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The quiet before the storm

Maurice Hamilton March 10, 2014
There was little mention of Red Bull's struggles in the Sunday papers © Sutton Images

The news that F1 is undergoing the biggest technical change in more than a decade has not reached some of Britain's national newspapers. The Sunday before the first Grand Prix of the season is the traditional time for sports editors to mark the return of front-line motor racing to their pages after a lengthy absence; a good excuse to remind readers, never mind sports editors themselves, what F1 is all about.

That is not the throwaway remark it seems. The majority of decision-makers in sports departments know next to nothing about motor racing. They are aware of the Monaco Grand Prix, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monte Carlo Rally (some may even believe current drivers still compete in all three). The British Grand Prix reaches the forward planning pages because of its place alongside Wimbledon, Ascot and The Open in the high summer of British sport in the same way that Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are familiar names. But mention of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Kevin Magnussen and ERS is likely to receive the blank expression I would reserve for a discussion on Barnsley remaining in the Championship.

I don't pretend to know about football. But sports editors are supposed to be familiar with F1 at the very least. Most, by limiting displays of wisdom with sneering criticism of F1's frequent lapses, actually reduce their apparent knowledge to the lowest common dominator. The beginning of a new season is an opportunity to start afresh, particularly as previous F1 form, virtually in its entirety, is covered by clean sheets of paper. A look at last Sunday's papers provides an interesting reflection on the state of F1 as portrayed by printer's ink.

Using circulation figures as a running order, the Mail on Sunday (MoS) leads the way, both in sales and space devoted to F1. A pull-out entitled 'Fast Lane' is devoted to fast cars with the headline 'Here come the girls!' using Suzi Perry as the link to F1. A very personal portrait of BBC TV's presenter follows the television personality culture of making the messenger more important than the message. Perry makes the point that, despite F1's male domination, 'there's no more sexism in F1 than in any other workplace'.

Susie Wolff's appearance in the Mail on Sunday seemed to miss the point © Sutton Images

Perhaps disappointed by such a remark, the MoS reverts to type with a photo of Susie Wolff (wearing a micro-skirt and perched uneasily on a crash helmet) that creates the image of sexism most women in F1 would go out of their way to tell you does not exist. If Susie wore that outfit into the Williams garage - assuming she could totter across the paddock in the black pointy-toed stilettoes - she would stop the traffic and actually cause Sir Frank to lift his eyes from the timing monitor.

Decorum is restored with a double-page spread in the MoS sports section. Written by Jonathan McEvoy, the preview accompanies straightforward graphics covering each team and the rule changes. Rather than catalogue the facts, McEvoy uses Button as a theme with informed quotes on a driver's weight and how to cope with this significant new problem.

The Sunday Times may be next in the order of merit but the sales figures would appear to have little to do with this institution's coverage of F1 - of which there is precisely nothing when it comes to mentioning the momentous season ahead. The weekend past was a busy one in sport with football (of course), the Six Nations, athletics and the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival. Nonetheless, the absence of F1 within the broadsheet was a surprise and disappointment considering the paper's track record in the past.

The Sunday Telegraph angled on Mercedes, specifically Nico Rosberg rather than the usual jingoistic choice of Hamilton. It's a good call, judging by Rosberg's candid reflections on team orders and how that topic might come under strain if the Mercedes is as good as everyone hopes it will be and Nico feels the need to remind the management how he did Lewis a favour last year.

I have to declare an interest when discussing the Observer. This was my old stomping ground for 20 years when this important moment in the F1 season warranted a double-page spread at the very least. Times, readership profiles and sports editors change. This year, there is a box of facts, headed by a general summary saying very little and taking not much more space than a report and photograph covering a Championship football match watched by as many as 25,532 people. If that number turned up for Friday's practice at a Grand Prix, it would be considered a bad day. You would almost think the sports editor dislikes F1.

At the bottom of the pile in every sense sits the Independent on Sunday (IoS) with not the slightest sign of a Pirelli skid mark. The Sunday version has always been a strange paper to my mind; an arrogant after-thought created by the Independent's founders on the wave of euphoria generated by the launch of what was a wonderful daily in 1986. Unlike the other upmarket Sundays, the IoS remains closely related to its daily counterpart. Perhaps there will be a few of the Indy's usual well-chosen words on F1 later this week. Football permitting, of course.

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
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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