At 23 years-old he became the youngest Formula 1 world champion in history and was Britain’s first ever billion dollar sportsman. Since then Lewis Hamilton’s name has continued to grow in stature and worth in the advertising world and winning his third world championship yesterday (25 October) looks to have pushed his commercial value further than any of Britain’s sports stars.
Hamilton equalled the achievements of British F1 legend Sir Jackie Stewart last night when he won the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The victory had the climatic echoes of his first F1 title in Sao Paulo in 2008 when Hamilton was trailing the race leaders in a rain soaked action packed race, albeit with less uncertainty over his chances of winning the championship. Last night with his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg leading the race it looked like Hamilton would not equal the achievements of the great Ayrton Senna just yet, however an error from Rosberg with just 10 laps to go saw Hamilton surpass the achievements of F1 greats such as Clark, Mika Hakkinen and Fernando Alonso.
The victory will likely see the 30 year-old grow his commercial value and extend his lead as the most marketable British sportsman. Hamilton has an estimated wealth of £88m, according to the latest Sunday Times rich list, some £20m up on last year. His contract with Mercedes has provided the majority of his income however his personal sponsors such as Bombardier and watchmaker IWC have added £1.5m.
This position hasn’t just come as a result of his success on the track; he has shown himself to be an astute businessman too, negotiating some deals on his own behalf. In May, he concluded contract talks worth £100m over three years with Mercedes which resulted in him being not only the best paid F1 driver but the best paid British sports athlete in the world, ahead of football stars Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale. Furthermore his new contract is rumoured to include more freedom for Hamilton to pursue personal sponsors.
Commercial director at Brandwave Marketing, Vicky Stickland, points to Hamilton’s endorsements this year alone which according to Forbes are three times more than four time world Champion Sebastian Vettel.
“Winning so decisively this year, and importantly in the US, makes it highly likely that we will see Hamilton eclipse this figure next year” said Stickland.
Equalling British icon Sir Jackie Stewart’s record is likely to elevate Hamilton’s commerciality in Britain, but Stickland says “Hamilton needed this Championship win to impact on his relevance to sponsors on a global level”
She added that “when F1 are actively trying to grow mainstream appeal for F1 in the US, Hamilton as a personality will now be seen as a key way to help the sport achieve this growth”.
This view is shared by Kelly Williams, managing director, at Sports Revolution who believes that Hamilton’s latest title has cemented brand appeal and “has a direct impact on his commercial value, not least because you can foresee more titles ahead”.
NC Partnership’s sponsorship and PR consultant, Nigel Currie said “once you become a multiple world champion you move to a different level in terms of status and earnings and are no longer just another driver who won one or maybe two titles”.
“His earning power will continue to go up and as his position as the number 1 driver becomes more established and he will be able to secure additional commercial agreements away from his team responsibilities which was what Michael Schumacher was able to do when he totally dominated the sport winning 7 World titles between 1994 and 2004” said Currie.
Others in the industry believe that a third world title will not have such a meteoric impact for Hamilton’s commercial value because of his “marmite” status as a sports personality.
Chief executive of sports marketing agency M&C Saatchi, Steve Martin, believes that there is “no question that he appeals very strongly to the F1 market. He has a huge following and is an incredible talent plus he lives the life of an F1 driver but from an image point of view, his appeal doesn’t transcend the sport”.
Martin describes the racer’s social media posts as “a bit off” and says that this, alongside his tendency to “dress bad”, means people aren’t drawn to him like other sports stars such as David Beckham.
“That’s not to say he isn’t a nice guy” adds Martin. “I’ve worked with Lewis for Reebok and he’s super professional and easy to work with but there’s a disjoint there with his image, it seems contrived and doesn’t feel natural.
Martin concludes that “because of this I’m not sure you’ll see a burst of brands wanting to work with him”.
The impact of Hamilton’s continued on track success remains to be seen, especially given that his new contract, which now opens up more commercial opportunities for him, only comes into effect next year. It may hinge on the sponsorships themselves and how Hamilton allows himself to be portrayed in any ads which could in turn help polish up his image outside the sport.