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We Can Learn From Lewis

FEATURE BY MAT COCH
30/03/2013

Formula One fans fall into one of two categories; the fickle, who support whoever is winning, and the diehards, who will defend their beloved team or driver to the hilt.

The second group are as passionate and one-eyed as supporters of any other team or athlete in any other sport. There is a bond that runs more than skin deep and they adorn themselves with the apparel of their heroes.

Nowhere is this more evident than Lewis Hamilton. He has the sort of support most can only dream of; an army of dedicated, passionate and vocal supporters. One need only read the message boards of any Formula One website, or the comments section below any critical article for it to become apparent.

Lewis Hamilton is good for the sport. He divides opinion, sparks controversy and is absolutely unique in the F1 paddock. That makes him interesting, newsworthy and sparks conversation and debate. Lewis Hamilton gets Formula One spoken about more than it otherwise might.

Lewis has a different approach to most drivers. Sebastian Vettel likes the quiet life of Switzerland where he can drive his Volkswagen people mover to the shops. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, if Twitter is to be believed, spend their time inflicting pain on themselves cycling. These are very European pursuits in, what is still, a very European sport.

Hamilton prefers a more 'American' approach, for want of a better description. His lifestyle appears more akin to a Hollywood celebrity and the 2008 world champion happily shares more of this than many of his peers. It gives us all an insight into his character and what makes him happy, for a happy Lewis is a fast Lewis.

To his millions of Twitter followers this is appealing; a refreshing insight in to Formula One and a driver many can relate to in a sport which often appears corporate and sterile. To others it providesa seemingly endless opportunity to deride and belittle one of the world's fastest men because he has a different approach to life and racing.

It reminds me a little of Greg Lemond. Lemond was an American cyclist during the 1980s, who won the Tour De France twice. He was the first real non-European to reach the pinnacle of professional cycling, which is still a very European sport (though an increasing number of Australians and Americans fill its ranks).

The etiquette in cycling is complicated and superstition is as much a part of the sport as the cycling itself. Riders won't shave on the morning of a big race as they believe it takes away energy as the stubble re-grows.

Lemond had none of that. He'd happily eat Mexican food, stay up late and break many of the rules that ran deep through the cycling world. His wife often travelled with him at a time when women were not welcome in cycling. Lemond was a trailblazer, and he had a hard time because of it.

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