In the court of public opinion, Lewis Hamilton can't seem to win—which is kind of ironic because, for the last two years, he has done nothing but win on the Formula One circuit.
"It's strange how people want everyone to do the same thing as the people back in the day," Hamilton told the Mirror's Byron Young last summer. "This is how a F1 driver behaves, this is how a F1 driver looks. This is how a driver should be, and should talk. It’s just funny for me."
For some people, he is cocky or too much of a show-off, as he tweets photos of himself flying around in his private jet and hanging with a different crowd of celebrities seemingly every night. And for some, he is not dedicated enough to racing (although it should also be acknowledged that he does have a legion of dedicated fans).
When Hamilton moved from McLaren to Mercedes for the 2013 season, former world champion Sir Jackie Stewart offered some advice, per Sportinglife.com:
You just have to be damn careful you don't get carried away with your own importance, your own celebrity, or your own schedule outside of being in the cockpit. It can be quite intoxicating.
What Lewis needs to do is have more consistently good drives, never mind the mechanical issues, and he shouldn't be distracted, something he should keep in the back of his mind.
It's about who you hang out with, what you do in your off time, how you are committing your off time towards your real time—and your real time is being a racing driver.
Of course, Hamilton seems perfectly capable of balancing his personal and on-track lives—at least for the last couple seasons. I might have argued differently in the past.
But it is still not enough for some people. You've all seen it, at the bottom of any article you read about Hamilton: the venom and anger, sometimes even hatred.
As much as some superfans (you know, the ones who can rattle off the model number of Slim Borgudd's 1982 Tyrrell-Ford faster than they can their wives' birthdays) would like to think so, Formula One is not life. Neither Hamilton, nor any other drivers, need to live monastically, thinking of nothing but the next race and memorising corners in their bathtubs like the Jamaican bobsledders in Cool Runnings.
Since leaving McLaren, Hamilton's approach to F1 seems to have changed and matured. After all, he has won the last two world championships. And yes, he has had the best car, but he has also had Nico Rosberg breathing down the neck of his race suit.
Does the 30-year-old Brit say or do some regrettable things sometimes? Sure. Who hasn't?
But he seems like a genuinely nice person, willing to go out of his way to help people and connect with his fans. Last week, he hosted an impromptu contest on Twitter and ended up calling a few fans, just to chat. And when he is talking to someone, even in an awkward setting like a press conference or media session, he looks them in the eye and tries to answer the question sincerely.
NBC Sports reporter Will Buxton recalled Hamilton's first GP2 race on his personal blog, writing, "All weekend he'd been impossible to find in the paddock. As I later discovered, he'd been standing at the fence at the back of the GP2 enclosure signing autographs for everyone who passed. He hadn't been asked to. He'd just wanted to."
Last year, according to Buxton, "When he turned up in New York for a two-minute appearance on the Today Show, he arrived two hours early and spent every spare moment engaged with his fans."
F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone has criticised Sebastian Vettel for not being open about his life and working harder to promote the sport.
According to the Guardian's Paul Weaver, Ecclestone said, "I told Sebastian: 'You should be doing what [Hamilton's] doing.' Doing the job of world champion. He was the champion and got paid money for that, and these guys think their only job is racing a racing car. It goes a bit further than that."
Hamilton does go a bit further, giving us a glimpse at his life away from the paddock through Twitter and Instagram, but then people complain about that, too.
Which way do we want it?
A few weeks ago, I was speaking about Carlos Pace with Andrea de Adamich, who raced for Ferrari, McLaren and a few other teams in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He made the point a few times about how well-rounded Pace was, always interested in life outside the artificial world of F1. De Adamich said the only current driver who struck him that way was Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's team-mate.
But Hamilton seems like that, too—genuinely interested in the world around him.
On the podium recently, in Japan and Brazil, Hamilton greeted the crowd in their own language. This may seem like a gimmick, designed to elicit applause, but it is also a sign of respect from Hamilton to the fans of the sport. Like Buxton wrote, he doesn't have to do that. He wants to.
But of course, Hamilton drew fire for another podium incident earlier this year, at the Chinese Grand Prix, when he sprayed one of the hostesses with some champagne. According to the MailOnline's Gemma Mullin and Steph Cockroft, Hamilton was called an "embarrassment to the UK" and an "ignorant clown."
That's a lot of vitriol for a minor incident. It needs to stop.
Last month, BBC commentator and former F1 driver David Coulthard wrote in the Telegraph, "There are still those who instinctively do not like Lewis. He remains a divisive figure. For whatever reason, sometimes people take a dislike to someone and they hold on to it."
Ayrton Senna had as many detractors as he had fans. So did Michael Schumacher.
But a little perspective, please. Hamilton should be able to have fun, as long as he isn't hurting anybody, without being criticised for everything he does. As long as he performs at a high level when he arrives at the track, why should we care whether he spends his free time partying in Monaco or flying to Los Angeles?
Perhaps Stirling Moss, winner of 16 grands prix from 1951 to 1961, has part of the answer. Last year, he told the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson that Hamilton, "was one of the racing crowd before and now he's whatever you call those superstars. And that's not really the way we English go. We're more reserved."
Even so, the next time Hamilton does something that gets the Twittersphere all excited and angry, stop for a moment and think: Is this really an affront to the collective dignity of the sport, or is it just a 30-year-old harmlessly enjoying himself in between high-pressure weekends spent under a microscope?