Paddock Diary special: FIA Gala 2018

Paddock Diary

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Grin and bear it, dodge it, or hit the bar? The top three Formula 1 drivers of 2018 had different ways of dealing with the obligation of attending the FIA’s end-of-season Gala.

@DieterRencken reports in his final Formula 1 diary of 2018.

0600 Friday 7 December, Park Inn, St Petersburg

I wake up to (distant) sound of aircraft taking off – I’m in a hotel room on the perimeter of St Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport, having landed late Thursday evening. Not wishing to commute to a foreign city in the dark of winter, I’d elected to overnight at the airport, then catch an Uber at a more civilised hour.

The reason for my first visit to this winter wonderland city is two-fold: Friday’s FIA Awards Gala, to which I’d been invited as a member of the FIA’s Media Group, and the world champions press conferences.

The latter is a significant attraction: the teams have previously been generous with their time. This is, after all, our final opportunity to hear from the year’s top drivers before the off-season sets in. By the time they face the press again when the 2019 cars are launched their thoughts will understandably have turned to the season ahead instead of the year just gone. It’s our last chance to find out how the championship was won – or not – and the relaxed environment often elicits thoughtful and interesting responses.

Or, as in the case of Nico Rosberg in 2016, a total bombshell…


After a bland hotel breakfast, I order an Uber to the Lotte Hotel in downtown St Petersburg, having offered my Belgian WRX media colleague Marie-Laure Pirson, per chance staying in the same hotel, a ride. The 30km journey takes us almost and hour and a half in heavy traffic.


Fortunately the Lotte has a vacant room despite my early arrival, so I’m checked-in and settled in within 30 minutes. This room is covered courtesy of hosts Russian Automobile Federation – thank you, RAF – as the trip is two-nighter for most due to flight schedules, the two-hour (or three- from UK) time shift eastwards and timing of the event, but all other costs are for our own accounts.

I’m advised the 11:00 press conference with FIA president Jean Todt and RAF president Victor Kiryanov is postponed until 13:30, so wander about the immediate hotel precinct before heading to the conference centre across the river for registration and a front-row seat.


Todt and co. are delayed so we get under way around 30 minutes late; once the sporting proceedings begin I realise we are part of a scripted conference: MC Tom Clarkson, working through a list of set questions, holds court, and no media questions are granted. Last week’s column about independent media, a topic which was received well by some if not all of my media colleagues, suddenly seems very timely.

I text my objections to the organisers and am told that “due to time constraints we can’t entertain media questions…”, but am granted (outside) access to Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne. While interviewing the Frenchman – good value due to his thoughtful responses – I notice (a now-moustached) Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen hanging about, but no Lewis Hamilton.

Questions about the star draw’s absence are met with shrugged shoulders and silence. It dawns: the five-time F1 world champion, who seemingly bends the Mercedes empire unto his will, ain’t going to grace the media with his presence despite Clause 6.6 of the F1 Sporting Regulations stating: Drivers finishing first, second and third in the championship must be present at the annual FIA Prize Giving ceremony.

Clearly, in typical F1 fashion, the team has found a loophole. Do press conferences form part of the ceremony? Grey area. I text Mercedes’ head of F1 communications Bradley Lord about the star’s absence. Response: “He’s not feeling 100 per cent so not at the PC but will be this evening.” Will be what? Feeling 100 per cent? Be at prize giving? Both? Miraculous recovery? Note: No “he’s ill”; just “he’s not 100 per cent”. More grey.

The situation is doubly frustrating as Hamilton also cancelled his post-race print media press conference in Abu Dhabi.

When the F1 conference gets under way there’s clearly been a U-turn on questions, for limited time is found for floor questions. After Toto Wolff waxes lyrical about how Lewis had implored him to point out areas for improvement, I suggest that regular attendance at press conferences – something Lewis historically taken a somewhat cavalier approach to – could be a good start.

“I think he’s not coming to the press conference because he’s fed up with always the same questions”, Toto responds, before adding “no, he’s not well” and trotting out the “not 100 per cent” line.

I’m later told by a high level Mercedes source that Lewis decided to skip the press conference as “He did not feel like answering controversial questions from asshole journalists after giving his all, all season long”. Whether that description of our profession was verbatim Lewis or fabricated by my source is not the point. Decisions about whether we can afford to attend events like the FIA Gala are made taking into account who we expect to hear from and the coverage we can therefore expect to produce. Is it worth attending next year’s Gala if any or all of the drivers are going to skip their media obligations? The FIA should consider clarifying exactly what constitutes the “ceremony”.

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Transport to the St Petersburg Great Philharmonic Hall for the Red Carpet Ceremony and Gala/Awards. I catch up with some of the great and good of international motorsport in the coach, then have face time in the hall. Those I chat to include F1 steward Tim Mayer – son of former McLaren boss Teddy – and ex-F1 driver/Melbourne Clerk of Course Tim Schenken (we joke we could be namesakes after former Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicalli once confused us), and Sochi CEO Sergey Vorobyev. I also cross paths with Allan McNish and Dimitri Mazepin – the latter’s dispute with Racing Point/Force India still ongoing.


Proceedings get underway, and I must compliment the FIA and RAF organising committees for a superbly run event, one that tastefully combines global motorsport with Russian culture. Many of you may have seen some of it, as for the first time it was broadcast on the FIA’s Facebook page.

I’m intrigued as to whether Lewis will at all arrive, and, when he does, it’s clear he’s found that missing 0.1 per cent, for he seems jovial and hale and hearty.


RaikkonenIt’s equally clear, though, that Kimi is in non-F1 mode when I receive an iPhone photo taken by someone who noticed the Finn smoking a cigar in a darkened corner. He’s never made a secret of his partiality for some of the world’s more potent liquids, and tonight he’s obviously super relaxed…


Event over, I catch a coach back to the hotel with my good friend Ari Vatanen and his lovely wife Rita. We head for the bar for a nightcap, surrounded by many of this year’s champions. Ari and I spend some time with my compatriot Thierry Neuville, second in this year’s WRC, before amusing ourselves at the sight of Kimi animatedly preaching to Toto and Susie Wolff about the world’s wrongs.

I often envied Kimi’s tiller skills, but I surely won’t envy his head in the morning…

As I head for bed I reflect on my day in one of the world’s most picturesque cities – a real perk of my job – and a fitting end to the season: Lewis dominated – not only on-track, but his team as well. Well played, Lewis.

That brings to an end my first year of Formula 1 diaries for RaceFans. I hope you’ve enjoyed the insight I’ve been able to bring from the world’s motor racing destinations. I wish you all a great festive season and a happy 2019!

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81 comments on “Paddock Diary special: FIA Gala 2018”

  1. After Toto Wolff waxes lyrical about how Lewis had implored him to point out areas for improvement, I suggest that regular attendance at press conferences – something Lewis historically taken a somewhat cavalier approach to – could be a good start.

    You’re the man, Dieter!

  2. I think you must have been at a different event to the one I witnessed on Facebook! It appeared to be disorganised & embarrassment to the FIA!

  3. Thanks Dieter, the Paddock Diaries had been a highlight of the F1 coverage for me this year! It alone has been worth the RaceFans subscription in my opinion.

  4. Kimi must’ve been drunk. At least, he looks that way, LOL.

    1. No? Really? Those are some stellar observation skills mate.

    2. ‘Plastered’ is what we say in England, @jerejj. :O)

  5. Kimi had to be drunk. It will be shame to lose that great bromance between him and Seb to be honest. Also, Seb you gotta shave that stache. Only Freddie Mercury and Nigel Mansell can pull it off.

    1. If I had been next to him on that stage, @panagiotism-papatheodorou, I would have tried to pull it off!

  6. Nice article.

    I think I have said before that although I admire Lewis’s driving skills and give him total respect for his achievements he has always seemed like a bit of a Prima Donna to me. This article reinforces that view.

    I had a job once that entailed answering the exact same few questions over and over for hours on end. Yes it was annoying but it was a part of the job.
    It should be pointed out to him that he isn’t only being paid to drive. There is a lot more to being a world class sportsman than just the competing.

    Sebs disguise was quite good. Maybe the Mansell look for next season?

    Rock on Kimi – I would have to be fairly tanked up to tolerate most of those people as well ;)

    1. @nullapax, I do wonder though, had it been any other driver than Kimi who was getting quite so drunk, if the fans would simply brush it off so quickly, or if they would condemn that driver for their behaviour.

      1. If Lewis had gotten as drunk as Kimi did, he’d be front page news and being branded as crass and disrespectful.

        1. Maybe that explains Lewis’ absence :P

          PS try to get a bit less upset when somebody makes fun (is critical) of Lewis/Mercedes;
          or spread that ‘protective love’ around all drivers (Stroll can use some).

          1. @coldfly – absolutely agree with your postscript! :-)

        2. One would have to be delusional not to realize that.

        3. I’m a big Hamilton fan, but he does it to himself sometimes. You can’t just blindly defend him all the time, the guy should have been at the press conference, end of.

          1. The question isn’t whether Lewis should’ve attended the press conference or not, but the difference in how he would’ve been treated by the press. If he acted in any manner similar to that of Kimi. It would’ve have been harsh……No question about that.

      2. @anon And what’s wrong with getting drunk once in a while? As long as you are not driving afterwards of course? And as long as this is not an addiction level event? Those who say things like that are part of the PC nanny state and part of everything wrong with today’s world

        1. @montreal95, I’ll drink to dat!

    2. Hi bramd Hamilton a ‘prima donna’ for not attednding press conference, but praise Kimi for his drunken behaviour? Wow.

      1. I see what you mean, but at least Kimi was there – fulfilling his contractual obligations rather than saying “I am special. I will be there when it suits me”.

        and would Lewis really have been given a hard time if he got drunk? I’m not so sure, I suspect he would be granted some leeway due to his performance over the season.

        Still – I see your points.

        1. And if Lewis had turned up to do the press, work a tux and then got drunk and behaved like Kimi, what would you say then?

          Drivers cancel press conferences a lot for various reasons, Lewis is no exception. The only difference is, when he does it, it becomes the major talking point.

          The clause quoted in the article says he had to be present at the gala, not the press conference.

          1. That’s open to interpretation – and must be clarified going forward. For the record, over past two years Lewis has probably missed more pressers than all other drivers combined.

          2. As I said above – I believe he would get away with it – not because of who he is but because (all of) these guys lead an extremely strict and ascetic lifestyle during the season.
            They can’t even totally eat whatever they want, never mind have a drink with their mates.
            They live very regimented lives between races, watching their diet – tons of fitness routines etc.
            I can’t imagine anyone would give them too much of a hard time for having a bit of a blow-out at the end of the season.

            I am not defending or condemning anybody.
            I don’t do the fan worship thing.
            It just seems to me that Lewis’s behaviour was a little selfish and Kimi’s was understandable.

            Seb probably nailed it. Just wear the suit, smile, and leave as soon as you can ;)

          3. @dieterrencken

            My comment wasn’t about how many they missed, but rather they missed them and there was no fuss being made of it.


            If you truly believed that Lewis could get away with being drunk at an event like this, then you’ve not been paying attention.

            Yes you are defending and condemning, read your words again.

          4. @kgn11 What’s wrong with Kimi’s behavior? It’s a party for God’s sake. He wasn’t drunk at the press conference was he? You might think it’s wrong that’s your subjective opinion and not an objective one. On the other hand what Lewis has done in disrespecting press conferences is against contractual obligations and objectively wrong

        2. and would Lewis really have been given a hard time if he got drunk? I’m not so sure, I suspect he would be granted some leeway due to his performance over the season.

          It might be worth it just to find out. Someone should remind him before next year’s gala.

          1. He no longer drinks, so we will never find out.

          2. @KGN11

            Probably good for him, even if it may mean slightly less entertainment for us. I’d still think he is in a position where he could start deliberately and purposefully cultivating imperfections into his brand and make people like him for these imperfections, a path that I unfortunately have to agree was closed to him for longer than it is for other drivers. As we see with Kimi, this generates somewhat more freedom for people who have to live with being a public persona.

          3. Sorry Steve, but behaviour like that of Kimi won’t help his brand.

          4. I totally disagree, KGN11. We all know behind-the-scenes-Kimi, and frankly it’s a relief to see him with a big smile and enjoying himself for a change.

    3. Never ceases to amaze me how biased people are against Hamilton.

      Classic case right here – Lewis gets bashed for saying he was not feeling 100% enough to show for press conference, while Kimi is praised for getting drunk and making an ass of himself in public.

      @nullapax at his best!

      1. Thank you :)

      2. How about being honest. It wasn’t that he wasn’t feeling 100%, it was that he didn’t want to answer questions. Apparently he has missed more press conferences in the last two years than all the other drivers combined, so he can’t have not felt 100% all those times. Classic case of jumping in once in a blue moon to defend one’s fave driver at all costs, including honesty.

        1. @robbie I don’t think I’d be too far off the mark by saying just about EVERY member on this forum knows your views on Lewis Hamilton.

          ‘Nuff said!

          1. Nicely put re – Robbie!

          2. Ah yes, of course the typical deflect move and the pointing fingers at Kimi to deflect the truth about LH. Did you by any chance see my post about LH on his bike being very cool. No, of course you wouldn’t acknowledge that. Just hover around waiting to pounce when someone says something true about LH. Suffice it to say everyone here knows you only show up to defend LH at all costs, including ignoring the truth. Nuff said!

          3. @robbie

            Yeaaahhhh you said something nice about Lewis looking cool on his bike.

            Gather round everyone, let’s give Robbie a round of applause.

          4. WELL SAID, and so true Robbie.

          5. Come on, guys, you are all better than this. Let’s leave the squabbling to other sites. Everyone is allowed to have their opinion, and you are no better than the next person if you attack them for it.

            @stubbornswiss @robbie @nullapax @samouri KGN11

        2. Hate on robbie.

          1. “Jerks” – maybe… but I did mention to you before that your ‘fan-boy’ comments detract from you otherwise interesting posts… ;-)

          2. @robbie

            Awwww what’s the matter Robbie, hit a nerve?

  7. From what I understand it doesn’t look like a particularly worthy attendance… no questions for Todt, the WDC not present…

    Thanks for all your work during the year. I really enjoyed these Paddock Diaries!!

  8. Just a note back to that independent media coverage. About five years ago I managed to get Charlie Whiting to do an interview. He was perfectly fine with it, but the questions had to be submitted through FIA press office, of course. And not a single one was approved…so no interview, unless you ask the predictable questions, I suppose.

    1. @hpfacts, can you share those questions here with us.

      Maybe @keithcollantine can make an item out of it. As we wait for Caption Competition we can have Presser Competition and see who comes up with the best answers for Charlie.

      1. Generally there were questions about various controversies, such as the 2007 McLaren situation, etc… One of the few advantages of having my own web-site is I can ask/post whatever I want. I knew (99.9%) that those questions won’t be approved, but gave it a shot anyway, rather than ask something I could guess an answer to beforehand. But I want to stress that CW was really great throughout the whole thing. In this regard it is much better to talk to people not currently involved in F1…they are much more free to talk. And of course, interviewing @dieterrencken was a pleasure:

  9. Non-english speaker here: what does “tiller” mean?

    1. I’m guessing it’s a reference to remaining upright and reasonably in control despite having consumed considerable quantities of alcohol.
      I may well be wrong ;)

    2. @alfa145 @nullapax It’s another word for farmer or a cultivator of crops (or in this case) words.

    3. Tiller, in the sense of Dieter’s article is a reference to STEERUNG, as in steering a yacht i.e. being at the Tiller or Helm of a boat. Tiller in this sense means Steering and is nothing to do with farming (unless it is ‘Driving’ a tractor).

  10. Can’t say I blame Hamilton for trying to avoid the usual liggers at these type of events; at least he made plenty of time for all the fans waiting outside the event in the cold.

    1. GtisBetter (@)
      8th December 2018, 15:56

      Me neither. I think a lot of these short (couple of questions) athlete interviews right after the race/match don’t add anything. And these gala things neither. Not getting into how we got this point, but this is how it is. Stupid questions, repeating question, trying to get quotes for clickbait articles. I do enjoy in depth interviews, but this was clearly another opportunity for a boring line of questions. Fair game to Lewis if he can avoid it legally.

      1. How does he (or you) know what I planned to ask? From his actions it seems he had an inkling..

        1. I’m not sure you should take this personally, Dieter… ;-)

          1. Trust me, I’m not taking it all personally, but I am taking a professional view…

          2. Dieter, I do trust you, and agree you take a professional view. I just meant that Lewis’ (et al) attitude is probably not aimed at you alone…

        2. GtisBetter (@)
          9th December 2018, 9:01

          It doesn’t matter what the question is. If it’s a boring one, you get a boring answer, if it’s a great confronting one, you get a boring pr trained answer.

  11. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Dieter, perhaps you could brighten up the season by posting your Christmas Dinner Menu ? :)

    1. Why do I suspect that ice cream will be involved? ;)

  12. Surely journalists go looking for the news not demanding the news comes to them.

  13. Absolutely – I travel the world in search of news and have done for 20 years. This weekend I travelled to St Petersburg in search of news – the only English-language F1 website to do so on the basis of a promised press conference.

    1. And we thank you, @dieterrencken, for being racefans’ designated “a-hole journalist”. ;-)

      Sometimes I envy your oppourtunity to be at a every race. Then I read about how much tedious travelling you put up with to cover all the a-hole drivers. And realize I’m happy to stay at home and avoid all the a-holiness that it takes to make F1.

      Have a Happy New Year, Dieter – 21 times better than last!

      (Sorry about busting the swear filter before….I’m such a b-hole)

  14. Absolutely – I have spent the last 20yrs travelling the world in search of F1 news, and this weekend travelled to Russia for three days at considerable expense in search of news on the promise of a press conference featuring the world champion.

  15. manoli moriaty
    8th December 2018, 20:40

    @dieterrencken, I thoroughly enjoy your diaries, and I am grateful for the insight you provide to Racefans. On Lewis’ relationship with the press and your reaction to it, I do ask you to consider the hounding he has received from British tabloids, with his every tweet and accountants’ actions scrutinised, often unfairly in comparison with other people of his public standing. If you want to blame someone for his aversion to journalist, best you look at The Sun.

    1. Avert the Sun, but don’t leave us in the dark ;)

      Thanks for the great contributions @dieterrencken

  16. Surely the real reason Lewis was missing from the press conference was that he had forgotten to pack his Tux and was trying to find a rental in his size so as not to be embarrassed by being underdressed at the Gala.

    1. Was it? I thought he was looking for a black suit and black shirt like Kimi wore. Although after listening to numerous press conferences I think the Mercedes spokesman was spot on with his reasoning.

      1. I should have added ;-)

  17. Thanks again for taking us there Dieter!

  18. kimi gets blitzed and lewis doesnt want to answer questions. ok………..

  19. The paddock diaries have been a welcome addition to the site this year. Thank you Dieter and thank you to all the Racing Fans team for delivering such an informative and on topic site.

    We appreciate the fact that you ask the difficult questions and investigate things in true journalistic style rather than just regurgitating other content and toeing the company line.

    My best wishes to you all for the upcoming Christmas period and the New Year.

  20. Thanks Dieter (@dieterrencken) and Keith (@keithcollantine) for making this season so interesting. I think you’ve both done a great job. Cheers.

  21. With all due respect to the media, I find it rather refreshing that Hamilton does not want to conduct interviews that ask the same questions over and over, because I don’t want to listen or read the media’s repeat interviews that ask the same questions over and over again.

    1. Agreed. The hounding HAM gets for every little thing he does is tiresome, and Dieter’s question was (with respect to a man I respect and was lucky enough to have a quick chat with at Monza) a bit cringey.

      I imagine if Dieter is not happy with Hamilton, he is regularly agitated by the (almost rude) media interviews Kimi gives.

      Speaking of Kimi, it was great to see him enjoying himself, though Hamilton would have been castigated for the same thing. Whatever happened to live and let live?

    2. Life consists of of a lot of repetition: try not breathing. The key term in your post is not ‘over and over again’ but ‘does not want to’.

      I don’t believe I have a reputation for ‘same again’ questions, so how does he (or you) know what I intended asking on our readers’ behalf?

      1. My response was to the news media as a whole, not you specifically. There are a few that ask interesting questions, but I find for the majority, one can predict what is going to be asked and, especially when the minders are present, predict the answer.

  22. I have regularly commented on Kimi’s uncooperative ways: in my Friday Abu Dhabi Diary I remarked that he ‘grunted’ his way though the media session. But at least he was present…

  23. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
    10th December 2018, 14:19

    Bit conflicted on this, on the one hand I can understand Lewis giving the press less and less time due to the disgusting treatment he’s received from them especially here in the UK.

    On the other he should be able to recognise proper sports journalists like @dieterrencken from the scum.

    At the end of the day it’s just a bit of a let down for his fans that he feels he has to cultivate access to the man out of the race suit so carefully via his own channels, but again at the same time understandable.

    Oh and drunk Kimi deserves absolutely no backlash whatsoever. This is what people do at stuffy functions they don’t want to be at! Never really understood the Kimi hype train until this year but THAT interview with Will Buxton, all the cool shots of him with his wife and kid, finally getting a win on the board, winning me a nice little pot with that Monza pole and now this. Sign me up to the Kimi fanclub.

  24. Stars, not stats.

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