The new James Hunt?

Hamilton MotoGP NASCAR

On the track, Lewis Hamilton is one of the most exciting drivers in Formula One, regarded by many as the fastest man over one lap and - Hungary aside - has been enhancing his reputation with a number of consistent performances this season.

Off it, he continues to split opinion.

Hamilton has been very active on social media during this mid-season break as he enjoys some downtime in Barbados. Cutting loose, Hamilton has been happy to publish images and videos of himself smoking cigars and dancing at the annual Crop Over harvest festival, which culminated with Kadooment Day last Monday.

Positively preposterous behaviour I say!! #0FucksGiven #daggeringboss #BarbadosCropOver

A photo posted by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

For a number of years, Hamilton's social media has been run externally rather than by Hamilton himself. Despite that, even the image of him enjoying his holiday in Barbados was met with certain negative responses from his Instagram followers such as "No no no" and "Where's the good boy?". Admittedly, perhaps the language in the hashtags was not the smartest move...

Fortunately, the majority of the reaction is positive, and rightly so. In a time when drivers are criticised for lacking personality, Hamilton is happy to show off his. And as a double world champion who is currently top of the standings chasing a third world title, why shouldn't he?

Currently romantically linked with global pop star Rihanna, Hamilton's exploits have drawn comparisons with James Hunt on social media, which should be music to his ears. Hamilton was not always comfortable in the highly regulated environment at McLaren but has found a new lease of life at Mercedes and, alongside enjoying himself away from F1, he is making the most of having the best car to secure the results his talent deserves.

Hunt remains a hugely popular character from F1's past, but split opinion regarding Hamilton's popularity is evidenced by two fan surveys which were carried out this year. An Autosport survey found Hamilton to be the most popular driver on the grid, edging out Kimi Raikkonen. However, a similar poll by the Grand Prix Drivers Association in partnership with didn't even have Hamilton in the top three as Raikkonen headed Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - British Grand Prix - Race Day - Silverstone, England

Bernie Ecclestone has previously praised Hamilton for embracing the role of world champion because he promotes F1. The 30-year-old is known first and foremost for being a grand prix driver, and he ensures his name - and therefore a form of focus on the sport - is in the limelight even at such a quiet time of the season.

As he matures, Hamilton has to be aware his actions will be scrutinised by media, fans and even his own team if his form drops off in the car. But for as long as it goes hand in hand with impressive performances and results, he should keep doing it.

As an F1 fan you don't have to share Hamilton's passions away from the sport, but you have to respect a driver being himself and enjoying his life, especially if it culminates in him producing to the best of his ability on the track.

Of course there are times when being a good role model is important, but there are also times when a driver needs to be himself. You cannot keep everyone happy all of the time - as some of the reaction to this piece will likely attest - and Hamilton has clearly accepted that. With Mercedes getting the best out of him, perhaps other teams could learn to let their drivers be themselves a little bit more...


Click here for F1i's driver ratings from the first half of the 2015 season.

Click here for a gallery of Lewis Hamilton partying with Rihanna in Barbados.

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