• The Inside Line

Christian Horner was wrong

Kate Walker July 26, 2014
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As has been widely reported, Christian Horner sounded off at the media during the Friday press conference at the Hungaroring. And while the Red Bull team principal made a very valid point, he also got one very important detail completely wrong.

Where Horner knocked it out of the ballpark was with his insistence that Formula One - and particularly the press corps - focus on the positives of the 2014 season, which has delivered consistently good racing even at tracks generally perceived to be the spiritual homes of expensive processions.

Not all members of the media have been negative, of course - much ink has been spilled on the sport's need to promote the genuinely exciting new technologies we're using, on the rich aural tapestry of the 2014 power units when heard trackside, and the quality of the racing the length of the grid.

In fact, much of the negativity surrounding 2014 has come from within the paddock, with Sebastian Vettel getting into trouble earlier this year for calling the new engine formula "shit", while the sport's commercial rights holder spent the pre-season disparaging power units he'd only ever heard running on dynos.

But what Horner got wrong was his interpretation of the purpose of a press conference:

"We should be talking about the drivers in these conferences, we should be talking about the spectacular racing that happened between our drivers and [Mattiacci's] driver at the last grand prix. We should be talking about what a great race it was for Lewis Hamilton to come through the grid, yet all we do is focus on the negatives and it has to be said, it gets pretty boring for us to sit up here and field these questions. So how about asking some questions about what's going to happen in the race on Sunday, what's going to happen in qualifying tomorrow, because if you've got these questions, please point them at Mr Todt or Mr Ecclestone rather than the teams."

First - and as the subsequent question and its responses showed - when questions are asked about the practicalities of strategies in qualifying and the race, they are not answered as teams are understandably unwilling to show their hand to the competition.

Second, when it comes to straight information about the day's running, teams provide the media with summaries of what they are willing to reveal in their press releases. There are media Q&As with every team at the end of each session, and it is there that track matters are discussed. Want to know why Adrian Sutil (say) had trouble with Turn 3? Go to Sauber and find out in the official session set aside for precisely that purpose.

The Friday press conference organised by the FIA is the only opportunity the media are given to ask questions of senior paddock personnel in an arena where the interests of six different teams (or suppliers) are represented at the same time. Because Horner (for example) can hear Eric Boullier's response to a question in real time, he has the opportunity to interject with his own two cents, turning a reply into a discussion.

There is no he said, she said, or misinterpretation when one team principal's comments are summarised so that another can respond. All those present hear the questions as they are asked, and are free to respond, to agree or disagree with the other team personnel present. As a result, it is the only opportunity the media have all weekend to get a wide range of views from the people who matter on the big stories.

I agree with Horner that it is a sad state of affairs that in recent months the line of questioning has tended to be negative, but the simple truth is that to those within the sport, Formula One currently appears to be teetering on the brink of a precipice. As people who love the sport - and who rely on it for our livelihoods - we the media are trying to make sense of what exactly is going wrong and whether or not it can be fixed.

Sometimes the important questions are the uncomfortable ones. But they need to be asked, and it is better for everyone if they are asked and answered in a public forum designed for the purpose. Which is exactly what a press conference is.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.