Formula 1 commercial rights manager Bernie Ecclestone described Lewis Hamilton's decision to choose a management company more accustomed to dealing with show business than motor racing as a "disaster," after suggesting the former World Champion would probably have been better off keeping close ties with his father Anthony.
Hamilton endured a challenging 2011 campaign, where issues in his personal life, and a number of incidents on the track, left him out-classed by McLaren teammate Jenson Button. Reflecting on the season just gone, Ecclestone believes part of the problem is that Hamilton's decision to join forces with Simon Fuller's XIX Management company – which represents celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, David and Victoria Beckham, Will Young and Andy Murray – has exposed him to influences that have not helped his performance.
"I think he had some personal problems during the year which affected him quite a lot," said Ecclestone in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper. "A lot to do with these things, it depends an awful lot on the people you surround yourself with, and who are in a position to influence you.
"I think he just fell into a lot of people I think weren't good for him. When his dad was looking after him, his dad was a bit more...obviously it didn't suit Lewis, which was why they split; I think he didn't appreciate how much help his dad was."
He added: "I think it's a disaster. He gets to meet people he probably wouldn't have met, and [who] have probably the wrong sort of influence on him. He's at the age, perhaps, and he has the amount of money, where when he's influenced, he can carry things through, which he wouldn't normally have done."
Ecclestone was particularly unhappy with an Ice-T McLaren garage video at the Canadian Grand Prix. The rapper swore heavily during the footage of him walking around the car, and mocked the fact that a steering wheel costs more than a lot of fans' homes. The video became a cult hit on YouTube and earned McLaren a letter of complaint from Ecclestone.
"It's our fault, because we tend to encourage celebrities," Ecclestone said about the incident. "It's good. Not so much for those of us who get our hands dirty but for all the sponsors who turn up with their guests and like to say, 'Oh, we saw whoever-it-was.' They forget they've come to watch Formula 1.
"The difference is that we can handle them, because we're not directly involved. He [Hamilton] sees somebody like that, he admires the guy, so he'll start copying a little bit what they're up to."