Allegations of cheating, lying and cover-up followed his defeat, promotion and ultimate disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix. The mark left has piled up on top of other image issues that Hamilton, largely unfairly, faces at home.
Some of the problems underlining the Hamilton brand are intrinsic to the continuing ambivalence Britain shows towards its sporting winners. As a nation we have moved closer to embracing the winning mentality – as long as our champions do not acquire vast wealth.
Olympians are lionised, although relatively few regularly watch their sports. Premiership footballers, despite entertaining millions of people every week, are often cast as villains partly because of their riches.
In Hamilton’s case, the possibility of career earnings of £1bn have been mooted. This, as well as his overseas domicile as a tax exile, grates with some in the UK and has become a key issue for the Hamilton brand managers.
Hamilton is the first great individual champion the UK has produced in the modern big-money era. Previously, the mega earners of tennis, golf and Formula 1 have all been foreign. While Americans are proud of Tiger Woods’ talent and the rewards it brings, many in the UK feel alienated by the Hamilton money-making machine. Rather than being seen as aspirational, the financial success is viewed as vaguely unpatriotic. It is a perception Team Hamilton needs to address.
Time and skills need to be invested in building relationships away from the sports pages. Most of the criticism comes from the news diary and comment pages. Hamilton should use his short period of relative sporting failure to address with modesty the authors and editors of the criticisms.
Ultimately, with clear and clever messaging, they will all buy into a Great Brit.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun