Lewis Hamilton insists that he understands the reasons why many of the fans who cheered him towards last season's Formula One world championship have switched their allegiance to fellow countryman Jenson Button - and insists that he is fine with it.
Speaking in an interview with Britain's Daily Mail
newspaper, the McLaren driver acknowledged that it was natural for some race fans to shift the focus of their support to whoever was doing well, and admitted that he had not exactly given them much to cheer about in 2009.
Prior to winning the Hungarian Grand Prix late last month, Hamilton's best result had been the third place from which he was disqualified in Melbourne, with fourth in Bahrain hardly the stuff of champions after his stellar 2007 and 2008 campaigns. While the driver appears to be the same as he was in the first two years of his career, McLaren's demise was accompanied by the surprise form of Brawn GP and, with it, the rebirth of Jenson Button both as a potential racewinner and, above all, world champion.
The Briton's rapid rise to the position of mid-season favourite to succeed Hamilton has also seen a large swathe of fair-weather fans begin to sport the white-and-yellow colours of the Brawn team rather than the silver of McLaren, but Hamilton maintains that, having ridden a wave of support since before he graduated to the top flight, he is not concerned by the shift in allegiance.
"'It doesn't bother me, it's the way the world works," he insisted, "People love winners - some people love to support the team that's winning, like in football."
Asked whether, Button's success aside, people's attitude to him had changed since winning the world title, Hamilton claimed that reports, often misleading ones, about his life away from the track - the Playboy lifestyle and midnight flit to Switzerland's tax haven among them - had probably played a part.
"The thing is that it's what they read that makes them think that," he said, "It's like people say I've got a boat - I've never thought of buying a boat. I've rented a boat, [but] I don't spend money, I don't waste money. I have, on occasions, taken my girlfriend on a trip somewhere - and, yes, I can afford a better trip than some other people, but I don't live an extravagant lifestyle.
"The thing is, if they were in my position, they would do the same thing [by leaving the country]. If you like to go to the cinema, but you can't without being bombarded by a load of people, and you can't live a normal life, then you have to take the right precautions to be able to do that. I live a normal life where I am - and I'm happy."
As for the accusations of lying to the stewards in Melbourne, Hamilton accepts that, again, the coverage of the incident may have affected his standing in many people's eyes, but insists that to err is merely human.
"All I can say is that no-one's perfect," he said, "I am a human being. You race to be a superstar, and you're looked at as a god or something silly. I'm not [a god]. I've got no superpowers, I'm a normal human being who's made it from nowhere. And I've got to somewhere. It just so happens that when I make a mistake, it's all over the tabloids."