Shortly before second practice began this afternoon, Jason Swales, the producer of BBC Radio 5 Live’s F1 programme, received a message from Mark Webber. He urgently wanted to be interviewed. F1 being the secretive business it is, and F1 drivers usually preferring to speak only when spoken to, this was unexpected.
Not even Webber, the most quotable and approachable of drivers, had been known to push himself forward in this manner.
When pit lane reporter Holly Samos got to Webber just before he climbed aboard his Red Bull, the Australian came straight to the point. He wanted to deny a quote attributed to him in a British newspaper this morning which read: “‘He’ll kill someone – Lewis Hamilton’s style is too dangerous’, says Mark Webber.”
Reading the actual quote, Webber had been critical of Hamilton’s driving. But he had been expressing concern about cars touching during a first lap scramble. He was referring to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2000 when a flying wheel from a Jordan killed a marshal (who had actually been standing in the wrong place in order to get a closer view of the action).
At no point had Webber used the word ‘kill’ or come close to the interpretation chosen by the British tabloid. Webber had introduced the Monza incident to the conversation but he was angry that his words had been taken out of context.
Either way, it was an unfortunate reflection of Hamilton’s eventful start to last Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix. Hamilton didn’t actually make contact with another car, although several left the road briefly as a result of his aggressive move. But the incident was enough to provide ammunition for Hamilton’s detractors, several F1 drivers among them.
That should be no surprise, of course. Racing drivers are deeply competitive and, whether they admit it or not, resent a young driver coming in and rapidly becoming a superstar on their patch.
When Hamilton was nominated for the Thursday FIA press conference, along with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, he knew he was in for a difficult time. And so it turned out.
While there was no direct criticism, Hamilton was definitely the odd-man out as the other three, usually led by Alonso, engaged in winks and nudges and muttered conversations when Hamilton was speaking.
At one point, when asked a pointed question from the floor about who he would like to see win the championship, Alonso said his good friend Kubica, and then Massa. It was part of a game, and Jenson Button summed it up best.
‘Alonso was only saying that because he wants a reaction,’ said Button. ‘He’s not in the championship, so he just wants a bit of action. Quite comical, really.’
That’s probably true. It’s a pity the same could not be said about the emotive interpretation put on Webber’s words.