All teams should follow Merc’s lead
the promoter and the other stakeholders to push this agenda forwards – the competitors can, too. If the drivers were able to express their personal feelings more often, it would help create emotional connections with the audience – and all sports are about emotion. It’s passion that connects us with a sport. Right now, the rules and racing are great but the public is too far away.
Obviously there are challenges here. I wonder if the PR people are too controlling, because they’re afraid that their drivers may say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. That’s true to an extent, because the news agenda tends to be so quote-driven, but I say bring it on – let the drivers say what they think! It beats those press releases you see pre-race where every driver on the grid is quoted as saying almost exactly the same thing. Sometimes in life you do say the wrong thing – and you soon learn not to. It’s part of growing up. And the public enjoys a bit of controversy.
Like everyone else, I’ve been very interested in the mounting tension between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg this season. Sometimes the soap opera off-track has been almost as good as the action during the races – those pregnant silences in the green room before the podium say more than words. Mercedes have been very intelligent in the way they’ve dealt with the situation. They’ve accepted that they can’t silence or micromanage their drivers, so they’ve been much more open. After that controversial collision at Spa they put out two Tweets inviting the fans to have their say – do they want to see team orders imposed, or should Lewis and Nico be free to race?
There were some abusive responses, because this was such a charged subject, but Mercedes – and Lewis and Nico – came out of it better than if they had just pretended nothing had happened. The impression was not of a big corporate entity shutting its doors, but of a condent brand happy to engage with the fans.
Other teams are engaging more, too. There are a lot of funny, friendly exchanges on Twitter between Mercedes and Lotus, as well as with their fans, and Lotus are known in the paddock as a team whose PR people let their drivers speak without interference. For sure, drivers scream at one another just as much as people in other sports do – and I think in a lot of cases we’re missing that raw emotion.
Not all drivers want to express themselves to that extent, of course. Some are quite shy. You see drivers like Fernando and Lewis arriving at the circuit, being mobbed by fans, and they stop to sign autographs and say friendly words. Others – mostly younger ones – hurry on by with their heads down. That’s a shame. Then again, sometimes the best way to express yourself isn’t verbal. As I wrote in my book about that championship showdown at Watkins Glen in 1974, when Clay Regazzoni had nearly forced me off the circuit as I passed him, I’d wanted to say something in the interviews after the race about how dangerous his tactics had been. But I decided not to – because I’d done my talking on the track, and there was nothing more to say.