By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton defended his ‘Britishness’ at his home race on Saturday, against a backdrop of tens of thousands of fans flying the flag for the most successful racing driver the country has ever seen.
The five-times Formula One champion, and winner of 79 grands prix, was asked after qualifying his Mercedes on the front row at Silverstone why despite the evident support some people still had doubts.
“There’s contention because people say, well, you live in Monaco and your accent isn’t maybe as British as others because you spend a lot of time in the U.S,” said a reporter.
“So why do you think people question your Britishness?”
Hamilton, who had missed out on pole by a mere six thousandths of a second to Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, paused for some time before making a considered response.
“I remember growing up and watching Jenson Button and all the youngsters come through and everyone migrated to Monaco and nobody ever said anything about it at the time,” said the 34-year-old.
“But, of course, when I did they had something to say about it,” he smiled.
A frequent visitor to both coasts of the United States and to his winter home in Colorado, Hamilton pointed out that his family lived in Britain even if his family heritage was also Caribbean from his paternal grandfather.
“This feels of course where my heart is. And I’m ultimately fully British,” he said.
“People have a right to their own opinion. If you look around, there’s a lot of Team LH caps. The support that I’ve had has been just incredible and it’s been growing over the years,” he added.
The Briton has won his home race a record-equaling five times and until Saturday had secured pole four times in a row at Silverstone.
Hamilton, who was born in humble circumstances in the town of Stevenage north of London, said there would always be people with negative views but every day was an opportunity to win them over.
“I guess over time I’ll do more and more positive things for the country. Ultimately, I go to all these races and I lift the British flag proudly. There’s no-one else in this sport that’s raised it so high,” he said.
“At the moment, probably that’s not enough. I’ll keep looking out for what else I can do. And for those who do follow me, I really do appreciate their support.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon)