Hamilton plans media boycott over negative press

Lewis Hamilton has lashed the media for what the reigning world champion has called ‘disrespectful’ coverage of his Thursday press conference antics at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Hamilton was front and centre of Thursday’s race weekend-opening drivers press conference, but he avoided answering most questions directed to him, instead choosing to use Snapchat on his smartphone, with which he told his followers attending the press conference was “killing me”.

He also told reporters to “go on my Instagram” in response to a question about his handling of his engine fire at the previous race in Malaysia.

When finally called up on his distracted performance in an official FIA event by long-time journalist Dan Knutson, the Briton went on the defensive.

“Hey man, we’ve been doing this a long, long time, and it’s the same each time,” he said. The event ended shortly thereafter.

A small media storm ensued over Hamilton’s unusual behaviour, inflamed after the publishing of screenshots of his Snapchat photos, which included images of drivers in the press conference and one of Mercedes communications director Bradley Lord, who was unaware he was being photographed.

Hamilton apparently stewed on the coverage, most of which was perpetuated by his home British press, throughout Friday and Saturday, during which he trailed teammate Nico Rosberg in every time session, including in qualifying, which confirmed his second-best status for the weekend to the German, and on Saturday night he decided to make another stand.

“I am not actually here to answer your questions, I have decided,” he told the assembled press after qualifying. “With the utmost respect, there are many of you here that are super supportive of me — and those of you hopefully know I know who they are — [but] there are others that unfortunately often take advantage of certain things.

“The other day was a super light-hearted thing, and if I was disrespectful to any of you guys, or if you felt that I was disrespectful, it was honestly not the intention. It was just a little bit of fun.

“But what was more disrespectful was what was then written worldwide. Unfortunately there are some people here [who] have [not] done it, and unfortunately the decision I will take affects those who have been super supportive. That’s what I’m saying with the utmost respect.

“I don’t really plan on sitting here many more times for these kind of things, so my apologies, and I hope you guys enjoy the rest of your weekend.”

Hamilton promptly exited the team hospitality building, leaving members of the press and the team’s own communications unit somewhere between frustrated and bewildered.

What point the 31-year-old triple world champion has been trying to make is unclear. While few condoned his behaviour in Thursday’s press conference, many in the sport embraced his position on the rigidity of the format.

His behaviour on Saturday after qualifying, however, is more difficult to read, because it does not appear to be a logical extension of his quiet protest against the FIA’s official media sessions.

Some in the paddock have suggest the Briton felt aggrieved not only by the negative coverage of the press conference — though this would hardly be the first example of critical press directed to him — but also by being pulled up by various members of the sport’s hierarchy subsequently, along with being beaten in qualifying by his teammate.

Hamilton has an occasionally strained relationship with the press, and his increased usage of social media platforms has allowed him to engage directly with his millions of fans worldwide without the need to use Formula One’s official and often convoluted channels at race weekends.

Chances are the Mercedes driver will finish in the top three in Sunday’s race and be hauled before the FIA post-race press conference as a result, and Mercedes in any case has a media session scheduled in the evening regardless of the Briton’s finishing classification. Time will tell whether Hamilton’s anti-media protest will last.