OllieF1
Blowing Away The Corporate Cobwebs

Blowing Away The Corporate Cobwebs

Do you remember when all-and-his-mother were saying how good Lewis Hamilton will be for Formula One, that the young Briton will inspire countless others, become a great role-model and help lift the sport to new highs? Well to a degree, I feel Hamilton has achieved this goal put on him by others, but I also feel that some of the McLaren driver’s rivals are doing a far better job of raising Formula One’s global profile amid controversy and gloomy forecasts.

I think it would be unfair on Hamilton to say that ever since he was promoted into Formula One by the McLaren team, controversy has followed him around, as much of what has happened to his team is by no means entirely his fault. The issues facing the team in 2007 when McLaren were found to have confidential Ferrari data in their possession had very little to do with Hamilton and more to do with those running the Woking-based team. Again in 2009, the FIA have made it clear that they feel Hamilton was put in “an impossible situation” in Melbourne.

However, while Lewis isn’t to blame for all the headlines that seem to only do damage to McLaren and the sport, I feel that the current world champion is being overshadowed in the efforts of appearing friendly and engaging with those people who keep the sport alive; the fans. As a world champion, extra pressure is placed on you by the sport and race promoters to speak highly of Formula One, involve yourself in more interviews and generally become a puppet at the end of the strings being clutched by Bernie Ecclestone. And it isn’t just Hamilton who struggles with this.

Kimi Raikkonen is another driver who is often seen to be stand-offish. When interviewed in the post-race press conferences, Raikkonen almost refuses to show emotion, he will rarely acknowledge those sitting with him and will fail to add that extra 10% that would make the difference between merely answering the questions and coming across as enthusiastic.

In Shanghai last week, BBC commentator Martin Brundle described Raikkonen as rude and inconsiderate of his team after the Finn appeared to not want anything more to do with the race following the early stoppage. Raikkonen was shown changed out of his overalls and wandering around the garage eating an ice cream while his team were on the grid getting wet. The image and associated words that were broadcast around the world are perhaps not what the image of the sport needs. Humorous it certainly was, but for a respected commentator and former racer to describe another driver as essentially not bothering to continue, well…

However, now that the front of the grid has been shaken up and some new faces are gracing the podium and post-race press conferences, it almost feels as though Formula One has been given some fresh air and the breeze has blown all the corporate cobwebs away. Gone are the standard script-read and monotonous phrases and in are the jovial and engaging comments from the new order. Jenson Button, now enjoying greater success, appears relaxed and actually speaks to the cameras and to the audience behind them, all over the world. Mark Webber is comfortable in teasing his team mate and even Timo Glock was all-smiles after his podium finish in Malaysia.

The interviews FOM and FIA insist upon are so much more welcoming thanks to those now being interviewed. To see a driver actually smiling after winning a race is pleasant, and hear him voice that emotion is even better. As Lou mentioned to me last night on Identi.ca, it’s like they actually want to be there. And that makes all the difference.

So while I understand that it is far from easy for the Hamiltons and the Raikkonens to always appear joyous and enthused, I am pleased that Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota have managed to change the scenery. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess, but for now, I might just have to start watching the press conferences again.

Oliver White

3 comments

  • The image and associated words that were broadcast around the world are perhaps not what the image of the sport needs. Humorous it certainly was, but for a respected commentator and former racer to describe another driver as essentially not bothering to continue, well…

    In fairness to Raikkonen, the prevailing impression that he gave up in Malaysia isn’t even accurate – the car KERS had failed and he was out even if the race was going to get started again.

    But I would single out Raikkonen as by far the worst example of the kind of PR-laden reticence we’ve sadly come to expect from F1 drivers. It is hugely refreshing to see some banter between the top finishers these days. I hope the rest take note.

    As ever I think Hamilton can’t do right for doing wrong in the eyes of many. I remember those who howled in disapproval when he jokingly referred to ‘monkeys at the back of the grid’ in 2007. Small wonder he stick to the comfortable safe ground of blandness these days.

  • In fairness to Raikkonen, the prevailing impression that he gave up in Malaysia isn’t even accurate – the car KERS had failed and he was out even if the race was going to get started again.

    And in fairness, you are 100% correct. But that is not what was said to several million viewers around the world. I think the Brundle/Legard commentary is still picked up by other English speaking nations (as Brundle/Allen was with ITV), and some of these viewers, in Britain as well, will be new to the sport and now have an impression that Raikkonen is a quitter. Whether that is correct or not is almost irrelevant really, because that is the initially image that will be etched on some new fans minds.

    As ever I think Hamilton can’t do right for doing wrong in the eyes of many. I remember those who howled in disapproval when he jokingly referred to ‘monkeys at the back of the grid’ in 2007. Small wonder he stick to the comfortable safe ground of blandness these days.

    I understand that, and maybe I focused on Hamilton too much in the article – it started out as with the whole Hamilton is the best thing… but I see Button and Vettel doing much more for the sport’s profile.

    I think if Hamilton’s overall appearance and tone in the media improves, he could get away with the perhaps slightly dodgy remarks that slip out from all the drivers every now and then. Maybe I’m biased because I am subjected to every comment made by Hamilton (being British), so maybe Vettel gets it equally as bad in Germany. But I just feel that drivers like Sebastian and Timo come across so much better, and therefore appear to be doing more for the sport’s image than Hamilton.

    It is tricky to judge though, and certainly Lewis has opened up Formula One to whole host of new fans. As surely has Raikkonen. I just wish they would come over more friendly and welcoming at times, and when the opportunity does arise, for the driver’s manager not to step in later and reverse anything said in the bantering.

    It is hugely refreshing to see some banter between the top finishers these days. I hope the rest take note.

    I agree. I also can’t see it happening myself, but we can only hope. 🙂

  • I think the problem Raikkonen had in Malaysia was that the team’s press officer had no idea what was going on and as a result a misleading impression was created. At the time before I knew the facts I said that Kimi probably had the right idea because there was no way the race was going to re-start. Brundle and Coulthard seem intent on having a go at Kimi this year.

    The comments you make on the new faces at the front are accurate but they are exactly the same comments people made about Lewis and before him Michael Schumacher when they first reached the front. The bottom line is that when drivers start to experience success everything is positive and all they get is compliments. Once success is expected the pressure gets ratcheted up and the inclination of the press to put the boot in results in the same people creating a negative impression.

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