By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton pulled out of his first sponsor engagement of the year on Tuesday but reappeared on social media after wiping his accounts clean over the Christmas break.
A Mercedes spokesman said the 33-year-old Briton, who won his fourth title last year, had been feeling unwell and was unable to travel to the event in Switzerland hosted by watch company IWC.
The team sponsor had been notified of his absence already on Monday, he added. Mercedes’ other driver Valtteri Bottas attended.
Hamilton later posted a picture on his Instagram account, which is followed by 5.7 million people, of himself standing on a snowy peak with a snowboard.
“2018. A chance to revisit every goal, every challenge, every dream. A chance to be driven, hard working, positive, and everything you want to be, all over again,” he told his followers.
“I will never stop, I have no finish line. Join me this year in reaching beyond your wildest dreams.”
It was the only post on what had become a blank slate after he drew condemnation for comments made over Christmas about his young nephew wearing a pink dress.
“Boys don’t wear princess dresses,” the Briton had said, in a video on Instagram that he apologized for and took down the next day.
Hamilton, or his media team, then proceeded to remove reams of content and photographs from his feeds, giving no explanation for his actions.
The Briton has the biggest following of any F1 driver on social media, boasting also 5.26 million on Twitter, who have been kept up to speed in the past about his celebrity lifestyle and fashion tastes.
Formula One’s owners Liberty Media, who took over last year, have adopted a “fan first” approach with social media a major plank in their strategy.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)