Stirring the pot

For reasons discussed elsewhere, the Monaco Grand Prix weekend was interesting, and provided us with some fascinating sound bites. The first is from after the race, as Lewis Hamilton was interviewed by Sky Sports F1’s Natalie Pinkham, who it has to be said did a fantastic job in both post-session interviews with him and Nico Rosberg over the weekend. This is how it went down:

NP: “[Montreal] is going to be a good opportunity for you guys, but what about mending bridges with your friend?”
LH: “We’re not friends. We’re colleagues and we’ll work to get the team as many points as we can.”

And this is how Pinkham’s interview with Rosberg went:

NP: “Do you consider yourself to still be friends with Lewis?”
NR: “We’re always friends, we’ve always been friends. Friends is a big word. What is friends? We have a good relationship.”

Both interviews were broadcast live, or as close to live as possible, on Sky Sports F1. I don’t think Pinkham in the Sky piece was phishing for that comment from Hamilton, instead in typical Hamilton style he perhaps said a little too much in front of the cameras. Similarly, on Saturday, Hamilton made a comment to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Jennie Gow, saying that he will “take a page out of Senna’s book” during the race, implying that he could deliberately crash into Rosberg. Nowadays, as soon as any quotes like that are broadcast live, it goes straight onto social media and whipped into a frenzy from UK journalists to German journalists to journalists over the pond. It is the nature of the beast. As thus, the quotes above, along with the initial Rosberg incident were being discussed, and are still be discussed, across social media outlets and internet forums.

Sky Sports F1, along with any other broadcasters immediately discussed the Rosberg incident as soon as it happened on Saturday, getting opinions from others. Every opinion supposedly meant something, although Sky made the frankly pathetic decision of getting Flavio Briatore’s opinion, who himself is a known cheat for Singapore 2008. Apart from that, I can’t say I necessarily blame them for dedicating the majority of their hour post-Qualifying show to the incident. If I was making the editorial decisions that day, I’d have probably made the same choice. The viewing figures show that the right choice was made.

I’ve demonstrated in the past how the amount of air-time Formula 1 gets in the United Kingdom has significantly increased in the past decade, a picture that no doubt repeats itself across Europe. Which means that instead of just getting isolated interviews, you perhaps now even get analysis of said interviews during the live shows, i.e. “what did driver X mean when he said that”, despite the fact that the viewer has just watched with their own eyes and can interpret it for themselves! Given that there have already been many comparisons between Rosberg and Hamilton/Prost and Senna, I thought it’d be interesting to jump back to the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix in an era where Formula 1 had limited television coverage. On that day, Ayrton Senna ignored a pre-race agreement that said that whoever led into turn one between himself and McLaren team-mate Alain Prost would stay there. I’ll quote from The Life of Senna by Tom Rubython:

Journalists and the team, unaware of the accord, were bemused. He told them an accord had been breached. The hacks had no idea what he was talking about. [..] Senna explained to journalists afterwards: “He got the jump early, then I got the slipstream immediately, and I was in the slipstream all the way until the first corner and I got much more speed than him. So that is the truth.”

You can probably imagine what social media would have been like after that particular event had it been around in 1989, and with the extensive coverage like we have today! Very quickly, the news would have got out. Coverage of the Grand Prix in the UK in 1989 would have been live on BBC Two during Grandstand as most races during that time period were. Because of that, there was not much pre-race and post-race analysis. In fact, coverage may well have disappeared straight after the podium, with a few interviews being clipped onto the end of the highlights show. Either way, I don’t think that there would have been much external scrutiny from fans regarding any quotes Prost and Senna made during the broadcast, instead it would probably be one or two lines from Murray Walker noting what had happened, with AUTOSPORT magazine doing an analysis piece the following Thursday.

In 1989, there would not have been instant reporting where viewers get to know everything on a minute-by-minute basis. In any season where team-mates are battling and level pegging, the media will always look to see if they can find a story, it is their job to do that. The Prost and Senna story started at Imola, as noted above. The pot I think is stirred more nowadays, however I don’t think it has any effect whatsoever other than to fill internet pages. This is coming from someone though who was not around in the 1980s and did not start watching Formula 1 until 1999. What I do know, with the help of a scrapbook from the loft, is that tabloid style reporting has always been around. The scrapbook in question features pages and pages of quotes from newspapers from the 1976 season featuring James Hunt. From the outside, things may appear different because of social media. Fans have more access to Formula 1 journalists than ever before, but inside the paddock, I imagine nothing is fundamentally different when doing business.

The way fans consume Formula 1 has changed considerably as there are many more mediums available in 2014 compared with 25 years earlier meaning that fans are connected better than ever before, which, in my opinion is largely a brilliant thing. You just need to learn which journalists are actually being journalists, and which ones are there, but serving no real purpose. Or, as a third argument, you could say that they’re all as bad as each other, an argument I don’t subscribe to, but an interesting point of view nevertheless.

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