Even though he deleted the pro-vegan post that started the trouble, Lewis Hamilton continued to be the centre of social media debate on Wednesday. It isn’t the first time.
The Formula One (F1) world champion declared on Instagram on Wednesday that he worried about the “extinction of our race” if humans keep eating animals.
“I’m sad right now with the thought of where this world is going,” wrote the 32-year-old, who is on course for a sixth world title, leading Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 64 points with four races left of the championship.
If a long list of previous controversies are any indication, the social-media furore around Hamilton’s post — with many people being strongly supportive and many violently opposed — is unlikely to deflect the Mercedes driver.
Others in Formula One were, perhaps understandably, reluctant to wade into a debate on the environment, although one former world champion posted a response that saw both sides.
“Lewis will get no end of flack for this, being a jet-setting F1 star. We are all hypocritical to greater or lesser degrees,” wrote Damon Hill, now a pundit. “But if people like him don’t speak out then we all carry on in the same vein and don’t even try to change. Its not that bad, eating carrots #f1 #carrots.”
Hamilton is used to flak.
In November 2015, he drew the ire of animals rights groups for posts on Twitter and Facebook that he felt expressed his love of cute, furry animals. The Facebook photos showed him cuddling a jaguar cub and a new-born lion at the Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation in Mexico, with hashtags including #cutestthingever and #animallover. A Twitter video showed him creeping up on a larger tiger and scaring it.
The posts drew ferocious criticism on social media. The UK director of People for the Ethical Treatment Of Animals, Elisa Allen, released a long statement that started: “Seeing big cats used for photo ops promotes the idea that wild animals are here for human amusement.”
In 2011, complaining on the BBC that he was being victimised by stewards, Hamilton jokingly borrowed a line from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen: “Maybe it’s because I’m black, I don’t know. That’s what Ali G says…”
Hamilton had to write a letter of apology to Jean Todt, the president of the governing body of motor sports.
In 2018, Hamilton backed the return of grid girls at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix by posting a grab from another Instagram user showing five buxom grid girls, and adding “Thank you Jesus”.
That drew the ire not only of feminists but also of Christians. Hamilton, whose Instagram self-description contains the line “Spread LOVE and God above all”, deleted the post.
Before the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix, he switched apps and got in to trouble for using Snapchat during an official press conference. He posted bunny-ear photos, with the caption: “This shit is killing me.”
British tabloids let rip, labelling Hamilton “Snap-Prat” and the “Berk in the Merc”.
Hamilton responded by saying journalists had been “disrespectful” and walking out on a media event.
He also provoked contrasting reactions with two posts about princesses in 2017.
At Christmas, Hamilton posted a video showing his young nephew sporting a blue and pink dress as they visited Disneyland.
“I’m so sad right now. Look at my nephew,” the British driver wrote. The video contains an exchange, which ends with Hamilton shouting: “Boys don’t wear princess dresses”, which led to the youngster covering his ears.
Hamilton took the post down, describing his outburst as a “lapse of judgment”. He also designed a kilt in collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger and wore it in a fashion shoot for GQ, telling the magazine, “I want to make amends”. GQ used that line in a promotional Instagram post.
Earlier that year, he paid tribute to Princess Diana, who had died 20 years earlier, by posting a poem he had written, England’s Rose, on Instagram.
The poem may have lacked literary merit and resembled Elton John’s Candle in the Wind, but this time many on social media gushed over it.
In a separate tribute on Twitter, Hamilton acknowledged the anniversary with a quote often attributed to the Princess. “I don’t go by the rule book,” he wrote. “I lead from the heart, not the head.” — AFP