F1 car and about playing on the PS3 with his brother, about meeting Ali and saying hello to Denise Lewis - about the minutia of his life, is just another iteration of the young man we have come to know and admire.

Lewis Hamilton has been in the public eye since his early teens.  What he does, and says, is his own business.  It is us, the public, who should appreciate the insights he brings us into the life of an extraordinary young man.  He set the fastest times in both Friday practice sessions at the Hungaroring.

Long may you tweet, Lewis.  And good luck on Sunday.

One last thing.  We're not so sure of the muttonchops, Lewis.