It's slightly strange to me that one of the top stories of 2019 was a pretty minor touch of wheels that as far as I can tell caused far more controversy outside the team involved than inside the actual team itself. In my view, it's a reflection of a media contingent salivating for content and controversy, even when there is only the merest whiff of smoke. And it's turning off the fans, who are increasingly treated like idiots who don't understand a single thing about the nature and nuance of the sport they love.
In an alternate universe, the moment would have passed by with little more than commentators ooh-ing and aah-ing about a close call that did no damage. But in our humble little world, where every single incident and story must be exploded like dynamite by a trouble-making media contingent desperate for something to talk about every hour and day deep into the weeks to come, it was a big deal because both cars ended up retiring.
Earth-shattering! Career-ending! Dynamic-shifting!
But let's put it into a bit of perspective:
Firstly, if Vettel and Leclerc had stayed at home rather than fly to Sao Paulo to play silly-buggers on that run down to Descida do Lago, it would have made not a single difference in the overall scheme of things in Formula 1. The title fight was over. Leclerc had already made his point in 2019. Vettel was already cruising awkwardly towards the end of a fifth-consecutive season in red with a fifth consecutive lump of failure in his throat.
Sure, the 'crash' - if you can even call it that - was a nice, headline-shaped metaphor for the tension and the generation-shifting that had been occurring at Ferrari throughout the season. Yes, it was a tangible sign that these boys needed their bottoms slapped in the headmaster's office before the *actual* battle gets started next year. True, it's the perfect opportunity for Ferrari to repeat for the 45,824th time that drivers are never as important as the Prancing Horse. Correct, it was a wake-up call for Messieurs Vettel and Leclerc that their radio-whining throughout 2019 can actually turn into a carbon fibre shower that could ruin their championship campaign and seriously piss off the very serious-looking Italians who sign their giant cheques.
But let's not kid ourselves. This is racing. We *like* to see racing - and arguably just as much when things go badly for the protagonists as when the superb wheel-to-wheel gladiator-duelling with millimetre precision leaves us aghast and impressed at our heroes' super-human talent.
It's therefore to the credit of the calm, analytical, pragmatic and nonetheless obviously peeved on this occasion Mattia Binotto that he tried his darndest to roll out a media strategy straight out of the Manila folder marked 'Calm down, everybody'. Ferrari, especially when run by the hand-waving, "Mamma Mia"-exclaiming Italians rather than the Napoleon-like Jean Todt, has been all too prone to succumbing to hysterical media narratives about yet another scarlet-coloured "crisis", and headless chicken-like "emergency meetings". Instead, Binotto played a role just like your mildly-irritated mother, insisting it's better if these racy but very naughty boys let off some steam now, when it doesn't really matter, than in the heat of a proper battle in 2020.
Essentially, the rant you've just read is not at all about Ferrari and its fascinating driver lineup that is sure to keep exciting us all in 2020 with its appealing narrative. It's more an appeal to the media to sometimes - just sometimes! - treat the F1 fans a little less like children being hysterically revved up in a sideshow ally, and more like adults who understand with more nuance than they are given credit for exactly what they're looking at when racing has its natural consequences.
Do you think that, when it comes to media hype, things haven't really changed that much? Then recall the heyday of the great and brilliant Murray Walker, whose commentary style was described by the equally brilliant (and now sorely missed) Clive James as sounding like a man with his pants on fire. Yes, Murray's voice would rise to a banshee-like soprano when he was really excited. But he would reserve his most panic-stricken "Oh my gosh! This is fantastic!" moments for when things really *were* fantastic and oh-my-gosh-worthy. At all other times, while his pants may have occasionally let off a puff of smoke or a spark or two, this was actually a cool media professional who knew how to add colour to our beautiful sport, but shied away from sensationalising it.
Vettel vs Leclerc in Brazil? A minor bingle, a bookmark for 2020, and an example of what's wrong with the media today. Nothing more, nothing less.
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