Even if you know nothing of Formula One and care still less for the high testosterone sport of motor racing, you will have almost certainly have heard of Lewis Hamilton.
There’s Lewis the red carpet regular with a string of glamorous celebrity girlfriends, Lewis the fashion icon with his tattoos, hair braids and bling,
Lewis the social activist with a checklist of fashionable causes from veganism to lecturing the world on green issues – a hard sell for a man who flies round the world earning £35million a year to race petrol-guzzling cars.
And, of course, there’s his courageous if controversial support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
He has been linked with several women, including singer Rita Ora – but has not been in another serious public relationship
These qualities, admirable as they may be, are not, however, what have made him the most recognised and most successful sportsman in Britain. For they are a mere by-product of his success on the track.
Yesterday, at 2.43pm London time, his status among a luminous handful of drivers who have graced motor racing received another coat of glory – victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix and his 92nd career win, a tally that puts him ahead of Michael Schumacher and everyone else who has ever taken the wheel of a 200mph racing car.
His win by a staggeringly comfortable margin of 25 seconds is turning his march to another record-equalling seventh world championship into a procession.
Yet for all the triumphs which have brought him riches beyond compare, he remains in the unique position of being a sporting hero who gets decidedly mixed notices.
On the one hand his story is a remarkable and uplifting one. A mixed-race trailblazer brought up in a one-bedroom council flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, watching drugs being pushed on the street below.
Now he is worth some £250million, the very definition of a self-made man, with a home in the millionaires’ enclave of Monaco, where his collection of shoes alone spans two rooms, and an Instagram account with 20million followers.
Yesterday, at 2.43pm London time, his status among a luminous handful of drivers who have graced motor racing received another coat of glory – victory in the Portuguese Grand Prix and his 92nd career win, a tally that puts him ahead of Michael Schumacher and everyone else who has ever taken the wheel of a 200mph racing car
At 35 he is on a par with the likes of Roger Federer, Lionel Messi and basketball great Michael Jordan in terms of being a true global superstar. But while lionised by many, sadly, he is not universally loved as much as his extraordinary deeds warrant.
The obvious contrast is with tennis great Sir Andy Murray, who escaped his early reputation for surliness and a thin skin to recast himself not only as a three-time grand slam champion but with a self-deprecating modesty. The country warmed to him.
Yet Hamilton’s achievements dwarf those of Murray who although briefly ranked No 1 in the world, is only fourth best in the quartet that includes Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Hamilton is the outstanding driver of his era – and quite possibly of any era – who announced himself in princely style with a bravura overtaking move on the very first corner of his Formula One debut in Melbourne in 2007.
He missed out on the title in his rookie year by a single point only to win it by the same slender margin the following season.
Along with the reactions of a fighter pilot and the stamina of a long-distance runner, he possesses an ability to clear his brain so that it inhabits a state of perceptive clarity.
Those natural gifts, which were spotted by his father when he gave him his first radio-controlled car at the age of five – and watched his son beat rivals years older, are underpinned by an absolute will to win.
But allied to this genius has been a capacity to feel persecuted. He came close to answering why in a flippant remark he made in Monaco nine years ago.
After being penalised for strangely erratic driving, Hamilton questioned the sanction by invoking the Ali G line: ‘Maybe it’s because I’m black.’ He was only half joking.
Some people, depressingly, will hold his colour against him, but they are mercifully few in number. So why isn’t he as universally loved as other racing figures? Is it because he is too much of a mould-breaker? And if so why should it matter?
The raffishly good-looking James Hunt only ever won one world