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TO BECOME the Formula 1 world champion is some achievement, one not to be lightly dismissed.
That is the first thing to be acknowledged about Lewis Hamilton: that he has done extraordinarily well during his motor-racing career to date, and that he deserves to be on the shortlist for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. But there are a number of reasons why Hamilton would not be the most deserving winner; in particular, when his claim to the trophy is compared to that of Chris Hoy.
First, it is important to dispel the mistaken notion that Hamilton should win, or will inevitably do so, because he became the youngest Formula 1 world champion to date.
Racing drivers have fared remarkably well in the annual event since its inception in 1954, but not every world champion – not even every man who became the youngest world champion – has walked off with the prize at the end of the ceremony, which this year takes place in Liverpool on Sunday night.
Back in 1963, for example, Jim Clark was the youngest winner to date when he took the first of his Formula 1 world titles, but his name did not make it onto the trophy. Clark finished third, behind his fellow-Scot, the swimmer Bobby McGregor, and the winner, English athlete Dorothy Hyman.
Two years later and Clark was world champion for a second time. Again, he failed to win the Sports Personality award, coming second to a cyclist – Tom Simpson.
So it is no foregone conclusion that Hamilton will win, and the BBC have assured us that there will be no favouritism for Formula 1, a sport which will soon be back on their network after a spell on ITN. A cyclist has beaten a motorist before, and could do so again.
It has gone unrecorded why Simpson and Hyman were preferred to Clark. But some of the arguments which could be advanced in favour of Hoy and against Hamilton may well have been put forward then as well.
For a start, there is the car. Formula 1 is at the cutting edge of motoring technology and innovation, and a team which introduces even a minor design improvement can often steal a march on its rivals to the extent that, at least in the short term, its drivers have an insuperable advantage.
In other words, technology determines who can win the F1 title and who is doomed to being no more than an also-ran. You can be the best driver in the world, but if you do not have the best car you will find it almost impossible to be a contender in even the odd race, never mind over the course of the whole championship.
The other side of that coin, of course, is that if you are in the best car, you can triumph despite perhaps not being the best driver. Hamilton had the best car – but the claim he was the best driver is at best disputable, as a couple of statistics show.
There were 18 Grands Prix this season. Hamilton won five: Felipe Massa won six. And in the last Grand Prix of the year, the Brazilian at Interlagos, Hamilton secured the world title by finishing fifth.
That at the very least suggests a lack of dominance by the Briton, a situation which compares unfavourably with Hoy's iron grip on his own sport. In Beijing, the cyclist applied overwhelming force to win every race in which he competed en route to those three gold medals in the team sprint, the individual sprint and the keirin.
Hoy's success owed nothing to fortune, but Hamilton's was determined by elements outwith his control or that of his McLaren team – above all, by the changeable weather, which made the outcome of the race at Interlagos a lottery, and by the driving of Timo Glock.
The German was unapologetic about the way in which he slowed down and allowed Hamilton through over the closing few hundred yards of the race, and experts such as Sir Jackie Stewart said afterwards that he had done well just to keep his car on the track when it had the wrong kind of tyres to cope with the worsening rain. But even so, the fact remains that had Glock not slowed down, Hamilton would have been unable to claim the point which made him world champion.
Had that happened, the story would have been about one of the biggest sporting collapses of the year. With a seven-point lead going into Interlagos, Hamilton raced very conservatively, and almost paid the price.
There are many sporting events in which the distance between triumph and calamity is very small, and this was one of them. Hamilton came very close to repeating his collapse of 2007. in which he lost out on the title by a point after going into the last race with a lead of seven over the eventual world champion, Kimi Raikkonen.
In every respect, then, Hoy's achievement looks the greater. What is more, the Formula 1 world title is there to be won every year, whereas an Olympic title is only there to be won every four.
On a more general point, Hamilton now lives in Switzerland rather than Britain. This is partly for tax reasons, but he has also said the move was to get away from all the attention he received in this country. If that really is the case, why should we burden him with any more attention by giving him an award on Sunday night?
Hoy, like others on the shortlist, still lives in Great Britain. Since triumphing in Beijing, he has put something back into the community nearly every single day. In that respect, as in all the others, he is a more deserving recipient of the BBC award than Hamilton.
Gavin Hastings - Hoy's feat lit up the Games and resonated far beyond velodrome
THERE is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Chris Hoy should be voted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 2008, and I am saying that not from a biased Scottish standpoint but as someone who is hugely supportive of British sport.
What Chris achieved this year in winning three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics was incredible. It was a feat that no British athlete has achieved for a long, long time in one Olympic Games.
One gold medal is what every athlete strives for in their lifetime and obviously winning one in Athens in 2004 was special for Chris. But he was determined to do better still, and set himself an extraordinary target of three gold medals in 2008.
To achieve that target is very, very special. It is the greatest feat achieved by a Scot, and something we should all be very proud of in Scotland.
But this success was also huge for Britain as a whole, and if Chris were English, Welsh or Irish I'd still say the same – that he is head and shoulders above any other candidate for this award in this particular year. That is not to belittle the tremendous achievements of the other sportspeople nominated, but people can race cars every year and have chances to be world champion every year, whereas Chris had this one chance in four years and he not only claimed a gold medal, but underlined his quality as the best in the world with three.
But it's not only that. I know Chris, and as well as being a fantastic, dedicated athlete he is a great role model and ambassador for British sport generally. His is the kind of personality we should encourage and recognise as the one we would want for the next generation of athletes to emulate.
He has made the most of his God-given talent, has battled to overcome many obstacles in his career and reached the very top, yet there is no hint of arrogance with him and he is the most humble and personable person you could meet. He is obviously a very likeable and popular sports personality.
But sport has great moments, as I remember when I played rugby and the times we had with Scotland when we won the Grand Slam, and they resonate far beyond sporting environments. It will still be pretty clear in the minds of anyone who took even a passing interest in the Beijing Olympics how Chris lit up the Games, as he did to a lesser extent four years ago.
He inspired his team-mates and the British supporters at the Olympics, and he inspired those of us just watching with interest back home in Britain. Among us, I'm sure, were many youngsters who will take their interest in sport further thanks to watching him and wanting to emulate him.
What Chris Hoy did this year was beyond comparison. This is his one chance to be recognised by the sporting public in this way, and without a shadow of a doubt he deserves to be the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year.
• Gavin Hastings won 61 caps for Scotland, and also played for the Lions on the 1989 and 1993 tours.
BBC crown gave me recognition that I deserved, insists Calzaghe
AS THE outcome of a popular vote, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award is a subjective decision, and many of the results have been hotly debated. Nonetheless, over the half century and more since Christopher Chataway picked up the inaugural prize, the title has grown in status, to the extent that the TV programme itself has become one of the most eagerly awaited dates on the sporting calendar.
In part, this enhanced importance is a direct result of the award being decided by viewers . The audience for the programme goes well beyond the traditional sports constituency, so victory signifies a level of recognition by the British public which most sportsmen and women will never have.
Joe Calzaghe, for example, has a superb undefeated record, and is the longest reigning world champion in boxing history. But it was only when the Welshman was named Sports Personality for 2007 that he felt he had at last got the widespread recognition his efforts had deserved.
Before that, he was constantly being asked by people if he was annoyed by the lack of regard he received in the UK. Now, he is better known than ever before, and millions more have some sort of understanding of the scale of what he has achieved.
"It was fantastic last year," Calzaghe said yesterday. "I won it, I think, by 50,000 votes, which put a nail in the coffin of those questions about me not getting the respect or credit I deserved. I was stunned by it. It was brilliant – and my dad also got trainer of the year as well, which was fantastic."
Calzaghe, who became the first Welshman since the showjumper David Broome in 1960 to land the prestigious honour, is on the ten-person short list this year as well. But this time he is an outsider, as the list is dominated by Olympians.
Seven of the ten won medals as part of Team GB in Beijing, and Andy Murray also took part in the Olympics, competing in both the singles and doubles in the tennis tournament. Besides Calzaghe, the only non-Olympian on the list is Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 world champion.
"It has been a great year with the Olympics, and whoever wins it deserves it," added Calzaghe, who has extended his record this year to 46 unbeaten fights. "They are all great champions who deserve the utmost respect."
Having enjoyed such respect since winning the award, Calzaghe now has to answer questions on a different topic – when he intends to retire. It will be a month or two yet, however, before he offers the answer.
"When things die down in January or February, I am going to go on holiday, start giving some serious thought and weighing up the options," he said. "I am not thinking about boxing at the moment. I am just relaxing and taking time out with my family."