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F1 still has drivers with opinions

How should a driver answer a question? Should he toe the party line, say what his team and paymasters want him to say or should he be honest and say whatever he wants?

f1  F1 still has drivers with opinions

What comes out of a drivers mouth is always speculated upon, written about and watched by millions. You base your judgements and opinions of people on what they say and how they say it.

Sunday after the race we saw some interesting reactions from Lewis Hamilton after his excellent victory, as well as Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. All three are very different characters with personalities that couldn’t be more different – although there are couple of similarities.

Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso don’t always subscribe to ‘being an employee’ and not having an opinion when it comes to issues, whether it be tyres, going to Bahrain or FIA decisions. Kimi Rӓikkӧnen and Mark Webber are the same too; they have opinions and they deliver them in different ways, but from that point of view they are far from the corporate machines we have seen in the past.

f1  F1 still has drivers with opinions

They all prefer to do their talking on the track and have a huge desire to win but that really is where the similarities end. Off track, they talk a very different game.

Lewis is emotional. Even in the interview with me on Sunday after the race he described his emotions this year as “a roller coaster” and said he wished he could “take something to level him off”! He talked openly about his family and personal life and dedicated his win to “the special person”. Like it or loathe it, he doesn’t shy away from his life, his relationships, his taste in music or God. This year he seems even more open to sharing his life publicly whether it be in interviews, in his BBC web column or through social media.

When it comes to Fernando Alonso, his style of talking is exactly like his style of driving – punchy! He isn’t shy, he’s intelligent and says what he thinks. He is 100 per cent aware and open about what it will take to overcome Vettel, or as he described it last year “Adrian Newey and Red Bull” and he isn’t afraid of upsetting people with feisty warnings such as making his thoughts clear that Red Bull are doing more than his team when it comes to development at this crucial stage of the season.

f1  F1 still has drivers with opinions

It was interesting to hear after Hungary that his punchiness might have become too much for Ferrari and that Luca di Montezemolo had called Fernando on Monday to wish him happy birthday and also “tweaked his ear for his latest comments”.

It is not clear which remarks by Alonso upset the Ferrari president but when denying his manager had been speaking to Christian Horner it was done with a huge grin, although to be fair his words were “not that I know of”.

But when he was asked what birthday present he would like after finishing fifth in Hungary, he said “someone else’s car”.

Vettel, the youngest triple world champion, has a different approach when it comes to talking up his chances. Quite simply, he doesn’t. He talks a lot about taking it race by race and if the points add up at the end and if he is in front, then he will be champion. He keeps all the information about fastest laps, qualifying, race results, but he never looks at the driver standings. He once told me that after he won his first championship in Abu Dhabi in 2010, he woke up on Monday morning and went on to the internet just make sure he had actually become champion!

f1  F1 still has drivers with opinions

But as time passes and he gets older he is becoming more assured, some in the paddock say ‘more Michael’. When he used to laugh off a question, he takes it on and sometimes unnecessarily so. He could have avoided saying to me on Sunday that he “would prefer Kimi to Fernando as a team-mate” – that wasn’t the question I asked! He then said he respected Fernando as a driver but Kimi as a driver and a person as “he’s always been very straight” with him.

The way he dealt with the Malaysia Webber situation was also not the Vettel we had seen previously. Again, whether it was right or wrong, he took a confrontational direction although one which he believed in. The difference in how he reacted to Turkey 2010 and Malaysia 2013 was that of someone who had found his own voice and wasn’t simply a megaphone for the team.

How Alonso reacts to Vettel’s comments remains to be seen but Fernando is the master of game playing and for him it is the red rag to the bull, in all senses!

f1  F1 still has drivers with opinions

Maybe it’s easier to have an opinion when you are a world champion and have proved your worth; one bad interview, one throwaway comment will not undermine your talent. Whether you like what they say or not, we should be grateful that in Formula 1 we have drivers who at least have an opinion.

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f1  F1 still has drivers with opinions

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11 comments on F1 still has drivers with opinions

  1. Jamie, 30 July 2013 10:12

    One thing is certain, the sport needs these personalities! If F1 allows the drivers to become ‘robots’ who won’t say what they think then there’s no rooting interest left in it.

  2. Mihail, 30 July 2013 10:39

    Great article Lee,

    I and surely lots of fans wish drivers become more true to themselves and behave more like Sebastian after Malaysia and this to happen it requires the journalists and experts to respect their viewpoints and opinions. Nowadays it’s too often when a driver is sincere that he gets slapped.
    This would also give more balls for the journalists to ask the questions everybody needs.
    For me, the interview Ted Kravitz did with Christian Horner at Milton Keynes for Sky, which was 20 minutes, this was the worst interview I’ve ever seen done in F1. Everybody was talking about Helmut Marko’s influence in the team and yet Ted didn’t ask even one question about him.
    So, grow balls asking the questions that are on everybody’s lips!

    You do a fantastic job in your personal one on ones, congrats!

  3. Dave Cook, 30 July 2013 12:17

    Precisely. That is why FI(TM).com has been deleted from my bookmarks. The words at this magazine’s masthead are what it is all about. Long may you continue in this vein. That interview with Horner, do you really think he would ask anything controversial when pit passes for press, photographers, et al have suddenly become golddust? I have Sky HD and watch the more interesting races live on it, apart from that I wouldn’t watch anything else, apart from certain races in times past.

  4. Rick, 30 July 2013 12:57

    All drivers suffer from the same problem – not only do they have large corporate paymasters to appease, they are asked the same anodyne questions ad infinitum during a Grand Prix weekend and often outside as well. 99% of TV coverage before the actual race starts is insubstantial waffle. So of course what they say may as well be played from a cassette.
    It is no different to anyone when they’re at work – in my office I have witnessed the uptight, tepid personalities that people display in the name of ‘professionalism’ and then noticed how different they are when they’re having a beer outside office hours.
    I also think it’s a bit ironic that you mention Lewis Hamilton here – from his very first F1 interview in early 2007 his responses were exactly the kind of measured, generic dross we have come to expect from someone brought into the sport as he was. He sounded like he’d rolled out of the McLaren Technology Centre himself. Occasionally he does either whinge or mention his ongoing girlfriend dramas, but that hardly counts as having a personality.
    Of the drivers at the minute, the only one worth paying attention to in this regard is Mark Webber. Since none of the field beyond cars 1-10 get a sideways glance in the media he’s the only hope the viewers have – and he’s leaving next year.

  5. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 30 July 2013 13:08

    Alonso the ‘master of mind games’…

    …Shame that all his childish ‘mind games’ haven’t delivered a single World Championship since the middle of the last decade!

    A guy like Vettel couldn’t give a flying rats backside about Nando’s silly mind games.

    It hasn’t worked.

    It’s likely backfired: I’m sure it doesn’t do Alonso any favours when he constantly makes the engineers back at Maranello feel like chumps.

    Again, how many titles has Fernando’s mind games delivered since 2006?

  6. Derek Griffin, 30 July 2013 14:10

    It’s a great shame that Mark Webber is leaving at the end of the season as he was always guaranteed to give an honest and open comment on any situation, whether it was motor sport or politics (think Bahrain). Quite honestly, Hamilton has become the Mansell of the age, spellbinding and brilliant while in the car, but out of it he gives everyone earache! The only difference is that these days we hear his whining while he is in the car!!

  7. hamfan, 30 July 2013 19:36

    “Hamilton has become the Mansell of the age, spellbinding and brilliant while in the car, but out of it he gives everyone earache! The only difference is that these days we hear his whining while he is in the car!!”

    Please expand on this ‘whining in the car’ comment. I haven’t heard (m)any instances, certainly since the move to Merc. I’ve heard Fred and Seb and Button and Webber and others whine this season a lot more than Ham.

  8. Mikey, 31 July 2013 10:47

    A driver speaking his mind is generally a good thing. Seldom, alas heard from those on the way up. Welcome from those who have made it. Sometimes irritating from those on the slippery slope.
    Will Fernando go to RBR? Depends on whether team boss SV changes his mind.
    Be careful what you wish for – KR might have #2 on the car but not in the head.
    Having said that, if RBR don’t put a Torro Rosso man in the 1st team, what is the point of having a young driver programme?

  9. Patrick, 31 July 2013 15:54

    That’s all well and good, but it would be nice if the F1 reporters developed some of the same guts and outspokenness and started asking hard questions even of the drivers they like. For example, it still amazes me that the press never grilled Webber over his behavior towards his teammate last year. I’ve never before seen or heard or a driver trying to take out his title chasing teammate – you’d think that would be a HUGE news story. But the press basically pretended it never happened.

  10. Patrick, 31 July 2013 15:59

    “The way he dealt with the Malaysia Webber situation was also not the Vettel we had seen previously.”

    That’s the fiction, isn’t it? Vettel was not dealing with “the Malaysia Webber situation” in Malaysia, he was dealing with the Brazil Webber situation. But it’s difficult for the press to acknowledge this, since they never acknowledged that Webber did anything out of the ordinary in Brazil.

  11. NaBUru38, 31 July 2013 21:40

    I like drivers that talk with honesty and respect. I hate this “game playing”: drivers must race, then talk about how they did and that they will do better next time.

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