One aspect of the Mercedes testing saga which drew some brief interest this week was Lewis Hamilton tweeting about Miami when he was actually at the controversial Pirelli test in Barcelona.
The team explain it away thus: Hamilton was in Miami until the Wednesday of that week on a Blackberry sponsor event and tweeted a photo on Thursday about where he had been, not saying that he was still there.
It highlighted once again the potential pitfalls of Twitter. Hamilton fell foul of the medium last year when he tweeted – and made public – a set up sheet of his McLaren team mate Jenson Button, which caused some ructions.
Despite the occasional problem, many of the leading drivers have increasingly found Twitter a useful tool for self-expression; in the highly controlled corporate pr environment in which they now operate, it is the only outlet which allows them to express themselves as they want to be perceived. It also allows them to cut through the swirl of rumour and internet gossip to state their version of things when required.
Alonso, Webber, Hamilton and Button in particular have made extensive use of the medium.
But it made me wonder, what would it have been like if Twitter had existed in the days of some of the great F1 drivers of the past – the Sennas and Prosts and Villeneuves of this world?
Can you imagine following Gilles Villeneuve on Twitter?
Tonight on the BBC 5 Live F1 show in Montreal we looked back on the short, brilliant career of Gilles Villeneuve, still to my mind the most exciting F1 driver. Villeneuve was from this part of the world and drove for Ferrari; he electrified F1 in the late 1970s and early 1980s before his death in 1982. He was the ultimate free spirit, a rocket ship of a racer, who took insane risks and made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. He was also a no-nonsense kind of guy, by all accounts.
Imagine what he might have tweeted after the classic wheel banging race at Dijon against his friend Rene Arnoux in 1979, or about his team mate Didier Pironi when he broke their agreement at Imola in 1982.
Beyond that, imagine what F1’s ultimate rivals Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna would have tweeted about each other from 1989 onwards, after their collisions in Suzuka those two years running. Or Senna’s thoughts after one of his legendary run-ins with then FIA president Jean Marie Balestre.
In those days F1 had a visceral quality, allied to a free spirit, which is not so evident today. Kimi Raikkonen’s recent outburst about hoping someone would soon punch Sergio Perez was a rare example of the gloves coming off and drivers saying what they really feel.
Twitter allows more freedom of expression than the drivers can manage today with a PR hovering over them, but it’s still fairly tame compared to the past legends whom it would have been fascinating to follow.
* You can listen to the 5 Live F1 show with the Villeneuve tribute as well as a great interview with man of the moment Nico Rosberg, who tells us what he knew about the tyres he was testing in the controversial Barcelona Pirelli test which is now the subject of an FIA Tribunal. Listen HERE