The shift to electronic communication in Formula 1, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to further erosion of media access to the people who matter in the sport, with no possibility these days of quiet chats in the F1 paddock and PR people controlling most of the available output.
This might deliver the right corporate message – which is, of course, what they are paid to do – but it does mean that questions that they don’t want asked, do not get asked. In any case, all answers end up going to everyone and so basically it is all syndicated content, which means that many of the F1 journalists don’t ask the questions they want to ask, unless they wish to grandstand and promote themselves – or their publications (which some do).
This can be quite frustrating for those trying to dig out the real stories in F1, but we must accept that things change and so we must do what we can.
In the past I have sometimes described some of the PR people in F1 as being like offensive tackles in American football, their job being to protect the player charging forwards with the ball, by taking out the opposing defence before they can tackle him.
They are like anti-missile missiles, aimed at the journalists who are aimed at the team people.
To illustrate this, today was the Alpine launch. The big question for me with regard to Fernando Alonso was why was the Spanish driver not able to take part in a virtual car launch. It was clear that not everyone involved was in the same country, so why was Alonso not joining in from his home in Switzerland?
For me this was extremely odd and got me asking whether perhaps Alonso could not take part because of the need to heal his damaged jaw. Ask a doctor to tell you how long it takes to mend a fractured jaw that required surgery and they will generally say “six weeks”. Fernando crashed his bicycle on February 11 and had surgery in Bern the following day. That means that there is less than a month between the operation and the Bahrain test.
Can jaw bones heal that quickly?
And if they can, why was Alonso not taking part in the launch? The only real explanation that made any sense was that the technique of repairing jaws involves wiring them together while they heal. That would mean that Alonso could not easily take part in the launch as the treatment would then be obvious and that would inevitably create speculation about whether he would be ready in time for the first race, six weeks after the crash.
So I tried to ask the electronic question: “Has the FIA agreed to allow Alonso to test in Bahrain, as his recovery after jaw surgery has been far more rapid than is usually the case?” This was ignored the first time I asked. The second time I deliberately added a second non-controversial question. And what happened? The hard question was skipped over and the easy one was answered, which highlighted the fact that the asking of questions what not being done on a first-come-first-served basis.
There was not much point in the circumstances in asking: Why could Alonso not take part in a virtual launch? So I didn’t bother, but it was interesting to see that the team has opted for Dany Kvyat as the reserve driver. He’s right up to speed with current F1 cars and is available. The team said that his inclusion in the team was a very recent decision, but added that there was no plan for him to test in Bahrain. But plans are not realities – and they have built-in deniability.
There is a disconnect here somewhere. A minor jaw injury can heal without the need for medical intervention, but a more severe break will often require not only surgery but also supportive medical devices around the jaw. The recovery time can be longer if the jaw is used too much. Alonso had surgery and yet everyone is saying that he will be back in time for the test, having been cured in four weeks, rather than the usual six.
We will see. F1 drivers are fit and recover quickly, but the fact that the team wants to avoid such questions serves to underline the suspicion that we could end up with Ocon and Kvyat doing the testing – and Alonso on the back foot from the start of the season.
Alonso did post a video a few days ago that suggested that he can talk normally, but if that is indeed the case, why was he not doing the virtual launch?
Call in Miss Marple, Jules Maigret, Sherlock or Hercule Poirot…