Trawling through the wider Formula 1 news sources in the build-up to this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, the major story was about as left-field as you could get.

Lewis Hamilton and American musician Nicki Minaj have been spending some time together in Abu Dhabi over the past few days, with both posting pictures on social media. As is the nature of celebrity gossip, this means they may/may not be romantically involved with each other.

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Who knows? And for the most part, who really cares about someone else’s private life?

Alas, when we see sporting stars dare to have a life outside of their regular domain, there is a certain level of cynicism about it all; a feeling they should be instead focusing on their professional commitments more. And in F1, that no more regularly happens than with Hamilton.

It’s an argument that is becoming somewhat boring. Hamilton has made clear for years and years that he doesn’t see himself fitting into just a single box in his life. He wants to be remembered as more than an F1 driver, forging a life away from the sport most never experience.

Hamilton is enjoying exploring external interests that only appear to be gathering momentum. He’s allegedly made his musical debut, rumoured to be featured artist ‘XDNA’ on Christina Aguilera’s song ‘Pipe’, and has said he wants to work on music more once his days in F1 are done.

Ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, he put on his first fashion show to launch his Tommy Hilfiger line, called TOMMYXLEWIS. He then duly hopped on a plane, traveled for 21 hours, and delivered one of his most dominant performances of the season en route to victory at Marina Bay. It didn't tire him. If anything, the external activities only contributed to his on-track success.

“I have these others things that I do outside which are stimulating,” Hamilton said after his victory in Singapore.

“I know there were questions at the beginning of the week whether it is distracting, and naturally you come here and if I put one foot wrong, people are going to point to the things that I do outside as a result of it.

“You can see, it doesn’t affect my performance, and, if anything, those things they add to the performance really.”

Hamilton has arguably never been better in F1. His victory in Singapore saw him move into a 40-point lead at the top of the F1 drivers’ championship as he closes in on a fifth world title, despite no longer having the fastest car on the grid and having a fellow four-time champion as his main rival.

And this is all at a time when the alleged distractions surrounding him have never been greater.

Mercedes enters this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix defending a 100 percent win record at the Sochi Autodrom, yet it arguably faces its greatest test yet on the Black Sea coast given Ferrari’s perceived power advantage this year.

Yet if Hamilton does ultimately finish, say, third on Sunday, it seems inevitable that questions will be asked whether he was performing at the best of his ability. His week off between races spent hanging out with Nicki Minaj would surely be cited as a reason for him being off the boil, potentially impacting his title hopes.

Hamilton is rising above that, though. Speaking on Thursday in Russia, he said he isn’t looking to prove his focus to anybody, regardless of the criticism he may face.

“I am not trying to prove anything to you guys or anybody. That’s not why I am here, to prove a point,” Hamilton said.

“I am here to win and to be the best that I can be and to ultimately live to my potential, and make the most of this great opportunity that I have but I don’t set out in my day that I am going to prove this or prove that.

“That’s not my drive because I don’t need to prove anything to anyone in my own personal opinion. It’s to myself, I know what I am capable of so if anything it’s just living to my own potential which I know I have.”

Hamilton’s celebrity life is deemed to be a double-edged sword, but the advantages of it appear to be underestimated in the F1 world. In the grand scheme of things, F1 is a small bubble (as much as those inside the sport may scoff at that notion). Any chance to get wider-reaching coverage should not be pooh-poohed as being inferior and of little value, but instead a way to bring F1 to audiences it would never otherwise hit.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Caribbean tingz what I on. Me & Lewis gettin paper like what ink dry on. #Versace

A post shared by Barbie® (@nickiminaj) on

Hamilton’s links to Minaj prove the impact of it. When before have the likes of Cosmopolitan, MTV or Billboard ever reported or cared about F1? Yet now, all three have run stories on the possibility of the two dating. And it’s coverage for F1 that it would not otherwise get.

Throughout his career, Hamilton has broken the mould of what it is to be an F1 driver. He’s not simply someone who gets in the car, drives, wins, and goes home. He is easily the most interesting and multi-faceted character on the grid, with a real desire to do more than just race. He fits into a wider popular culture that F1 very rarely reaches on its own.

But strangely, that doesn’t sit well with many in the F1 world. The old-schoolers want their racers to be just that: racers. The idea of a driver doing something that is not in service of his on-track commitments is often maligned. One example is the backlash to Hamilton’s decision to miss last year’s F1 Live event in London ahead of the British Grand Prix, a race he went on to dominate and win for the fifth time.

One comparison that has been drawn in the past is with the ‘Playboy’ lifestyle of James Hunt is looked back with great fondness and legend. Is Hamilton engaging in a 21st-century equivalent? The times we live in, where everyone can express an opinion and factions are more clear, perhaps contribute to that.

At a time when Liberty Media is trying to push F1 into new markets and reach a much wider audience, the role Hamilton plays in that should not be understated. His private life may be his business alone, yet if by consequence it helps teach your Cosmopolitans and MTVs a little more about our sport, and, who knows, perhaps even create some new fans, it is not something that should be dismissed as a distraction.

And most importantly, so long as Hamilton is continuing to deliver on-track and produce some of the strongest performances of his career, questions about his focus should remain totally redundant.

Right now, he’s answering them time and time again in emphatic fashion - all while enjoying his life to its absolute maximum. More power to him for doing so.

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