March 27th, 2013 (F1plus/Paul Godley).- Personality; something we all have and something we all search for in other people. The 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix left us pondering this thought; does Formula 1 lack personality? We all know what happened in the latter stages of the race, on the track at least, but what about off the track, both with the media and behind closed doors. Well, we'll never know all that goes on behind those doors, but we do know and what we can see is what each driver does on the track and says off it (to camera).
To be truthful, it was prior to the race itself that I found myself questioning the lack of personality or personalities in Formula 1. I managed to catch a segment of the Lewis Hamilton interview with Damon Hill on Sky Sports in which Lewis said (whilst at McLaren) "I definitely felt, from the get-go, that I had this cover over me". In the interview Damon brings up the point that as a Formula 1 driver, you're not only scrutinised for what you do as a driver, but for how you live your life away from the circuit.
It's awkward of course, because no one should have to have their whole lives in the public eye and everyone has the right to privacy. Some will argue that by being a Formula 1 driver you should have to learn to deal with the increased exposure and scrutiny, a view not shared by myself. This may be a little naive, but I'd like to think that most, if not all drivers want to be in Formula 1 because they love motor racing and want to be the best in the world at what they do; not because they want to be in the public eye 24/7.
We all have our favourites, whether that's for what a driver accomplishes inside a car or says outside of it. A great drive, a funny quote or a mixture of both, it doesn't matter. Personality, for me at least, is something very important in determining your opinion of someone. Looking at the list of drivers in this season's paddock, it seems to me as though we're lacking a whole host of 'personalities' in the sport.
There appear to be too many drivers who've had their personalities altered too much towards not saying the wrong thing to please sponsors, managers or the media that the fans don't really ever get a sense of what the driver is actually thinking. An example of this can be found at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the site of Kimi Raikkonen's first and only victory of last season. The post-podium celebration interview had been up to that point largely a waste of time. Nothing of note was being said, questions were often misunderstood and with a new interviewer each race the ceremonies had no sense of flow or continuity. But Abu Dhabi seemed to change that because of one man, Kimi Raikkonen. We finally heard what a driver actually thought. Yes people weren't fond of the swearing, but wouldn't you rather hear what a driver is thinking than some pre-planned, sponsor-pleasing, politically-correct nonsense?
Kimi has been a breath of fresh air since his return last year. His unique style at dealing with the media, with the team and with other drivers is something that makes him stand out as a personality. He now has people hanging off every word he says (admittedly there's not always a lot of them), but you get the picture. His personality has shone through; and his fan base has increased significantly. Who'd have thought that 8-10 years ago?
Mark "celebrates" his second place in Malaysia. (Getty)
Mark Webber is similar to Kimi in that he says it how he sees it, something people the world over admire him for. As I've said, you always want to know what the driver is thinking and with Mark you seem to get that. Although we only saw a part of the conversations between Mark, Sebastian and the Red Bull management on Sunday, it was still clearly apparent what Mark's thoughts on the situation were. He's a very experienced Formula 1 driver who's carved a career towards the front of the grid through sheer grit (no Twitter pun intended) and determination. He's not going to take anything lying down, especially if there were pre-race agreements within the team.
I admire Mark and have done for some years, particularly during his time at Red Bull with Sebastian Vettel as team mate. You can make whatever you like out of the lines the team throw out there to the media about having no number one driver or no favourites - I know what I think - but you have to praise Mark for not letting any of it get to him; up to now at least. One thing I will say about yesterday's team dominated race; it showed the difference between having drivers that are team mates and friends, and drivers that are team mates and... well... yeah.
Both Kimi and Mark are experienced campaigners and have proved through their driving that people can and will listen to them. I think the key there is experience. Is part of today's problem that more than half the grid hasn't competed in more than 40 Grand Prix's? Because of their age and lack of Formula 1 experience, do they feel like they can't express themselves? Maybe it's a fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong people? Who knows. Each generation has had that marquee personality; Moss, Hunt, Senna and Schumacher to name a few. Who will be next? Will anyone allowed to be next?
Part of the problem that fans have is relating to the drivers because of the huge difference in lifestyle between the parties. Tools such as Twitter are playing a part in helping to build relationships between the drivers/teams and fans. A recent Q&A half-hour session on Twitter with Lewis Hamilton lead to joy for many fans because they were able to interact with their favourite driver directly. Would it help if more drivers and teams were to do this? Fans are key to the sport, and fan interaction could be even more so. Maybe half an hour each race weekend for each driver and team would be a good starting point? You'd find out things that wouldn't necessarily be asked in a normal interview; and it would mean more to a fan if his or her question was answered by the driver. Just a thought.
All we really want is to see the drivers as they actually are. We as people like people to be people (lots of people there). We like emotions of all kinds, something that's often missing from Formula 1. I suppose that was something we definitely saw on the podium in Malaysia mind. We like a bit of anger, a sign of frustration, a thump of the air after a victory or a just a smile to bring the car home in 13th or 14th place. Seeing other people show emotions gets us emotional too (the crowd in Brazil for Ayrton Senna or in Japan last year for Kamui Kobayashi for example). Sebastian Vettel's victory finger may be very irritating, but it's his mark and creates part of his personality. Different is good, but too much of the same is bad. Do we currently have too much of the same in Formula 1? I'd have to say yes, unfortunately.
So, the title of this article is "Does Formula 1 lack personality?" After writing my thoughts on the matter I'm thinking that the question needs to be slightly re-worded. Instead it should read "Does Formula 1 prevent personalities?"