Hamilton, the British F1 media and bloggers

Just after the Malaysian Grand Prix, Negative Camber posted a couple of rants up over at Formula 1 Blog about the excuses that the British media were making for Lewis Hamilton after his mediocre showing.

First of all, the media have used the fact that Hamilton was unable to drink water as a convenient explanation of his poor form. It has to be said, the nadir is this headline in The Daily Excess Express: Thirsty work but Lewis shows bottle.

What all of these stories fail to mention is the fact that Robert Kubica was also unable to drink his water because it was too hot. He joked that he might as well put tea in the bottle instead. Additionally, Kubica had been ill all week. All of this didn’t stop him from finishing second in the race.

Not only this, but Fernando Alonso also had a problem with his drink! On the Renault podcast this week they made the same joke about tea. Admittedly, Alonso’s performance was not so stellar either. But it goes to show that this water problem does not make Hamilton as much of a hero as the British press is attempting to make out.

Water problems do not only afflict drivers in Malaysia. In the Australian Grand Prix, in similarly hot conditions, Heidfeld’s drink mechanism completely failed before the beginning of the race, as you will see in the liveblog from that race (discussion 5:27 onwards). Despite this, Quick Nick was good enough to finish 2nd.

In short: nice try, British press, but the excuse just doesn’t cut it.

A different explanation was put forward by Maurice Hamilton in a blog post for the Top Gear website.

This was not Lewis Hamilton’s weekend. He woke on Saturday morning to an unspecified personal problem ‘I’m not telling you about it but it’s something I’ve learned to deal with’ and his day – and subsequently, his race – went downhill from there.

The only other place I have heard this mentioned was very briefly on the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast, which is co-presented by… Maurice Hamilton. The nature of Lewis Hamilton’s problem is sketchy. David Croft suggested it may just be that he got out on the wrong side of his bed. But if there is something more serious occupying Hamilton’s mind, that may be a more plausible explanation for his scruffy weekend. It certainly explains why he was on top on Friday but decidedly mediocre from Saturday onwards.

If Lewis Hamilton does have a problem in his private life, he has my sympathy. But a great driver knows how to cope with such things. I remember when Michael Schumacher’s mother died. Personal problems do not get much bigger than that. Yet the next day he took the race victory in Imola.

If you think I am judging Lewis Hamilton harshly here, you are right. So what is the point I am trying to make? Well, it brings me on to Negative Camber’s second post and the accompanying rant that can be found on this week’s Formula 1 Blog podcast.

It is difficult to fault Negative Camber’s point that it was premature of British journalists to start comparing Hamilton to legendary drivers like Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna. It still angers me to this day that Matt Bishop said on the radio that Hamilton was in a league with Fangio, Clark, Senna, Schumacher — and no-one else.

It was just such a ridiculous thing to say. It simply devalues the achievements of the four truly great drivers that Bishop placed in that ‘top tier’. It does absolutely no justice to the legacies of Fangio, Clark and Senna.

And Bishop said that just three races into Hamilton’s career! We hadn’t even seen Hamilton win a race yet. In fairness, he has since achieved that. But we also hadn’t seen him drive a wet race — and we’ve since seen him fail that challenge. We also hadn’t seen him face a championship battle — and we’ve since seen him fail that challenge.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. It now seems to be taken as read — in the British press at least, though not so much in he rest of the world it seems (I wonder why!) — that Hamilton is one of the greatest drivers ever to have lived. Negative Camber is right to say that if you are going to treat a driver like this so early on in his career, you should expect little less than perfection. You expect to see a Schumacher-grade performance week-in, week-out.

Of course, Schumacher had his off days, as does every other human being on the planet. But this is the point. Careers are made of ups and downs. They are not made in one season, and they are certainly not made of three races.

At some points during a career, a driver will find himself in a good car, in good circumstances and with luck on his side. This was the situation with Hamilton, at least in the first half of 2007. At other points, a driver will find himself in more challenging circumstances and luck won’t quite go his way. And that is when you find out if a driver really is worth the hype.

The point is that it’s swings and roundabouts. Lewis Hamilton had a problematic pitstop during the Malaysian Grand Prix. This was the most convincing of the explanations of Hamilton’s below-par result put forward by the British journalists.

Now, I have seen a lot of people saying that he was “destined” for a podium were it not for that pitstop problem. This could well be true. Hamilton was, after all, ahead of Kovalainen before the first round of pitstops. But if bad luck cost him the podium, good luck would also have won him it. Massa’s spin automatically promoted Hamilton one position. In F1, you take the rough with the smooth.

Moreover, the press raves about Hamilton being a prodigious passer. Yet he struggled for several laps to find a way past Webber and Trulli. Extending the “what if” argument, I could just as easily say that Hamilton would have been destined for a podium if he was able to pass Webber early on in the race. The fact that he didn’t get that podium place was down to his lack of skill.

Complaints about the bad luck of the pitstop also ignore the possibility (and I admit that it is just a possibility, before anyone starts moaning in the comments, but at least I acknowledge both sides of the story) that the problem could have been caused by Hamilton’s driving style. We have seen Hamilton struggle in terms of tyre management a few times now. I think it is notable that most of Hamilton’s major mechanical failures have been tyre-related. He obviously pushes them too hard.

In Malaysia, we saw some bad wear on his left front tyre. The pitcrew had trouble getting his right front tyre off. It is feasible that Hamilton’s driving style could have been the root of the problem.

When you begin to point out the defects in the story that has been built by the British F1 storytellers “reporters” the standard fallback is to enthuse about his “amazing rookie season”. No doubt about it, Hamilton’s rookie season was indeed amazing. The stats speak for themselves.

But who was the most successful rookie before Lewis Hamilton? Jacques Villeneuve, that’s who. The circumstances are quite similar actually. Both drivers took four wins (although Villeneuve did so when the season had fewer races), both drivers gave their more experienced team mate a run for their money and both drivers were in what was almost certainly the best car at the time.

Arguably, Jacques Villeneuve’s task was more difficult than Hamilton’s. Hamilton was groomed for the position for over a decade and methodically made his way through the standard route to F1. Hamilton’s last destination before F1 was GP2, a series that is specifically designed as F1’s feeder series.

Meanwhile, Jacques Villeneuve took the less conventional route via CART IndyCar. These are very different cars to F1 machines. We have since seen a succession of drivers make the move from CART or IndyCar to F1. All of them were disappointments by F1 standards. Indeed, after his rather good first two seasons, Jacques Villeneuve’s F1 career was one long spiralling disaster.

There is no dispute as to whether or not Lewis Hamilton is good. Everyone knows that Hamilton is good. The question is this: Is he good in a Clark, Senna or Schumacher sense? Or is he good in a Jacques Villeneuve sense?

The answer on 27 March 2008 is that we simply don’t know. Hamilton may very well turn out to be this generation’s Senna. When that happens — and we will only know after a few more years — then I will be celebrating his success. But it is disingenuous to say today that he is this generation’s Senna. There is simply no way of knowing if that is the truth.

Now consider the possibility that Hamilton isn’t this generation’s Senna, contrary to what the British journalists have been saying. Then what? The journalists, having colluded to make a mountain out of a molehill in order to further their careers, will then have serious egg on their collective face. Then they will have to come up with their excuses. And we all know what happens then. In traditional British media style, they will rip Lewis Hamilton apart.

So when I sound a note of caution about Lewis Hamilton it is not just because I am a party pooper. It is basic common sense that stops me from comparing Hamilton to the likes of Senna and Clark until he has truly established himself as being worthy of such company.

Because if he underperforms from now on (and it is an if), the British public will be ready to rip him apart for the crime of being good rather than great. And how awful would that be?

Where does blogging come into this? Well, there is an old debate about whether blogs, podcasts and the like are competing with and / or threatening the future of traditional media outlets.

My normal response to this is that the debate is a red herring. Blogs and the MSM can complement each other, but they do not often compete with each other. The point is to recognise where your competitive advantage is.

The mainstream media has the resources to cover a story properly, from all the angles. They can afford to hire trained journalists. In short, their competitive advantage is in balanced reporting. This means that if I turn to the section of the newspaper headed “Formula 1” I expect to see a Formula 1 report, not a barely disguised Lewis Hamilton report.

And don’t give me this “of course the British papers will follow the British driver” tosh. Formula 1 drivers don’t represent countries — they represent themselves! F1 has never been a sport about nationalities. Despite the dominance of Ferrari, Italy has never won a scratch in an F1 season. F1 is a sport about teams of constructors and individual drivers.

Normally you would turn to the blogs for the polemics and the opinionated rants. But it is clear to me that, in Britain at least, the roles have been reversed. British F1 fans have nowhere to turn for an unslanted professional take on events. Now it is up to the bloggers to step up to the plate.

I’m not just saying this. Despite what I have said in this post, I have become less irate about the British media’s coverage over the winter. This might be because I have become immune to it having been subjected to it all last season. But I have another theory — I have subconsciously stopped looking to the mainstream media as my first destination of F1 news and opinion. I wasn’t even aware of what the British journalists were writing until I read Negative Camber’s posts and heard his rants.

In the past I always listened to the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast first. Sometime, without consciously realising it, I swapped to listening to Sidepodcast and Formula 1 Blog’s podcast before listening to any mainstream media offering. This must be because I am getting a better overall view of events from the amateurs than I am from the professionals. What a sorry state for the British media to be in.

16 comments

  1. Hey DoctorVee, not sure if i’ve got my login/username correct, but i’ve finally managed to get back on your site and it’s good to see a balanced view on the current driver situation here.

    I’m with you on the media thing….as is, no doubt, the case around the world, the media hype things up to the max and then (as we might well see if LH doesn’t deliver) back pedal rapidly when things go wrong.

    My only comments would be on the following:

    “And don’t give me this “of course the British papers will follow the British driver” tosh. Formula 1 drivers don’t represent countries — they represent themselves”

    Well, ‘yes they do’ and ‘no they don’t’, depending on how you look at it (more on that in a mo). The media (British or otherwise) will always chase the story that sells the most papers…..if that means reporting/biasing/concentrating on a Brit driver ‘cos it ups sales by a few percent then they will go for it. The fact that the driver is in it for himself (herself, one day?) doesn’t matter.

    But, on that last note, how many drivers tote a helmet design based around their national flag? (i can think of three this season and several more going back over the years). Is such a choice based on bringing in a few more quid from the sponsors, or a sense of national pride? Of course, the chief driver (excuse the pun) for them racing is personal gain (monetary or otherwise) but loyalty to their nation, if not their nation’s tax collectors, seems to crop up here and there.

    Moving on……LH does seem to manage his tyres somewhat differently to other drivers (although quite a few drivers arrived in Parc Ferme after Malaysia with apparently slick tyres!). The pitstop problem though was more likely contaminant/debris related. The circuits a right-hander (hence the left front experiencing the greater wear rate). I would have thought that wheel to have exhibited a problem if it was, in fact, due to heat distortion. Also, did you see the amount of brake dust kicked out of the right front tyre during the change?! And the disc-cover/brake cooling thing that didn’t locate properly on the new wheel? Given the amount of heat that brakes generate, some of which will sink into the wheel, i would be surprised if tyre wear/overheating was the primary cause.

    And you’re right….LH needs a few more seasons under his belt before the media can even think about comparing him to some of the greats.

    Good to be back!

  2. This post is so amazing, so true, so applicable to Spanish media as well that I am going to recommend it in the best spanish F1 blog.
    I would only add that I feel sorry for Hamilton. He is going to be ripped. No premade sporting hero, especially if he/she is a prodigy child, has ever made it without a terrible failure to meet expectations. Mind you that I am not saying that Hamilton is not going to win, I am talking about journalists hoping that he becomes the new Senna. For God’s sake! Do they remember Senna? I don’t think so, because at the moment nobody has His aura.
    Hamilton is a good driver, the best on Saturdays, but I think that Kovalainen, Kubica, Heidfeld, Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, De la Rosa or Trulli could have get the same results he got last season if were given the oportunity. We say in Spain “Give time to time”. You’ll say “Wait and see”.

  3. Thanks guys.

    Pecker, there’s no need to log in to post a comment. You only need to log in if you want to write a post to appear on the front page (which you’re welcome to do if you want 😀 ).

    You are right when you say that the media will focus on ‘national heroes’ because this will increase sales. You expect this sort of behaviour from tabloid newspapers. But we are now increasingly seeing it in the so-called quality newspapers — particularly in The Times and The Telegraph.

    I think the writers at those papers are great, but I really wish they would tone down the Hamilton-hype. Because there is nowhere left to find a professional, unbiased account of a race. Pick up any British newspaper on a Monday and turn to the F1 section and you’d discover that the entire race revolved around Lewis Hamilton. The other drivers just get a grudging mention.

    I don’t mind drivers expressing their national pride. But it is the utter fixation with it that annoys me. Do I have to deny that Alonso and Räikkönen are great drivers because I am British rather than Spanish or Finnish? Hardly!

    Good points on the wheel change issue. Thanks for the comment!

  4. You are a brave man taking on the Hamilton fans, I’m still bearing the scars myself!

    I, and most neutral thinking people, agree with you 100% though – let’s se what his career was like at the end rather than making presumptions at it’s beginning?

    I also agree that at some point it’s all going to go wrong and then the media will turn on him big style – which is always a shame to see not matter who is the victim.

  5. I saw the person you had over at your blog Craig. I’ve had to deal with that sort in the past. I have a whole other post dedicated to that little issue, but that’s for another time.

  6. It’s funny, I used to hate Jenson Button with a passion. Thought he was over rated, hated his Dad being interviewed at all the races and couldn’t stand the way it was if he was the only driver in the field.

    Then last season I found myself – having met Jenson – quite liking him. And gradually noticing that he never rated a mention anymore during the commentary, and it twigged to me what the problem was.

    Two words – James Allen.

    His syncophatic fawning over Button was what turned me off him ( here in Australia we call it the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – wanting someone to be cut down to size) and now that he has switched his attentions to Lewis poor old Jenson doesn’t get a look in.

    There is nothing wrong with supporting a compatriot – I personally like Webber very much, although not JUST because he is an Aussie, and for the record my favourite driver is Alonso – but being all one eyed, fanatical and nationalistic about it does nothing for me. It just smacks of parochialism.

    Thankfully James Allen hasn’t managed to turn me off Lewis just yet, but like you – I too can see the seeds being sown for Lewis if he fails to live up to expectations. And the thing is, he just doesn’t deserve that.

  7. I quite agree. All of this expectation is a lot for Lewis Hamilton to carry on his shoulders. He has such a tough task ahead of him. If, for instance, it takes him as long to win a Championship as it took Raikkonen, the British press will have had enough of him by then. And Raikkonen is a pretty handy driver as we all know, so it will be immensely difficult for him.

    Like you, Pink Peril, I have grown to like Button more over the past couple of years. I really admired the way he managed to wring some results out of that dire Honda last year and I now think he is among the best wet weather drivers out there.

  8. Perhaps the expectations – of the Spanish media this time – is what contributed to (or caused) Alonso’s little meltdown last year?

    I am not sure if the Spanish media is as vicious as the British, but I am sure that Alonso was under every bit as much pressure from them as Lewis is/was.

    We certainly see a hatred of both drivers in the oppositions national media, and I for one am thankful that both are refusing to discuss the matter any further.

  9. “Pick up any British newspaper on a Monday and turn to the F1 section and you’d discover that the entire race revolved around Lewis Hamilton” Assuming that you can find the micro-column-inch that most rags tend to dedicate to proper F1 reporting! 😉

    “Do I have to deny that Alonso and Räikkönen are great drivers because I am British rather than Spanish or Finnish? Hardly!”

    Hell no! Thankfully you, I and the vast majority of the viewing public show a reasonable amount of common sense and get a kick out of comparing the various drivers rather than just lambasting them for no other reason than they don’t wave the right flag!

    James Allen, see following:
    http://www.sniffpetrol.com/issue066.html (and any after issue 60 really).

    Let’s hope that he doesn’t get given the keys to the BBC studio!

  10. Responding to your question Pink Peril.
    Spanish media is as worse as British media when talking about astroturfing, inflating, praising the home guy and demonising the enemy. The difference here is when it comes to attack the fallen idol. The approach is totally different. As far as I know, British way is mocking, scandal and insult… at the present time. Spanish way is focused in the denial of past actions. For example, if the day comes that Alonso loses his favour with the press, they would say that his Championships where due to Michelin+Renault, they would find a saboteur in Ferrari, they would say how bad he was with Hamilton… they would deny his merits in the past, rendering him hopeless in that future present.
    Nevertheless, in both cases, media would try to sell more and more without remorse.
    It is a pity that you guys, that love F1 above drivers, and the few Spanish that love F1 as well cannot understand and meet in a commonplace to share the joy of the sport. Reading this blog makes me feel privileged for knowing a little bit of your language…

  11. “Nevertheless, in both cases, media would try to sell more and more without remorse.”

    i think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head with that statement. as amateurs we don’t have to chase ratings, or sell product.

    it matters not to us if someone choses to read a different site over ours because we’re not losing a customer, nor are we out of pocket.

  12. I totally agree with your sentiments Doctor Vee…
    Lewis is certainly good but not yet proved to be an all time great…
    I look forward to him proving himself by dragging a less than brilliant car up the grid and by winning from other than pole…
    He had a mega rookie year but was lucky not only to get into the best car last season, but also not to be faced with another driver already in tune with the team…
    I can’t help but think that Kimi in a Macca last year would have had the title sewn up pretty quickly and Lewis may have had slim pickings…
    Lucky boy…talented but lucky…
    Now he has to live up to the hype…maybe not quite so lucky….

  13. The day I have respect for Lewis is the day he wins a GP from any other place on the grid apart from the first 4 places!

    For someone who didn’t have any water he didn’t really sweat much as well!

    I hope people keep blogging like this nice to know that there are other british F1 fans who aren’t glorry supporters!

  14. Oh…diddums….grow up and stop whinging.

    YOu’ve said it yourself that you are not a fan of lewis’ and that certainly comes across in your useless ‘RANT’.

    Bottomline is Lewis is by far one of the most exciting drivers in F1 – and dont forget like every human being…he will grow up and mature alot more.
    The fact that you think that a young guy like Lewis in his early 20s should be much more mature & grown up than he should be just because many compare him to the past greats is the biggest load of drivel I’ve heard from anyone and just confirms the lack of maturity and common sense you have.

    SO all in all…your rantful driveling article only confirms one thing…Its YOU who needs to grow up and mature first.

    -Plank!

  15. BTW….forget about the water bottle not working.

    – It seems like you baby milk bottle hasnt been working which explains the complete garbage you type.