The early betting on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year makes Lewis Hamilton the favourite – but that’s because, with half a year to go, hardly anyone else has had a chance to perform yet.
Nevertheless the BBC’s already hyping up the runners and riders, with Hamilton firmly in place as the runaway choice to capture an award previously won by Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss and John Surtees.
Last year, the McLaren driver’s failure to wrap up the world championship meant he suffered an unexpected defeat to boxer Joe Calzaghe. And there are plenty of opportunities for other athletes to put him in his place again.
Just as in the 2007 contest, the lack of conspicuous British success in football, cricket or rugby opens up the award to lower-profile sports. And there’s plenty of them besides motor sports.
The Olympics, for starters – heptathlete Kelly Sotherton, cyclists Victoria Pendleton, Mark Cavendish and Rebecca Romero, triple jumper Phillips Idowu and even Paula Radcliffe if she can shake off her nagging injuries.
Another Olympian, diver Tom Daley, is one of a pair of 14-year-olds who might tap into the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ voting demographic, alongside Wimbledon junior girls champion Laura Robson.
A good tennis US Open might bring the grown-up Andy Murray into contention, while golfer Lee Westwood is a long-shot if he can follow up his near-miss in golf’s version of the US Open with success in this week’s Open and the Ryder Cup.
Our view? Daley isn’t expected to win a medal in Beijing and Robson has no real opportunity to impress again, so that rules them out from an otherwise certain sentimental victory. This means that if Hamilton wins the World Drivers’ Championship then the only thing that can stop him scooping the sports personality award too is if Radcliffe, running on a fractured leg, takes an emotional underdog marathon gold medal and then immediately announces her retirement.
But if he loses, then someone – probably an Olympian, but perhaps a Ryder Cup golfer or a returning Andrew Flintoff – will pip him to the chequered flag.
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year award is based on the whims and prejudices of the British public – and, just like the F1 title itself, you don’t win that just by turning up.