Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton can bring new fans to F1

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Just over two weeks ago Lewis Hamilton produced another commanding performance under the greatest pressure to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and his second F1 championship.

It was his 11th win of an incredible season to see if him take the title over Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg as the German hit reliability issues under the lights at Yas Marina.

The debate over whether Hamilton was the most deserved of the two to become champion was one that went on and on in the closing weeks of the season, Rosberg had been perhaps the most consistent driver but overall Hamilton had been the fastest.

And so when push comes to shove most agree that the right man picked up the big gold trophy at the FIA gala in Qatar this past weekend and that Rosberg will have to redouble his efforts and come back stronger to challenge Hamilton again in 2015.

But now that the dust has settled and the euphoria of a tense two-man duel eased what does Formula 1 with Lewis Hamilton as it's champion really mean and how can his popularity be used?

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A very different champion

There is no doubt Hamilton is a much different face of the F1 brand than the man who has led the way the past four years, Sebastian Vettel.

With the German it started off as the young kid who came up, took F1 by storm winning for the minnows of Toro Rosso at Monza in 2008 before fulfilling his dream with Red Bull and coming from out of nowhere to claim his first title in 2010.

His cheery, relaxed attitude off the track allied to his speed on it made him a very popular champion but as his era of dominance began and continued opinions changed.

Indeed by 2013 he was being booed by certain portions of fans bored of his ruthlessness and never ending push to get better, while some saw the actions of those fans as disrespectful it just proved how success can change people's opinions.

Of course he still had plenty of fans and comparisons to the great Michael Schumacher began but as the man at the top he had become a very divisive figure.

Its why when Red Bull and Vettel came down to earth with a bump this year there wasn't a whole lot of sympathy indeed some saw him as a crybaby following reports of his frustration at Renault's lack of performance from the new V6 power units in pre-season testing.

Rosberg rivalry created a new buzz

To have Mercedes as the new 'team to beat' was a welcome change for all, given the way Vettel had strolled to nine straight wins to close the previous year without much competition.

There was a buzz around the prospect of two friends who had been battling as team-mates since they were karting, now head-to-head in the big league.

Then there's the amazing contrast in styles between Hamilton and Rosberg. It was almost a throwback to the Niki Lauda/ James Hunt era with the meticulous and professor-like approach of Rosberg battling the hot rod with a celebrity lifestyle in Hamilton.

Because of that contrast it highlighted the different mindsets certain groups of fans had. For the traditional F1 fan Rosberg was the one they wanted to win because he was seen as the one who put the effort in to all aspects of his job, whereas the casual fan preferred the aggressive showman Hamilton is with his overtaking and incredible pace.

Adjusting to the spotlight

A key part of how the championship played out was how Rosberg adjusted to the pressure of having the spotlight permanently on him, while for Hamilton its something he's had his whole career.

This was proven by the events of Spa where it seemed Nico, still upset after Hamilton had ignored team orders in Hungary, tried to deviate from what he did best and do everything by the facts and figures and try to become the instinctive racer that Hamilton is.

That's why, I believe, the incident happened and why Rosberg didn't really know how to react because from then on, the further occasions the pair went wheel-to-wheel Hamilton always had the advantage.

More divisive but still impressive

And it was the manner of which Lewis stormed to his second title that may change how he is considered as world champion.

During his early McLaren years it was the racer that shone through before it quickly changed to the personality and off track activities when he joined Mercedes, it is that side to Hamilton that some fans don't like and can't palate him as the 'number one'.

But in those closing races he proved the incredible racer is still there finding the kind of pace and form that rose him to the top in the first place and ultimately made him the more worthy champion.

Hamilton's celebrity status good for F1

For those who are critical of his lifestyle, it also comes with its benefits and those could be very positive to F1 during his year as champion.

In most of the young potential markets the sport is trying to attract around the world, it is about the 'show' F1 puts on and by having perhaps the most recognised driver as world champion, it could attract new people to watch it on TV or go to the races themselves.

Certainly based on his appeal, countries like India and America, where he has garnered plenty of new fans, could see their interest in F1 rise with Hamilton's success and if you wanted two global markets Bernie Ecclestone would want rising popularity in they would be at the very top of the list.

There's been quite a debate over how popular he is in the UK with several media outlets posting a range of theories as to why he's not everyone's cup of tea, but on a global scale Lewis Hamilton can be a very positive world champion from a business perspective, certainly more than Rosberg and likely even Vettel, so its the prerogative of Ecclestone and Co. to capitalise on his success, particularly at a time when F1 is struggling to maintain audience figures all around the world.

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