The Bahrain GP was arguably the first race of the Twitter era, for while the service was on the fringes of F1 last year, it really came of age during the February testing sessions.
I was at the first day of the Valencia test when the world of F1 reporting was turned on its head by the huge level of interest on Tweets from journalists and team members at the track.
Even my snap at the top of this page – showing Michael Schumacher leaving the garage for the first time – got over 5000 views.
Most team PR departments have now embraced Twitter, but no one has done it with more enthusiasm than Lotus. Tony Fernandes has kept us entertained with his random thoughts and news scoops, while Heikki Kovalainen has provided insights after stepping straight from the cockpit.
Twitter rookie Mike Gascoyne got into it at the very first Lotus test day, telling us what was going on in the garage. Indeed at first I thought it was a wind-up or fake, and it was only after checking his early followers – who included a junior Gascoyne who was Tweeting in colourful language about her homework – that I was sure that this was the real Mike G.
Astonishingly, Mike continued to communicate from the pit wall during the Bahrain GP. I was busy watching the TV and timing screens in the Sakhir media centre, while listening to the BBC Five Live commentary. Thus I have to admit I only became aware of Gascoyne’s special service when the Beeb’s David Croft passed on an extraordinary message to the effect that Jarno Trulli would be pitting on the next lap.
Think about that for a minute. OK, Jarno wasn’t exactly battling for a podium, but here’s a team technical director imparting his driver’s strategy direct from the pit wall to the world. Before it happens…
FYI, here’s a record of Mike’s Tweets on Sunday:
2.04pm: “Strategy and Driver briefings over, getting ready to send the cars to the grid”
2.22pm: “On the pit wall, 10 mins to cars leaving the pit lane”
2.24pm: “Just finished fueling [sic] the cars and drivers about to get in”
3:06pm “We’re off, Lotus back in GP racing, great start from Heikki”
3.17pm: “No problems with either car but Jarno has lots of understeer”
3: 19pm: “Jarno thinks he may have damaged the front wing on first lap”
3: 39pm: “Heikki fighting hard, great job”
3.44pm: “Only new team still running. Lost telemetry but no problems on the car”
3:49pm: “Looking to stop Jarno a bit earlier and switch to options”
3.53pm: “Calling Jarno in next lap”
3.55pm: “Jarno in”
4.11pm: “Jarno quick on options and leapfrogged Heikki”
4.27pm: “Hydraulic problem for Jarno, trying to get to flag”
4:31pm: “Jarno doing a great job to get to the flag”
5.23pm: “Great result for the whole team. Fantastic job by both drivers”
Pretty amazing stuff! While some team PR folk also relayed useful info, this was coming from the very heart of the team.
“Tony said he wanted to be a little bit different, and we thought that was something we could do,” Mike told me after the race. “I mean, I have a chief engineer, and we’ve got Dieter [Gass] as a sort of sporting director. I’ve got two very experienced guys on the job. We hope that the public can get into it, and it’s would be nice to think that people are watching the race with live timing on f1.com, and then we’re telling them what’s going on.”
Will anyone closer to the sharp end have the courage to follow suit? I wouldn’t hold your breath, even though most top teams have senior folk whose only role during a race appears to be to watch TV. Meanwhile Lotus can continue to earn some extra respect from fans…
PS: If you haven’t found him yet, he’s @MikeGascoyne