Boy, do we have lots of press conferences over the course of a Grand Prix weekend. So much so that a single reporter can’t actually go and listen to every driver speak on the Thursday as many of them talk at the same time.
In truth, Formula 1 journalists and broadcasters are lucky in that they get plenty of access to the people they want to talk to, more so than other sports I’ve worked in. And for the fans that should be a good thing as you get plenty of chances to hear from your favourite driver/team principals and have them answer questions that hopefully add to your knowledge and interest in the sport.
Lots of access, lots of questions, lots of time spent talking and don’t forget to factor in the sponsor events that the drivers attend over the course of the weekend as well. So I can understand when a driver finds the whole thing pretty tedious and has about as much wish to be in a press conference as he has in being dropped into a pit full of snakes.
It was clear that Lewis Hamilton didn’t want to be at the FIA Press Conference last Thursday, from the moment he turned up. You’ll have no doubt read all about what happened, seen the Snapchat photos, or even watched it live or seen the repeats.
I went along, I didn’t have a particular question to ask, but I like to have a listen sometimes and see if there’s anything that could be used as part of my commentaries over the course of the weekend. In truth, there wasn’t much, it was a bit on the dull side. Except of course the fall out over Lewis and his Snapchat antics.
I saw him about an hour after it finished, shared a conversation, light hearted, nothing too deep. It started off on the subject of Japanese KitKats. If you’ve never tried them, I’d recommend Sake and also Wasabi flavours, sounds awful, but trust me they’re not.
But back to Lewis, he was still snap chatting and posting pictures of Nico whilst he spoke to the reporters and also of Bradley, the Mercedes team press guru. He was having some fun, lightening up his day and enjoying himself.
Now sadly, that fun didn’t go down too well earlier with the FIA nor the journalists themselves, who, let’s face it, have a job to do and suddenly found themselves without any proper quotes to flesh out the stories that they were hoping to write. Don’t forget that coming into the Japanese Grand Prix, Lewis was the big story after the engine failure in Malaysia with his comments post-race.
Whatever your views on Lewis, and he’s a driver that pretty much every fan of the sport I talk to has a strong opinion of, he is always going to be one of the main topics of coverage over a race weekend. His profile is way higher than any other driver on the grid, he speaks his mind which of course always makes for good copy, and on the track he’s a three time world champion who is one of the most exciting drivers to have graced the sport. I’m going to get accused of being a Lewis ‘fanboy’ for that last comment but, what the hell, another tweet isn’t going to kill me nor change the way I commentate on a race. Social media might offer an avenue for opinion, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all opinion is either correct, or balanced. Some perspective would be handy sometimes.
Which I think is how Lewis felt on Thursday evening as ‘Snapchat Gate’, or whatever it was being called, became the main story of the day. He was trying to have some fun – albeit fun that wasn’t really shared with any journalists in the room and fun that distracted him from the job he had to do at the time, which was to answer their questions. Whether he thought they were boring or not wasn’t the point, it was part of his job. Had he told the journalists what he was doing, showed the photo of Carlos Sainz as a rabbit to the cameras, involved everyone in the room, rather than just assume that we were following it on Instagram too, maybe the story would have ended there and then.
But it didn’t of course, and after feeling that there had been a lack of perspective on the subject and reading the reaction in the papers the next day, Lewis, on Saturday, informed the journalists at a Mercedes held press conference that he wasn’t going to be answering their questions in future. A carefully thought out statement, he didn’t storm out, he just wanted to express his views. In Lewis’ defence and from my dealings with him, he’s a man who very much thinks about and analyses a situation and always tries to be true to himself. Difficult when you’re in the spotlight to the extent that he is, but he does try to keep it real, as it were.
And all of this would have been pretty irrelevant if Lewis hadn’t got off the line so badly on Sunday. If he’d have pulled away and gone wheel to wheel with Nico into the first turn, nobody would have cared a dot for what had gone before. But he didn’t. His start was so sluggish, he dropped from 2nd to 8th, don’t blame the damp patch on the track it had nothing to do with it. His mistake, his error and one that despite a brilliant fightback, and it really was a delight to watch him make his way back through the field, could be the moment that he lost his grip on the Championship.
It’s hard to see Nico losing it from here, assuming that his car gives him the reliability he’s praying for between now and the end of the season. Once again, he drove a faultless race, a faultless weekend really. He didn’t get involved in anything that would distract him from the job at hand. Lewis might not have ever thought that what he was doing would have been in any way distracting, but I do wonder if in the end it was at times, and if it was, that’s a bit of an own goal on a weekend where his focus had to be on beating his team mate, not fighting a little battle with the reporters. That could have waited a while.
As a postscript I think Lewis is right in one regard. The FIA Press Conference format is tired and needs changing. I used to think that when I moderated them for a few years. The journalists say that by having it broadcast live it’s not worth them asking questions as the story is then out there and they don’t have the exclusive. In which case, have a conference that can be broadcast, and maybe include questions from the fans with a separate conference for the journalists. Six drivers are involved at the moment, why not split it up into two sessions of three drivers for 10-15 minutes, then swap over. Just a thought.