I would very much like to be a Formula 1 journalist. I love the sport and I enjoy writing, so it only seems natural that I would wish to combine the two and form a career. After all, life is short and the surrender to the inevitable grind of the 9-5, staring at a computer screen and developing fundamental health problems, should at least be abated for a while until you realise all your other options are exhausted.
But the start of the F1 season has made me realise that there is very little calling for real F1 journalism any more. Most contemporary coverage of the top tier of motorsport is fluff. Just air.
There is a good reason why I think it would be much more gratifying to write about classic F1 than the modern sport. It is not, as many people attest, because the sport was so much better ‘then’. Yes, there were many things that were (for this author and many others, F1 could do with making car and driver identification easier for all concerned). But the main reason that it’s more rewarding to write about something that occurred in the past is that we have all the facts neatly summarised; we can then use this wealth of information to construct something of genuine interest and worth, rather than trying to senselessly predict the future to grab transient attention.
We have no need for conjecture or stabs in the dark. You know the cliché ‘if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all’?
In the run up to the start of the season, what the punters want to hear is who is going to win the championship. Of course they do – we are all interested. But nobody knows. So nobody should guess. We have known since time immemorial that testing tells us bugger all. And yet despite this, everyone still makes snap predictions based on one isolated set of results.
The headlines in the lead up to 2013 have been something like this:
‘McLaren fastest at Jerez – Button eyes championship’
‘Mercedes scorching at Barcelona – Lewis can win title’
‘Red Bull rolls out of transporter fastest – ominous for the rest’
And yet come lights out yesterday Kimi Raikkonen, as smooth and cool as a large Mr Whippy, drove past everyone else from seventh on the grid to a dominant and entirely-deserved win. They didn’t see that one coming! And now of course it’s:
‘Raikkonen’s Melbourne win springboard to second title.’
Good grief! Can we please put the half-arsed predictions aside for a moment?
Of course I didn’t know that was going to happen either, but I’m not privy to the luxury of going to tests and talking to engineers, observing cars from the side of the track and actually gathering information.
This is why we want journalists of the calibre of Mark Hughes, who tend not to write unless they have something decent to say. And when they say it, they have a multitude of excellent reasons for doing so.
Other top-line journalists such as Nigel Roebuck must wonder what’s happened to their profession. And it is not the journalists’ fault. Back when Nigel started covering F1 in 1971 he would form personal friendships with drivers who had no issue whatsoever with telling him exactly what they thought: of their car, of other drivers, of their team boss, of their teammate, of the tea in the team canteen.
These days the drivers are wheeled out with a team representative sitting on their shoulder to make sure they don’t step out of line. Their interviews are essentially a spoken press release. Whether they’re raging or fuming their remarks are anodyne to the point of detachment. And the hordes of journos have nothing to go on apart from this. It’s like a chef whose employer only gives him a white loaf and a block of cheddar to work with.
I understand that this has come about because some drivers have probably been bitten in the arse by the press before. This has the effect of their teams rushing them into the motorhome after a crash/ retirement like a patient going to casualty, lest they accidentally behave like a human and say something a bit rude by mistake. But although Ayrton Senna was regularly thumped by the press, he never stopped saying what he thought. Yes, he was more careful, but if he was pissed off you knew all about it.
The reason I want to read the work of F1 journalists is so that I can learn things I would not otherwise have known from the mainstream TV coverage. Any moron can guess what’s going to happen based on who qualified fastest.
We need technical analysis, terrier-like reporting, unique insights, behind the scenes scandals, controversial information that teams don’t want to get out, interesting anecdotes about drivers…. At the end of the day F1 is supposed to be entertainment and if that really is true then its fans want to know the real story behind the flippant headlines.
Not ‘Fastest Car will probably Win Championship’ – anyone can do that.