Was Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton a deserving winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award? Whomever you ask, a different response is proffered. Many favoured runner-up Rory McIlroy, having won both the Open and PGA titles, as well as playing a crucial role in helping Europe to victory in the Ryder Cup, while Jo Pavey’s 10,000m gold at the European Championships, aged 40, less than a year after giving birth, also attracted high praise. The debate could go on forever, but to argue that Hamilton was an unworthy choice to succeed the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Andy Murray because he drove the fastest car, or as self-styled football philosopher Joey Barton claimed, because he is a tax exile, is frankly ridiculous.
In any case, having the fastest car is no guarantee of glory; just ask Hamilton circa 2007, when he conspired to throw away a 17 point advantage with a pitlane blunder in Shanghai. He had to rely on a healthy slice of luck to deprive Felipe Massa of the title in 2008, but no such accusations could be levied at him in 2014, as Hamilton found another gear in the second half of the season to win five races on the trot. That the title would fall into his lap in Abu Dhabi when his closest rival Nico Rosberg hit problems is largely academic in the grand scheme of things; Hamilton had already won the psychological battle following their high profile clash at Spa, which saw the German openly pilloried by Mercedes bosses.
Rosberg was a worthy adversary, becoming the first team-mate of Hamilton’s career to outqualify him over the course of the season with ten poles to Hamilton’s seven. But Sunday is where the points are decided and it was here that Hamilton’s superior racecraft shone through; he had no right to keep Rosberg at bay in Bahrain and in Hungary, but did so with aplomb both times. Hamilton was furious with Rosberg’s qualifying faux pas in Monaco which perversely prevented him from challenging for pole, but channelled his frustration in a positive direction where the temperamental Hamilton of a few seasons ago perhaps might not have. By and large, Austria and Brazil apart, the mistakes we have become accustomed to seeing from him were few and far between in 2014; instead, it was the usually unflappable Rosberg who allowed wins to slip through his fingers in Italy, Japan and the USA.
Having finished runner-up in both 2007 and 2008 to boxer Joe Calzaghe and cycling legend Chris Hoy, this was truly the year that Hamilton transcended to greatness as he became the first British double-champion since Jackie Stewart. McIlroy’s day will surely come, but for now, let Lewis enjoy his moment.