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Missing the bigger picture

Maurice Hamilton March 17, 2014
Most newspapers led on the spectacular image of Kamui Kobayashi's crash © Getty Images

For F1 daily newspaper journalists in Melbourne, the Red Bull disqualification saga was good news and bad news in every sense. They may have had to wait until midnight before writing their copy, but at least the story - drawn out as it was - gave the hacks something to get their teeth into during one of the trickiest reporting gigs of the season.

Filing for Monday's edition is made difficult by the paper hitting the streets 24 hours after the race has finished. Given the speed and spread of social media, readers know all there is to know within minutes of it happening, never mind after the weekend has ended.

When readers open their newspapers on the 06.59 to Waterloo, Waverley or wherever, they want to discover something new. That can be a tough call for journos trawling the paddock as evening falls and the race has barely finished. On Sunday, Red Bull and the FIA combined to provide a solution - of sorts.

The 11-hour time difference did at least allow writers to wait for the stewards' decision without worrying about missing the early editions of their paper, as would have been the case had the race been in Europe. As a result, all of the Monday dailies carried the story. The various interpretations literally made interesting reading.

The red tops got stuck in with relish. All three carried the same spectacular picture of Kamui Kobayashi ending his race with splayed front wheels in a shower of gravel. The Daily Star splashed across two pages with the headline 'LEW: I'LL BE BACK' and an opening paragraph beginning: 'Lewis Hamilton was pole-axed here yesterday…' That clearly had been the theme of a piece which then had the bottom half chopped off to cater, in a calm manner, with the disqualification.

The headline in The Star said 'F1ARCICAL', the piece focussing on the Red Bull issue, followed by the dramas for Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and the Lotus team before ending, in Ben Hunt's words, this 'gloom and doom' with three paragraphs on the positives of the day.

Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification turned into a late feeding frenzy for editos across the country © Getty Images

The Daily Mirror did not hold back, a reference to 'cheating' appearing in the headline and the opening paragraph. Byron Young, having clearly had time to build up a head of steam, let fly with references to F1's 'seedy side' and 'blatant self-interest'. Alongside, a more balanced sidebar of the Good, Bad and Ugly of the weekend topped a box-out on Jenson Button's emotional weekend.

Button was the lead-in to a piece in the Daily Express, the disqualification appearing to be shoehorned into the middle of the story and ahead of a conclusion covering Hamilton. All in all, extremely lightweight and lacking the informed focus the paper usually enjoys with its regular F1 writer, Bob McKenzie.

The Daily Express was blown away by the Daily Mail, starting with the headline 'Red Bull's new boy drives into "cheat" storm'. Events late on Sunday were manna from heaven for Jonathan McEvoy, an all-round sports writer not afraid to express an opinion. That said, the piece, occupying most of a page, nicely described the mood of the evening as the saga dragged on and the result was finally declared. McEvoy asked questions, provided an interpretation and then brought a well-reasoned sense of proportion by highlighting the plus points of the actual racing.

The Independent devoted a double-page spread (built around that photo of the crashing Caterham), with David Tremayne's report being extensive enough to pay due credit to Valtteri Bottas and others once the Red Bull saga had been dealt with. Comment was provided by Kevin Garside. An indication that this might be a strange piece came in the opening paragraph when Garside stated: 'So the biggest technical shake-up in a generation, introduced in part to break the domination of one German driver, results in a thumping victory by another.' A clever use of words. But not correct - even if it seemed that way given Red Bull's troubles during testing. Garside, a classy writer, seemed oddly ill-at-ease, particularly when he later suggested: 'if technology is to be central to the project, let it be shared.' There would be about as much chance of that as the red tops agreeing to share the same approach as the qualities.

The Times allowed a page and a half, the headline 'Red Bull find devil in the detail amid cheating row' running alongside an emotive and topical picture of Ricciardo's car being warmly greeted in the pit lane. Kevin Eason was a busy man, filing three stories, the lead covering the Red Bull affair and a useful summary of the race, with Rosberg and Hamilton being amply dealt with in a basement piece. Eason reserved his at times over-the-top withering judgement for a comment column (quoted on our paper round-up) while outlining the difficulties leading to the unacceptable five-hour delay.

The Daily Telegraph's coverage (buried in the depths of a supplement devoted to the great God football) filled a page and a half. Daniel Johnson referred to a 'feeling of farce' while making the valid point: 'Considering the new technology and software these hybrid cars have, it is baffling that a more instant decision was not possible.' There was a sidebar on Button and a concise five-point summary that gave the Monday morning reader a basic understanding of what mattered during the weekend as a whole.

The Guardian made the most of Mark Thompson's clean and sharp action shot of Rosberg by placing it at the top of the three-quarter-page piece, Paul Weaver doing a workmanlike job with quotes from Red Bull and the FIA. His opinion was limited to an early and on-the-money reference to the ensuing legal battle. 'Picking a winner from a heavyweight contest between silks is a hazardous business; identifying the loser is as easy as waving a chequered flag. It is the F1 fan, and there were 100,000 in Albert Park to cheer their local hero into second place.'

If F1 is to learn a subsidiary lesson from this, it is to avoid keeping F1 reporters away from the dinner table at the end of a long day and, in one or two cases, allowing them time to sharpen familiar clichés instead of considering the many intriguing positives of the weekend.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
Maurice Hamilton Close
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live