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.