By Bob Constanduros
I’ve been having a long think about that Japanese Grand Prix. In some ways, it doesn’t deserve it. It wasn’t the greatest race of all and that lovely, enthusiastic Japanese crowd deserved better. But that’s the way it is, you can’t make it a great race if it isn’t.
Now back in the UK after what was a pretty tough double-header, we’ve got another coming up in a week, and amusingly, I read a year-old article by a respected colleague on the way home that suggested that 21 races with all these back-to-backs was going to be too much. And so it turns out; I’ve e-mailed him to ask for a look at his current crystal ball.
The impetus of the media might have run out of a bit of steam as we take these long hauls from race to race, but the teams are still hard at it and so they have to be. The suggestion that Nico Rosberg has it all but sewn up is way out of bed. We’ve seen Lewis Hamilton turn it round before and I firmly believe he can do so again if he puts his mind to it.
And he wasn’t that far off in Japan. Nico said that he’d never seen Lewis working so hard and but for that start, he might well have been right on Nico’s tail at least until the first pit stops and then might have jumped him. Nico looks to have a very quick, level pace. Lewis has the performance above that but is often let down by… well, take your pick. I would never, however, believe that Nico is home and dry and Nico would be right not to think that way too. He won’t get complacent, far from it, and there was little evidence that Lewis was much diverted by his media spat.
I wasn’t certain that I was going to mention that. It might well be a subject for the paddock only, after all, are you really interested in what Lewis does or doesn’t think of the media? The only thing is that I think it’s getting a bit more than that. There are signs that Lewis thinks he’s bigger than the sport and I’ve been thinking this for a while.
Formula One, in many ways, is pretty mundane in that it follows the same pattern weekend-in, weekend-out. For some, this is perfect; they know what to do and when. For others, it’s tedious, monotonous, churning out the same humdrum spiel, answering the same boring media questions, doing the same runs in the car, meeting the same faceless sponsor representatives. Much of it is tedious but then how many people really enjoy their work? And how many people get to enjoy driving a Formula One car and then get paid squiillions for it?
One colleague of mine, who used to be a team PR man, tells us how he used to tell his drivers that they were no more than PR representatives for the team, hosts, spokespeople, all that boring stuff but the perk was that they were allowed to drive the cars as well; that – apart from the salaries – was their reward for the boring stuff. It keeps them in their place and makes them appreciate just how lucky they really are.
Lewis, perhaps, needs to realise this, but then he is one of those who finds the whole thing a bit humdrum apart from racing. That’s why he wanted to liven up the press conference by drawing silly ears on himself. It’s boring, he says, the same humdrum questions every weekend. Has he ever thought that we, the media, find it boring too, listening to the drivers droning on, but having to make something out of their clearly bored answers? Note the having to; Fleet Street’s finest were wracking their brains wondering how many words their sports editors were going to demand after Sunday’s race with no prospect of any decent quote from their number one subject who had already flown away.
Some drivers, particularly World Champions, always made an effort to give a reasonable answer to the most naive question from a completely ignorant newcomer. I remember Ayrton Senna pausing 15 seconds while he considered some crass question from a lady who should have been covering swimming in Mexico or somewhere but drew the wrong straw and was sent to the Grand Prix instead. But he made the effort to reply.
Lewis thought it fun to draw some silly ears on himself on his phone during the press conference on Thursday. One of the things us journos are told to do before a press conference is turn off our phones; maybe it’s time to tell the drivers to do the same. But Lewis thought it was fun to come into our working environment and register his boredom. Should we invade his working environment on a Friday afternoon when he’s droning round gathering data and perhaps relieve our boredom by taking a few selfies in the Mercedes garage?
Yes, press conferences may be boring and there’s a reason for this. In the not so brave new world of Jean Todt’s presidency, two things were decided which affected the press conferences. One was that they should be non-confrontational, so that the questions asked by the host weren’t necessarily the questions that everyone else was asking. And two, you wouldn’t get anyone else to ask them either because the FIA agreed that FOM should televise the press conferences for the benefit of Sky so no one asked their burning question because the whole world would know the answer in seconds.
So Lewis is bidding for a new era in communications. No doubt he or someone close to him has spotted that Liberty Media is to take over F1, that they’re American and Lewis is top man in the USA. Who better to lead the communications revolution in F1 and make the changes to appeal to a young audience? Someone who is challenging the status quo, a top driver, personality, hero, who can lead from the front and confront convention. The timing is right and the changes won’t fall on deaf ears. Providing it’s not disrespectful, of course.
Cripes, I’ve almost convinced myself that it’s the right thing to do…