Red Bull Racing's German driver Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium at the Bahrain International circuit in Manama after the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP Photo/Dimitar Dilkoff)
Who likes press conferences? The sportsmen don’t - it is to them what taxes are to us commoners, one of those obligations you have to begrudgingly fulfill. The reporters? No way.
No self-aggrandising hack would ever let the newsprint get anywhere near his byline.
The promoters and sponsors? They’re too busy with such important tasks as making sure the background boards with sponsors’ logos are perfectly placed and the bottle of water (or beverage partner) next to the microphone is aligned vis-a-vis the cameras.
In such an environment, sportsmen experience a whole gamut of emotions: there’s callousness and carelessness, indifference and plain hatred, some are monosyllabic and some are stoic (even if for the most part it’s just boring, deflected volleys).
Only the ones with a gift of the gab, however, can pull off one-upmanship.
Enter the most strenuously-trained, media savvy species of sportsmen — F1 drivers.
If you were a media trainer, Sebastian Vettel would be the blue-eyed boy of your batch. To see (for the kinesics), and listen (for the funnies) to the man is to understand the art behind the science.
The German enters a packed, make-shift conference room where even if you move a sinew you’re met with a not-so-gentle tap from the bulky camerman with the bulky camera on his shoulder. When Vettel enters the room space is magically found.
Men and women of length and girth are parted, like Moses parting the Red Sea!
Vettel sits on the ergonomically-designed high stool chair with the comfort of a man sitting in his living-room couch.
In a way though, this could well be his ‘living room’. We are after all in the Red Bull team building.
One-upmanship is a skill that requires a fair deal of oratory skill, not to mention good wit. Monosyllabic is good.
When the manager of an upscale restaurant saw acclaimed playwright George Bernard Shaw enter he went up the Irishman and asked what he wanted the inhouse band to play. He replied, Dominoes!
Vettel’s answers don’t go the Kimi Raikkonen monosyllabic way. He usually requires the whole sentence to do what Raikkonen does with one word.
It’s not rude in the way Raikkonen’s answers are perceived, but the sting is there.
Asked if he it would “be a relief to get the title out of the way this weekend”, Vettel responds, “It’s not really one of those things you’d want to get out of the way. It should be a very positive thing. It’s something special.” Touche.
Even harmless questions are met with a certain smug confidence. One female questioner asked, “Quite a few drivers have won three world titles. Only 3 have won 4. How does it feel to join such a small club?”
Pat comes Vettel’s reply, “Well, generally it’s a very small list, if you talk about world champions.” He pauses, to emphasise his point, before proceeding with the usual lines you’ve probably heard dozens of times before.
Now, you’re probably wondering what that byline is doing in this copy.
Well, this is F1 paddock. If ever, a place for self aggrandisment!