For any McLaren fan, in which category you can count at least half of Brits on Pole’s management, today’s headlines make horrible reading.
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton has been demoted from hero to zero in a few short hours. And, for those of us who went into battle on the side of McLaren and Hamilton during Spygate and the stewarding rows of last year, it’s a fairly miserable place to be.
The Daily Mail, never one to miss the chance of kicking a fallen hero while he’s down, labels him “Lewis the liar”. The Star and the Sun are also unable to ignore the opportunity to link the two L-words.
And the European press, particularly in Spain, are having a field day.
Davey Ryan has been sent home from Sepang in disgrace, Hamilton has made a frank and tearful apology and Martin Whitmarsh has admitted that he might not be able to hang on to his job.
Thanks, folks. You certainly do believe in providing your fans with the highs and the lows, don’t you?
Do we feel let down by the team? Yes. Would we rather this whole messy affair had never happened and spoiled what was a superb, mature and cool-headed drive by Hamilton to come from the back of the field to the podium?
What do you think?
But this has wider implications than a messed-up season for McLaren and its fans, and a little burst of schadenfreude for all those lovely folk who has been waiting with bated breath for the golden boy to fall flat on his face.
And here’s why.
We are on the verge of an important race where weather considerations and the timing of the event could have major safety implications, as mentioned by several drivers recently.
Are we talking about the racing? No.
Is this the same old story that we hoped had been left behind two seasons ago? Yes it bloody is.
Once again it’s the stewards making the headlines. And, while in no way attempting to justify McLaren’s behaviour in that meeting, it is a serious and ongoing problem when teams battling for podium positions are unable to make decisions based on a clear and consistent set of rules in the fraught final laps of a race.
It does not let McLaren off the hook to acknowledge something that has become increasingly clear since the retirement of Michael Schumacher and the breaking of Ferrari’s dominance.
That has thankfully led to more competition – but also more ambivalence and much more scope for arguments and rules-merchanteering.
And it has proved in the process that the F1 arbitration system is not fit for purpose.
Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than a team with as much to lose as McLaren (“we exist to race” – there’s no corporate backer creaming off the publicity here) feeling its best interests are served by gaming the system.
Even if that was a rotten, stupid and mendacious decision made in the heat of the moment.
The F1 arbitration system will never be reformed while the FIA is constituted as it is at present and while Max Mosley is its president.
It is crucial that the fans, us silly buggers who spend our paltry spare cash on the tickets and the merchandising, who provide the eyeballs for the sponsors’ ads and who may not even have a British race to attend after this year, do not get distracted from this fact.
And it is equally important that the new accord among the teams is not knocked off course by Davey Ryan’s rush of blood to the head and Lewis Hamilton’s lack of backbone in standing up to him.
So we suggest that a little generosity of spirit is what’s needed now.
Team and driver have apologised – and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to think that Hamilton’s remorse is genuine.
It’s all very well arguing that the world champion needs to have moral authority and be a role model, that’s an utterly valid argument.
But it’s a little less clear-cut when said world champion is a 24-year-old being asked to argue with a man he respects, who is old enough to be his father, with 35 years’ experience in the sport and a senior position at his team.
Could you have done it?
Even people who disliked Michael Schumacher profoundly – and he had us throwing things at the telly at times – generally had the grace to admit that he was a truly exceptional man, a one-off racing driver who would have excelled in whatever field he had chosen in life.
Let’s extend a scrap of empathy to Lewis Hamilton who, with his 19 colleagues plus all the test and reserve drivers, goes out there and risks his neck every fortnight for our entertainment.
Let’s allow him to get on with what he’s so good at – providing us with a thrilling spectacle and a compelling narrative all through the summer and autumn, whether he’s the front-running driver or an outside bet.
Let’s not allow this to send the sport spinning into another crisis which generates negative headlines and sends sponsors and their cash fleeing in the opposite direction.
Because that’s simply not in our interests as fans at a time when the sport is probably not robust enough to withstand the consequences.