Leaving aside the debate over the validity of Mercedes strategy calls this weekend, the controversy highlighted a pain-point for me, and surely millions of other Formula One fans.
Out of pure desperation I’m publicly calling for it to be addressed.
Until recently, Australian Formula One fans were treated to free-to-air simulcasts of the British Sky Formula One coverage. Indeed it has come to be default coverage for most English-speaking TV viewers, especially if they have forked out for cable television to watch the Formula One season in its entirety.
Being British-centric, they understandably give their own drivers extra attention, after all they are the ones they know most intimately and those their core audience back home want to engage with.
But after the pathetic offering during this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, it’s time to admit that their approach to covering the sport is quite simply broken, and doesn’t service the greater good in contributing to the sport’s growth.
It’s perfectly understandable that when a driver like Lewis Hamilton has won the championship, or is challenging for a victory, that he receive his fair share of the commentators’ focus. More often than not this year focusing the spotlight on him has reaped dividends, but it’s when he doesn’t deliver the goods that the coverage devolves into an embarrassing mess.
I’m not for one second blaming Hamilton for contributing to Formula One’s shrinking attendance figures and dwindling TV viewership, I know full well that Formula One has far greater problems to address.
Yet it’s time to admit that turning Formula One coverage into the ‘Lewis Hamilton Hour’ is inappropriate and occasionally cringe-worthy.
I also understand Hamilton is admired for his passion and broad demographic appeal, but the Formula One Fans survey last year not only showed that he wasn’t the favourite driver among participants – he wasn’t even in the top three!
Yet the attention that he is currently enjoying is unprecedented, and you’d sometimes be forgiven for not thinking that other drivers were even capable of winning on their own merit.
The rhetoric from the brains-trust during a victorious Hamilton weekend circles around phrases like ‘masterclass’ and ‘utter dominance’. Yet as soon as any other driver gets the upper hand the analysis switches to what Lewis could do to get back on top, where he might overtake and even what other drivers should or shouldn’t do to help him win!
During the races, and throughout the post-race analysis, the result is always the same – unbridled adoration or steadfast defence. Should Hamilton win it’s because of his exquisite driving ability and all is well in the sport, yet when he loses Mercedes strategists are called in to question and the rhetoric about changing the aerodynamic profile is that cars to facilitate overtaking is ramped up to 11.
Barrages of tweets and audience feedback suggesting that Mercedes wanted to keep Nico Rosberg happy, ensure that he takes second place in the championship and that since Singapore they’ve changed the car to suit him were all given lip service.
Paranoid hypotheticals suggesting that Rosberg was getting payback and trying to push Hamilton back into the clutches of Sebastian Vettel were thrown around with stern seriousness. Pensive former drivers like Damon Hill bemoaned the veracity of a Formula One team who dared to ignore Hamilton’s demands for privileged treatment.
It’s an absolute embarrassment and I’m sick of it.
To spend an entire race weekend in Hamilton-land is exhausting. By analysing the race from the viewpoint of how, where and when Hamilton will take his rightful victory is amateurish, and robs fans of a an undiluted viewing experience.
For those saying, ‘Well if you don’t like the coverage don’t watch, or watch it somewhere else’ you miss my point completely. A fair and reasonable commentary of the race is a virtue unto itself, and plays a crucial part in appealing to new fans.
I’m not saying that the problems of the sport should be excused, after all sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant, but the current bias in the Formula One media suggests an infection so festered that may require amputation.
I should point out, too, this is also mostly aimed at the Sky Formula One broadcast. Certainly the handful of times I’ve seen the BBC coverage it has faired a few degrees better, and I can’t speak to the US coverage but I hear it lacks the depth and confidence that the primary broadcaster provides.
In the most evident illustration of bias I could find, on the podium Martin Brundle greeted the victorious Rosberg with a question about surrendering some of his lead to Hamilton at turn one after what looked like a driving error, while subsequently disarming Hamilton and reminding the audience who the rightful victor should have been by pointing out that he claimed the fastest lap of the race.
Returning to Rosberg, Brundle threw out a tongue-in-cheek dig that Rosberg really ought to have won more races earlier in the year, prompting the equally passive-aggressive rejoinder, “Thanks for the advice, I didn’t think of that myself”.
Sadly, though, Sky’s written coverage is no better. Nor that of several other British publications.
The Daily Telegraph’s Daniel Johnson wrote that Hamilton followed home “an obdurate Nico Rosberg“. If, like me, you had to Google what that means, it suggests a stubbornness or unyielding.
It’s a bizarre label to use, and one that suggests that faced with the alternative of letting Lewis through, Rosberg decided against it. No, instead he selfishly decided he was entitled to win after taking pole position, leading the entire race and – you know – it being his job.
A lot of publications have disappointed themselves by shifting the blame for Hamilton’s subservience to the Mercedes, who have assisted Hamilton just as many if not more times than Rosberg throughout the last three years, or the technical regulations. Most of them fail to even mention that by Hamilton’s own admission he spent the previous fortnight partying and could not possibly have been as well prepared and focused as Rosberg was to show up and get the job done this weekend.
Hamilton is a divisive figure, and I have no delusions about which side of the bread I prefer to butter, but when a commentator fails to recognise that they’ve fallen prey to his reality distortion field it should be grounds for recusal or termination.