Jeremy Clarkson has never been much for political correctness.
The curmudgeonly and conservative ex-Top Gear host, who’s made a career out of contrarianism and inflammatory comments, has taken aim once again at Sir Lewis Hamilton, the current and seven-time Formula One World Champion, for being too ‘woke’ and bringing politics into F1.
“Every race weekend, Lewis Hamilton gets out of his car and thanks the crowd – presumably hoping we at home can’t hear them booing,” he starts his screed in The Sun.
“It happens everywhere he goes, whether he wins or loses. People love Max Verstappen but they’ve taken a noisy dislike to Lewis. The problem is that Lewis has changed.”
“When he first came on to the scene he was bright and talented and normal – and everyone loved him. But then he decided to go woke and right-on and more politically correct than a student union AGM.”
“After the murder of George Floyd, he had Mercedes paint the cars black, he talks about how he’s now green because he sold his jet and has urged everyone to be vegetarian.”
“All this might work well on social media but in the real world, where people live, it doesn’t work at all… instead, we all just want to throw something at him.”
While Hamilton and Clarkson used to be on good terms, the latter has done little to hide his growing animosity against the F1 champ. From his driving style to his fashion to his politics, Clarkson has repeatedly attacked Hamilton over the years.
But there might be a kernel of truth to Clarkson’s criticism in this instance.
F1 has long been criticised for its questionable approach to ethics. The race schedule has expanded in recent years to include races in countries that have terrible human rights records, such as China, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, largely at Hamilton’s behest, F1 has taken a prominent stance on progressive issues, promoting the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBT+ visibility and talking up its environmental credentials. It does smack a little bit of hypocrisy for F1 and its biggest star to be talking the talk but not walking the walk when it comes to real progressive change.
It’s an issue that fellow F1 driver and former World Champion Sebastian Vettel has also commented on in recent days, sharing his concerns with The New York Times that “there’s a lot of countries where we go to and a lot of money, in a way, that we receive that maybe it’s not very pure.”
“It’s wrong we go to certain places… but obviously, financially, I can see there’s a huge incentive for Formula 1 as a business to go there.”
Vettel continued: “Where does it leave the mechanics, the engineers, the drivers? Where does it leave the people employed by a team to do a job that they willingly do, and it’s not their choice or their decision where to practice that job? I think it’s a difficult one… I think we need to start facing more the consequences of our actions and take on that responsibility.”
Clarkson’s criticism of Hamilton comes at a time when the driver’s star power and presence outside of the sport has never been greater – while also facing what seems like his first credible title threat in a very long time in the young Max Verstappen.
The contrast between Verstappen and Hamilton is hard to ignore. Hamilton is a globally recognised superstar; a charismatic cultural icon who goes to fashion shows and hobnobs with fellow celebs. Verstappen, on the other hand, is a brusque and serious operator who’s all about racing. Clarkson, no doubt, likes that about Max.
It’s also hard to ignore the feeling that at least part of Clarkson’s animosity towards Hamilton has an ugly classist/racist element to it… Especially compared to his championing of Verstappen, the son of a former F1 driver.
Leaving aside the debate around F1 or Hamilton’s ethics or progressive bona fides, the fact remains that Max and Lewis are giving fans one of the most exciting title fights in recent memory, which Clarkson should ultimately be supportive of.
Hamilton’s achievements both on and off the track speak for themselves, but some of the love for Verstappen undoubtedly comes from a feeling that Hamilton’s been on top for too long. It does get boring when the same dude just wins everything all the time…
The 2021 Formula One World Championship has only five races to go, with Verstappen currently in the lead with 287.5 points to Hamilton’s 275.5. Next up is the Mexico City Grand Prix, which kicks off a triple-header with the São Paulo Grand Prix and Qatar Grand Prix on subsequent weekends.