The British written press within Formula One have worked themselves up into somewhat of an unnecessary frenzy at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, and have left many followers of the sport asking if they have become surplus to requirements. Following the drivers press conference on Thursday in which Lewis Hamilton spent a proportion of the session engaging with his followers on Snapchat, members of the British media took to social media to challenge the behaviour of the driver. This questioning of respect shown to them from Lewis latterly became the centre piece for many journalist’s preview for the race weekend.
Following the negative response from elements of the media Lewis Hamilton responded over social media explaining he did not intend to cause offence and that he was simply looking to refresh an element of the Grand Prix weekend.
This explanation drew further criticism from journalists who suggested the purpose of the session was not to entertain fans but to give print media the chance to pose questions to drivers. They went on to suggest Lewis’ behaviour was a deliberate attempt to avoid challenging questions around his ability to challenge for the 2016 World Championship.
It is fair to say there may have been an element of this in Lewis’ actions, but this suggestion was met with public observation that the quality of questions asked within these sessions is so poor, they rarely generate headline news either way. Journalists then went to explain, again through social media, that the reason for poor/ no questions being asked in these sessions was because they are televised and by the time they had opportunity to document anything from the session the news would already be available through other outlets.
This justification calls into question not only the format of driver press conferences but the rationale for print media attending race events in person at all. Journalists suggesting driver briefing sessions are of no value to them because others get the news out before they can suggest their delivery method is outdated. They, along with their publishers should be looking inwardly at ways in which to present content in formats that reflect consumption models, rather than criticizing something that is out of their control.
British Newspapers coverage of a Formula One weekend typically will take the form of a race report with driver quotes. If Journalists are no longer prepared to ask questions to drivers because other outlets will publish the responses, they, and their employers would be better placed producing race reports based on TV coverage. Investigative journalism within motorsport has long been the reserve of online only outlets such as Motorsport.com.
The actions of select members of the British print media have prompted a response from Lewis which will further reduce their access and further call into question their value in being in the paddock.
With the announcement that the Motorsport Network have taken control of Autosport and Haymarket Motorsport interests, many motorsport journalists will be feeling anxious around future employment security, biting the hand that feeds you may have been the worst possible response.