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Hamilton the good guy deserves to be embraced as the nation's favourite.

Byline: OLIVER HOLT

WHEN Nigel Mansell won the Formula One world title in 1992, he won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award the same year.

When Damon Hill won the Formula One world title in 1996, he won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award the same year.

When Lewis Hamilton won the Formula One world title in 2008, Joe Calzaghe won the award.

Calzaghe had beaten Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr, two of the greats of the sport, that year before retiring undefeated.

So there was no shame, no snub in Hamilton losing to one of our finest-ever boxers.

And when Jenson Button won the title the following year, he lost out to Ryan Giggs in the vote.

But still, as the English racer prepares to try to seal his second title in Abu Dhabi this weekend, it is worth asking a couple of questions.

Why is Hamilton not more popular and what does he have to do to change that?

Because, let's be honest, Hamilton should be Britain's favourite sportsman.

His story is inspiring. He was a kid from a humble background whose dad scrimped and saved and grafted to help him carve out a career in the playground of the rich and privileged.

He was a kid who, through an explosive talent, rose to the top of the world's most dangerous, high-octane sport.

He overcame obstacle after obstacle to become the youngestever F1 world champion at the age of 23.

And he did it with an aggressive, exciting, intuitive, seat-of-the-pants driving style that was way closer to Ayrton Senna than Alain Prost.

How much more do you want? Part of the issue in Hamilton's early years in the sport was that he had risen through the ranks with McLaren.

McLaren are a fine team, a British beacon of engineering and design brilliance and one of the most successful outfits in F1. But they are not big on personality.

If they were a colour, they would be grey. And they would be proud of it.

They suck the personality out of their drivers. Spontaneity is anathema to them. If they are about one thing, it is control.

McLaren did not seem to realise that in Hamilton, they had gold dust.

They tried to turn down the glint from his stardom.

They corporatised him, basically. They turned him into a walking billboard, a flesh-presser, a sponsor's plaything.

The public wanted a fistshaking showman like Mansell or a vulnerable underdog such as Hill.

What McLaren gave them was a brilliant racer and nothing else.

As far as his personality went, they shut it down. Maybe Hamilton, like Button, suffered because by the end of the last decade, Formula One had slipped slightly in its appeal.

Some of its fans had grown bored with tyre wars and driver aids and the blandness of drivers that the teams had worked so hard to cultivate.

In a world of daredevils and men who diced with danger at every turn, it seemed particularly discordant the drivers should have to worry so much about saying something that might offend somebody.

And even when Hamilton attempted some levity and answered a question about why he had attracted the attention of the stewards at Monaco by repeating the Ali G line "maybe it is because I'm black", his comments were misinterpreted.

It was as if Formula One had forgotten how to deal with humour.

But in recent years, the public has begun to see more of Hamilton.

He broke from McLaren to join Mercedes. He broke from his father's management to join Simon Fuller's XIX.

He became more independent. He became his own man.

And this year, when controversy has followed him, he has been the good guy, not the villain.

Twice he has fallen foul of questionable manoeuvres by his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.

And, as Hill discovered in his rivalry with Michael Schumacher, every hero needs a villain.

So if Hamilton holds off Rosberg and wins his second world title in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, he should get the belated adulation that is his due.

If he wins, he will become the first British driver since Sir Jackie Stewart to claim multiple F1 world titles.

Who knows whether he'll win the BBC award. Rory McIlroy has just had a hell of a year.

But Hamilton has grown up. He is not just someone to admire and respect any more.

He is someone the British public can embrace.

He was a kid from a humble background whose dad scrimped and saved for him

CAPTION(S):

ON TRACK FOR GLORY Mansell and Hill earned the Beeb honour... now it should be Hamilton's turn
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:5BERM
Date:Nov 19, 2014
Words:780
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