There has been a great deal of twittering going on since Sunday after Lewis Hamilton tweeted a graph that showed the difference between the performance of the two McLarens, based on their choices of rear wing. Button chose a new wing, while Hamilton stuck with the old one. Button got it right. Hamilton did not, at least not in qualifying. We will never know if it was a better choice for the race because Lewis was taken out at the first corner.
There are some who have made a big fuss in the media about the Tweet, saying that it gave away a great deal, but McLaren’s Paddy Lowe, a sensible down-to-earth bloke, reckoned that it is all a bit of a storm in a teacup.
Lowe said that the tweet was “not great” but added that “the actual data in there is not going to be of any great use to any of our competitors. It’s a mistake that Lewis made, he understands now. It was a genuine mistake on his part, he didn’t really appreciate the nature of that information if not the specifics. The engineers don’t like to see that because we spend our lives trying to keep things secret and it’s more what it represents than what was actually given away.”
Earlier in the weekend I had had a long chat with Paddy about all kinds of things, from holidays to the Olympics Games and odds and ends about F1. In that conversation we touched on the new wings and he made the point that the cars these days have very different set-ups from one track to the next, in order to maximise the potential for a given circuit, and so one needs to be a little careful about the use of the word “upgrade”, as new parts may be circuit-specific. Spa is an unusual track and so Lewis’s tweeting was probably of very little value to the other teams.
However, what the story does do is raise questions about Hamilton’s state of mind at the moment. Why on earth would a driver want to tweet his team’s telemetry? Anyone who has any idea about the sport will have known that there was no way that Button and Hamilton would be that far apart were it not for different set-ups, and so one is left wondering who Hamilton was trying to impress. Certainly, any team thinking of hiring the British driver would have realised the situation and, as a result of the tweet, would be LESS likely to sign him on the basis that the tweet showed an unexpected and unreliable side to his character that has not been clearly seen up to now.
There are many in F1 who feel that perhaps Hamilton lives in a bubble that is today far removed from the real world. If he is going to take on the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel in a fight for the World Championship, Lewis needs to rely on more than his natural talent. There is no question that he is a great driver, but he needs to be able to relate to the people around him in the garage, and at the factory. Ask Ferrari about Alonso and they will tell you that he spends a lot of time at Maranello. And the people in the garage are not going to be impressed if you are tweeting such things.
Winning is all about the people and if you want to win in F1 you need to spend more time in Milton Keynes or Woking than in Hollywood.
In his favour, Lewis is one of the few in F1 to have realised the power of tweets to relate to the fans. It is good that they can be brought closer in to the sport and that they have a star like Lewis is willing to give them insights. He is seen as a cool guy and it is great that his Twitter feed is not PR-policed like so much in F1 these days. This means that fans can get a sense of Lewis’s real character. If the sport is to have a future with Generation Y (a term that some F1 bosses these days have not even heard of) then it must not ignore the attitudes and desires of these people. They are tech-savvy and plugged-in around the clock. Their’s is a world of gadgets, of iPads and Blackberries; they seem to value family life more than previous generations, perhaps because the technology gives them more flexibility; and they are less into cars than earlier generations and are happier to use other means of transport.
Capturing their interest is something that F1 needs to address seriously as the current audience gets older.