During the Turkish Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was anything but happy with the directions coming from the Mercedes team strategists.
Courtesy of the radio communications between the driver and those perched on the pit wall, we heard the World Champion question and ultimately refuse the team’s direction to pit for fresh tyres with nineteen laps to go.
Hamilton was running third at the time and would have lost that position had he done so.
The point was, once the new intermediate tyres bedded in over the closing laps, Hamilton would have probably regained one if not two positions given the clear superiority of the Mercedes in Turkey.
Hamilton did pit later at the team’s insistence but the later call cost him places he didn’t have time to recover. So Lewis had to be content with 5th position.
Hamilton regularly acknowledges his team when he claims a Grand Prix victory. He has said on numerous occasions, I couldn’t have done it without you guys.
It’s true, most serial winners are poor losers and that applies to the seven-time world champion. But should we make excuses for them when they openly admonish others, usually team members or opponents when things don’t go their way?
Hamilton’s abilities in the car are beyond question, but for someone who appears very conscious of the responsibilities and influences his position carries he sometimes lets himself down in the heat of the moment.
This is where the modern media’s seemingly unrestricted access to the drivers and indeed other team members comes into question.
Should a driver’s reactions to various situations in the race be broadcast? In the heat of battle, rational thinking can go out the window, tempers flare and interactions can be quite fraught.
Yes, it can be amusing at times, and the more information we have, the easier it is to understand race strategies and ultimately the outcome, but do we need to hear Hamilton for instance reprimanding his team, with words along the lines of, ‘I told you so, we should have done this, that or the other?’
Does this sort of access remove some of the mystique and intrigue of times past, when we vaguely knew the drivers but simply admired them for their sporting prowess? Should some things simply be left to our imagination action to complete the picture?
Away from the white heat of battle, yes it’s important to get to know and hear from our sporting heroes, but, given the relentless nature of the current coverage and the insatiable appetite for content, you do wonder if there is any question the guys have yet to answer.
That’s why I like Max Verstappen, he’s tetchy. His level of tolerance is regularly tested by unnecessary lines of questioning.
Following his first lap crash with Lewis Hamilton which took the Dutch driver out of this year’s British GP, the drivers recommenced battle in Hungary two weeks later.
The first question posed to Hamilton and Verstappen at the post-qualifying press conference harked back to that accident two weeks earlier at Silverstone.
Verstappen had enough and said “We’ve had so many f****** questions about this. It’s just ridiculous, honestly.
“Honestly, the whole of Thursday, we answered these stupid f****** questions all the time, so could we just stop about it, please?
“We are racers, we will race and of course we’re going to race hard but fair, so we just keep pushing each other.”
In some ways, Verstappen reminds me of the tough and talented Australian MotoGP star Casey Stoner. Stoner was uncomfortable in the glare of the media spotlight. It was part and parcel though of being a Ducati rider and a World championship contender.
He was making waves with the LCR privateer team when we first spoke to him. He was just finishing an interview with another broadcaster as our team approached and given his demeanour you could tell he was not at all happy with the previous interviewer’s line of questioning.
He smiled through gritted teeth as that particular exchange ended and then his greatest fears were realised, another tv crew was standing by. He rolled his eyes to the heavens as if to say; ‘Oh no, not another one!’
He realised very quickly we had witnessed his reaction.
I jumped straight in and said: “Casey, I know you love all this, but this will take exactly three minutes and if it goes over that time we’ll never bother you again.”
In fairness, he smiled and said, “look it’s no problem, I just haven’t had the best of days.”
The interview was wrapped up in 2 minutes and 59 seconds. I showed him the timer on our camera and as I walked away said, “see you next time.” He laughed and said, “any time.”
There were no great revelations during that brief exchange. The purpose of the interview was simply to hear one of the fastest racers in the world at that time talk to our Irish viewers about his qualifying and racing performance. That was it.
Yes, there are times when a more considered approach can be taken, when the time and situation allows. The only long-form interview I did with Michael Schumacher for instance, took place in Dublin’s RDS.
Michael was over as a guest of Fiat Ireland and time was allocated for a sit-down interview. Michael Schumacher was polite, engaging, relaxed, and informative. Why? Because the time allowed him to be and he was prepared for it, on what was a flying visit to Dublin.
In my experience, there’s a time and a place to engage with people at the top of their game, it just shouldn’t be anytime, anyplace.