For years, dating back to the 1990s, the procedure after the race has been largely stagnant. The drivers go to the podium, get their trophies, spray a bit of a champagne and then to a room and answer a few questions. It has always followed the same format. Whilst the format was friendly to those television companies around the world in that the top three get interviewed fairly promptly, those at the race track do not do much after the champagne has finished. After the race, those at home get a ‘rawer’ deal that those at the race track. Those that attend do not get to hear the drivers’ thoughts from the media pen or from inside the press conference with James Allen, Bob Constanduros or whoever it may be.
It has to be said that the format was largely formulaic, there were no major scoops picked up in the post-race press conferences and it was just well, ‘there’. There was no advances to the format. This year, starting with the British Grand Prix, that changed. Instead of the drivers having a press conference as such, they brought the questioning out to the podium so that not only the fans at home heard the drivers’ thoughts, but also so that those at the circuit also heard their thoughts. They (Formula One Management) would also bring in a special interviewer, so far a few BBC and Sky Sports people have done the interviews such as David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert.
Over the past four races, however, we’ve seen the pros and cons, with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix potentially being a watershed moment. Formula 1 is a family-friendly product. Formula One Management wants to protect that. It does not matter whether you are ten or eighty, you can still enjoy the action and the interviews after it. What happened on Sunday breached that. The winner, Kimi Raikkonen dropped the s*** bomb, while Sebastian Vettel dropped the f*** bomb. Given the choice of drivers, it was not particularly surprising to hear this. When I said on Twitter that Formula One Management may have to put a seven second censor on it, another user responded “don’t want my young daughter listening to it..” And that is a perfectly valid viewpoint. Whilst I chuckled at the time when I heard it, the fact that Red Bull released an apology on Sunday night shows that FOM take the matter seriously. Was it necessary for Raikkonen or Vettel to swear? Not really. Formula One is largely broadcast in the daytime so FOM have a responsibility to make sure that the broadcast is kept clean of language such as that.
On the other hand, is it ‘raw’ emotion that makes drivers swear on the podium or frustration with the format? Now, let us be honest here, Raikkonen is not the most fan-friendly person as it is at the best of times to communicate with media, that is a well known fact. Take Brazil 2006. Does one incident mean that FOM should take a kneejerk reaction and scrap the format? I don’t think so. The thing with the press conference room is that it is formulaic, whereas the podium brings drivers to life. After all, we want to see their personality, don’t we? For years people have complained about Formula 1 drivers being almost robotic, if anything the podium procedure takes them out of their media savvy comfort zone and into talking to the fan without being told what to say by X or Y.
A final point is that the Japanese Grand Prix podium was a feel good moment, a fantastic moment for Kamui Kobayashi. Hearing the crowd chant a drivers’ name is a rare sight in Formula 1. Seeing Kobayashi talk in Japanese to his fans was one of the moments of the season so far for me. That moment would not have existed in the formulaic press conference scenario. I don’t wish for FOM to go back to that format, which for me is not fan-friendly in the slightest. I’d be happy for a seven second delay for the podium procedure if it meant keeping it in the future.
I do hope it stays, but if we get an Abu Dhabi podium-esque incident again then it won’t be long before we go back to the press conference situation. Which would be a real shame.