This has been an interesting season, as a lot of negativity entered the system at the start of the year and it has not gone away.
Commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone criticised the new hybrid turbo formula and the lack of noise and this negativity was fanned by the likes of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz (“F1 is not there to set new records in fuel consumption, nor to make it possible to have a whispered conversation during a race”) and Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo (“The rules are too complicated, the drivers have turned into taxi drivers”) – to the point where the negativity has taken on a life of its own.
Many fans bought in and have resolutely set themselves against F1 2014, even though the action on the track has been spectacular for the most part with lots of great overtaking and excitement.
The subject of a wider malaise and lack of engagement with younger fans has also been an ever present subject, with TV audience figures not looking good in Italy and Germany in particular and empty grandstands at Hockenheim being jumped on as another nail in the coffin, despite packed stands at the previous rounds in Canada, Austria and Silverstone.
And the third layer of negativity has been around the new venues on the calendar and the appropriateness of going to Russia in the current political climate and to Azerbaijan in future.
In this context the comments of Red Bull boss Christian Horner in Hungary were noteworthy; reacting to a legitimate question from a serious German newspaper about whether teams felt it was right to go to Russia, he criticised the media for talking about the wrong subjects, as he saw it:
“We should be talking about the drivers in these conferences, we should be talking about the spectacular racing that happened between our drivers and his (Ferrari’s) driver at the last Grand Prix. We should be talking about what a great race it was for Lewis Hamilton to come through the grid, yet all we do is focus on the negatives and it has to be said, it gets pretty boring for us to sit up here and field these questions.
“So how about asking some questions about what’s going to happen in the race on Sunday, what’s going to happen in qualifying tomorrow, because if you’ve got these questions, please point them at Mr Todt or Mr Ecclestone rather than the teams.”
So is this a case of chickens coming home to roost? Has the tone of negativity come full circle to bite back those who launched it in the first place?
And does Horner have any right to dictate what the F1 media should be asking, writing and speaking about? Isn’t an official FIA press conference the ideal place to ask team principals serious questions?
We asked four of the leading F1 journalists in the media centre to give us their reaction to Horner’s outburst.
Frederique Ferret, L’Equipe, France
“Mr Horner is free to criticise us, just as we criticise him when he makes bad strategic choices. His role as principal of one of the leading teams does not permit him to dictate what those same journalists should write.
“In 1978 it was questionable whether one should travel to Argentina to cover the World Cup.
“In 1936 it was even more questionable going to Berlin for the Olympic Games. The role of democracy is to permit citizens to ask each other questions on the world around them. That also applies to sport..and any barrier to this right is a brake on the freedom of expression.”
Alberto Antonini, Autosprint
“I can see Chris Horner’s point when he criticizes the media for being ‘negative’. Let’s face it, some questions asked about F1 going go places like Azerbaijan are provocative. Come the right moment, the same people who tried to present themselves as the advocates of democracy, will line up sheepishly at the Baku airport, like they did in China.
“But when it comes to Horner saying we should talk about the excitement of racing, well, he sounds like from another world. F1 is about communication, and teams have done their best not to communicate. In MotoGp, you have riders commenting on why they changed that suspension fork. In soccer, you can write out detailed figures on players’ revenues and not risk being belied or ridiculed. F1 bosses, instead, would like us (and the public) to be content with the stuff they put on press releases.
“Remember that saying ‘news is what annoys someone. The rest is advertising’. Let’s stick with it.
David Tremayne, The Independent
“I’m getting bored with people slagging off F1, and with the line that the media is negative.
“I seem to remember at the start of the season that besides Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo it was Dietrich Mateschitz who criticised it publicly.
“Yet according to Reds Bull employee Christian Horner it’s the media that’s negative.
“That would be the media that has single-handedly been pumping up the virtues of the new eco-F1 formula in the face of all this criticism from the leaders at the sharp end, and the complete lack of positive publicity of defence emanating from the FIA.
“Sometimes it pays to engage brain before making sweeping comments, and it’s time Christian remembered that and appreciated what the media does for the sport. It’s not just about the drivers, the teams, the mavens and the fans.”
Heikki Kulta, Turun Sanomat, Finland
“As a Finn being a sports journalist for almost 40 years I have managed to keep distance from the politics and, in fact, from the negative aspects it usual brings along.
“So I understand Christian’s point of view. It was a long press conference and the same kind of questions were coming again and again. Talking about negative issues as general is not to be jugded from the ones that are invited for the interviews, but maybe there should be some order made that we are not focussing only one particular issue for the most of the time available.
“I know this world is getting more and more political in every way and the sport events cannot avoid being part of that, too. That we all – as part of media – have to accept.”
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