- Maurice Hamilton's blog
The lie of the land in testingMaurice Hamilton February 20, 2014
According to a front-page story in the Times on Wednesday, scientists are developing a lie detector to check the veracity of statements made on the social media. Apparently it's been named Pheme, after the Greek mythological figure known for gossip and scandalous rumour, the aim being to quickly sniff out and snuff out dangerously misleading stories during riots and other times of social unrest.
In the light of the suggestion that some of motorsport's Twitter and website messages are more accurate than others, there's no truth - I think - in the rumour that the FIA is designing a similar system called Phlegm, focussing on suspect optimism radiating from F1 teams at this time of year. (The name Phlegm, incidentally, comes from one unidentified F1 PR officer who, when asked if a particularly buoyant statement was in fact a complete fabrication, shouted repeatedly: 'S'not! S'not!')
Of course, with the massive increase in media coverage leaving no F1 detail uncovered - including the totally riveting news from one TV technical correspondent in Jerez that Toto Wolff actually speaks French - there is very little scope for bare-faced porkies of the type that regularly invaded motorsport news pages a couple of decades ago.
It was amazing how frequently the Ligier shone in winter testing, only for that promise to disappear behind a haze of Gauloise and shrugged shoulders when technical scrutiny became, shall we say, more intrusive. Arrows would also hit the January and February headlines with cars that appeared to go faster in direct proportion to the absence of sponsorship. The recording of promising test times then was as common as hearing today's pundits tell us that we're in for an 'absolutely fascinating season', the only common denominator being the absence of hard fact.
I was speaking recently to a former F1 mechanic who worked for two top teams in the Eighties and Nineties, one of which was going into rapid decline in the latter period of its existence.
"There were no holds barred when it came to producing a quick lap in testing if they were trying to attract sponsorship," he said. "The car would be illegal; below the weight limit; you name it. It would be stripped right down to the bare minimum. They would have removed the steering wheel and pedals if they could have got away with it. Just get the car out there and get a quick time on the board."
Apart from the intense media scrutiny evident today, the mitigating factor is that teams simply don't have time to play games. A mere 12 days running is bad enough; there is also a mountain of 'stuff' to be got through. When a car leaves a whiff of scorched carbon in the air as it is dragged back to the pits, there is no need to ask a question, never mind listen to an answer charged with false optimism. Phlegm would actually be redundant.
The fact is that very little of note is happening at this stage. Apart from respondents to 'Ask Crofty' writing off Renault ("Big mistake", as Julia Roberts said to the smug saleswoman with that immortal line in Pretty Woman), the one thing of interest from the first day of Bahrain was Romain Grosjean's intrigue over the sound of wind against his helmet visor drowning the Renault V6 when it was actually running.
The only challenge at the moment, it seems to me, is deciding whether Wednesday's headline 'Vettel breaks down in testing' referred to the driver or his car. Probably both if the, er, rumours are true.
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.