What’s Up With The Drivers’ Interview?

Something strange happened this weekend and I am not quite sure what to make of it. After I watched the Grand Prix of Germany, I expected to see the usual interview that takes place in some lame room where all three drivers field softball questions from James Allen (who it must be said I admire and feel is a great asset to the fans of F1) or some other pundit. Instead, a race celebrity, in this case Niki Lauda, was on the same podium where the drivers accept their trophys and after the presentation ceremony Lauda proceeded to interview them right there in front of the team members and all the fans that have made their way on to the front straight.

Now let me state for the record, I read everything that is Formula One all day long, everyday (except on race day, wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise) and on many days I read the same articles, posts and opinions again and again and yet again, just to make sure I glean every last bit of crucial information. I am such a sad sack that way, but that is just the way it is. Even I do have to laugh at myself sometimes. Despite this comprehensive reading program, I did not see one small line about this new format anywhere on the web prior to this protocol change, so I was completely taken by surprise.

So what do we think about this change? Well to start with I have never really liked the old format. It is boring and like I mentioned earlier the questions are not that compelling and the drivers looks like they’re as bored as I am. It is in conducted in English (no translators) so unless the driver has a good command of this particular language their answers sound incorrect grammatically, and if Kimi is one of the three all you really hear is a constant mumble anyway.

I do know that after the English speaking interview, and after more questions from the floor, the three podium drivers conduct interviews in their own language. I often wonder, does the media ask the hard questions in this part of the interview or do they also give in to the common practice of the softball pitch: easy to see and easy to hit. Translation: a question that is not really a question and don’t even answer it if you don’t want to Mr. Driver.

So here we are with Niki, Fernando, Sebastian, and Jenson all on the podium, and although it was a little strange I did think it was refreshing, quite frankly. The drivers were a little bit more relaxed and something happened on that podium I would have never expected. Mr. Lauda asked both Jenson and Vettel point blank about the controversial pass at the end of the race. He was respectful in the manner in which he posed the question, and he didn’t sugarcoat it, but he asked the question to which everyone watching those final laps wanted to know the answer. He was correct in asking it, and correct for putting Sebastian and Jenson on the spot. This gets back to something that I have mentioned before on this blog, a pet peeve of mine perhaps. I want the drivers of this era to act a little bit more like drivers of earlier eras (pre-big money influence), and that includes speaking one’s mind now and then. Having to answer a hard question is heading in the right direction, and if that means getting some knickers up in frenzy due to a more freewheeling format, sponsors and drivers should just deal with it.

I think there are some kinks that need to ironed out, that is to be expected, hopefully FOM and the FIA will have a little patience and let this new style develop at it’s own pace and find it’s feet. Let’s give it a chance, even though I foresee some awkward moments in the future. If it works out and is a benefit to the sport, great. If it dies a quick death and no one likes it, that’s fine too, lets try something else. At least the organizers are trying something new for a change. (It took several years for Formula One to find the most recent iteration of qualifying and I think it is the best one so far).

Have you ever eaten an old saltine cracker? You think you’re going to crunch into something crisp and salty and instead it tastes stale and that is exactly what the standard interviews remind me of. You just watched something that is so good (a great victory, a battle on the track, awesome (or questionable) strategic moves, some kind of of drama) and you’re expecting some good insight, some really engaging questions from the interviewer so the drivers and the fans can make a connection, so the driver can break it down for you, and instead it ends up just three guys talking a lot but not really saying anything. A stale cracker. Bleah. -jp

27 Jul Addendum: It would appear that I have gotten it all wrong.  This new format is not replacing the old one, it is an addition to the regular end of race interviews, and might even be temporary. Oh well, it was a nice fantasy that the stale cracker format was gone forever. -jp

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