In sport, the media amplifies rivalries by reporting on the action in front of them. Whether this reporting concerns on the football pitch, the boxing arena or the tennis court, media outlets, both print and visual, are looking for that moment. Sometimes though, the journalism goes beyond the sporting arena to further a rivalry, leaning towards reporting of a deceitful nature.
The battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel came to a head in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Vettel side-swiping Hamilton. The media reported the story from every angle, Fleet Street had their say as did broadcasters everywhere. Whilst the two championship protagonists have moved on, the media around them are still looking for opportunities to further elongate their rivalry.
With that, we come to the “missed” handshake. Did Lewis Hamilton refuse to shake Vettel’s hand? Or did Hamilton shake Vettel’s hand earlier in proceedings, in a more natural manner? And either way, does it matter whether he did or did not?
From the World Feed, moments after qualifying and just before the post-qualifying interviews, an overhead camera captured Vettel and Hamilton shaking hands. The two did not make a big deal of it, the handshake was part of the informal pleasantries before the post-qualifying grid interviews. The overhead shot was probably not the close-up angle Formula One Management (FOM) wanted.
The problem comes later when, after the interviews, Davide Valsecchi asked the two drivers to shake hands. Hamilton refused, stating that the two had already shaken hands prior to the interviews. Media outlets used this refusal to further their rivalry. Except, the refusal was a non-story for reasons described above.
Whilst it is easy to criticise Valsecchi, who is also a reporter for Sky Italia and Formula Two commentator, it is possible that the directive to throw the handshake line in there actually came from FOM, aka. Liberty Media to get a handshake on television in front of the large viewing audience. It felt like an incentive was thrown to stir up trouble.
Either way, certain aspects of the media spun the story by directly referencing Hamilton’s “refusal” to shake Vettel’s hand, choosing to leave out the latter half of the story. Sky Sports F1 tweeted, with video, that Hamilton rejected “a public show of reconciliation”, despite the fact he and Vettel shook hands minutes earlier, in front of the public! Sky were not alone, The Mirror chose the same approach with their headline, almost as if alternative facts existed. Other broadcasters no doubt went down the same route.
Again, I re-iterate the above point: does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. This time tomorrow, the handshake will be history as we analyse the Grand Prix. But, this ‘episode’ is a symptom of sensationalism that is ever more creeping into Formula 1 journalism, as journalists are eager to find stories and build on their hits.
The concern for me too is that Sky will be UK’s only F1 television broadcaster from 2019. Personally, I want to see them tone down their tabloid reporting such as the above – not every single incident requires verbiage. Today’s build-up from Sky was excellent in my view, but unfortunately their tabloid style post-race with this has let the broadcaster down, and not for the first time.