F1, the NFL, jaw surgery and fiction

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…




23 thoughts on “F1, the NFL, jaw surgery and fiction

  1. Joe,

    I was a dentist, until recently (retired). I concur with your analysis of the jaw situation.

    However, I have not read any details about his injury (Have they been published?), and so must add that jaw fractures, like all bones, vary wildly in severity.

    I have wondered how he will tolerate the pressure of a helmet against his face. Even after the bones have knitted, the periosteum, that is, the “skin” which is attached to the bone, is often tender for quite a while.

    1. No nothing published but he travelled 200 miles for surgery in the best hospital for jaws in Switzerland…

      1. Thank you. I can’t read much into that. If I were he, no matter how trivial the fracture, I would do the same.

  2. I’m surprised they picked Kvyat as their reserve. He might be a real asset in term of working with the team, in the sims, to help develop the car. And he can be quite fast. But if I was picking a reserve when it was quite possible that the reserve driver would do the pre-season testing and perhaps one or two races I don’t think I’d pick somebody as inconsistent as Kvyat. Was The Hulk not available?

    1. The Hulk has only sporadically tested/raced last year whereas Kyvat has had extended seat time in the latest cars.

      It’s also I think a misnomer any lack of consistency has any relation to his level of feedback. You can have brilliant feedback and be inconsistent. That said I don’t think he’s anywhere near as bad as you make out in that regard either.

      Let’s not forget he was the development driver for Ferrari between his Red Bull stints and was highly rated by Ferrari and they didn’t want him to leave indicating his feedback is likely fairly strong.

    2. The Hulk might already have a similar deal in the works at Aston Martin. I’d say that’s probably why.

  3. I would like to think that at least some of the 10 teams would choose openness over obfuscation and empty phrases, if only for the greater attention they would receive from the media. No need to make public the design details of the latest floor or valve train, but what would be lost by acknowledging, Yes. we needed to rethink the exhaust valves / oil radiator/ whatever?

  4. If you were the marketing/pr person, who inevitably is looking at the normal meaningless speeches, a car that looks near identical, maybe this was the only way you could drum up some interest and controversy. All PR is good PR is said by people who don’t understand these things, but maybe…

  5. Thanks for the article Joe. I think the car launches have been poor this year, they don’t even show you this year’s car!

  6. Smashed myself up many years ago but was more than 10 years younger than Alonso now is. I was staggered how quickly the face repaired itself. The legs took rather longer but I was told I could go skiing as soon as the plaster came off, didn’t work, no muscles.
    I used to know some National Hunt jockeys and they would ride again, after a fracture, incredibly quickly but then poor old Marquez has paid the price for going again too soon.
    I suspect your analysis of Alonso is spot on, I think he will try, even with a wired jaw, docs permitting, and if he finds he can tolerate the pain he’ll keep going but with Kvyat on stand-by.

  7. Initially I thought that he had his jaw wired as he sported the same Monalisa smile in all pictures. But there’s a picture in his Instagram feed (21/Feb) where one can see that his mouth is half open so I suspect it’s not wired together.

  8. F1 drivers in general, and Alonso in particular are far more mentally robust that we normal folks, which is good because if I were in Alonso’s position I would be getting quite anxious about my fitness level.

    We know how important fitness is to modern F1 performance and I’d be very surprised if Alonso is able to do much exercise at all without jarring his injury. As an enthusiastic but very much amateur middle-distance triathlete, I still need to train 6 days per week just to finish middle of the pack and if I were unable to train for a month, I am very aware that my fitness would plummet.

    I can’t imagine Alonso is able to run, row or swim. Cycle maybe. Also difficult to see how he could do the all important neck strength training.

    He’s in for a tough first few races I suspect.

  9. I’ve broken a fair few bones playing rugby, skiing etc and I’ve always been told that bones take 6-9 months to properly repair. I also still race single seater race cars and I can’t imagine being able to put a helmet on 4 weeks or even 3 months after any facial bone break (I fractured my eye socket playing rugby). I broke my knee 2 years ago and even now its “sensitive”. However, a few years ago during Rugby World Cup, a player broke his thumb in quarter final and played in the final (missed semi). He spent 2 weeks in a compression chamber (the sort divers use) to speed up the bone repair process (something to do with Helium). A physio told me “the thumb is 70% of your hand” (Yes I’ve broken both hands as well:( ) so a thumb break is a serious injury for a rugby player……

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