I don’t follow tennis so when Naomi Osaka declined to do interviews and then withdrew from the French Open, I was reading headlines and saw that there was controversy, fines and mixed reactions.
What I did read was an article at BBC where Lewis Hamilton had weighed in on the Osaka drama. Lewis said:
“It can be daunting still standing behind a camera,” he said.
“It is not the easiest, particularly if you are an introvert and you do struggle to be under those pressures.”
I get that point, I am an introvert who plays and extrovert in my day job and for the Parc Fermé podcast. Not everyone has an “on” button and can speak fluently in mixed media situations. I don’t know Lewis personally and I wonder if he considered himself an introvert. From the outside looking in, you’d think he was an extrovert but then many people believe that I am so it can be deceiving. Lewis continued:
“The fact is, when you are young, you are thrown into the limelight and the spotlight, and it weighs heavily on you. Most of us are not prepared.
“When I came into F1, the team had PR. I was never prepared for being thrown in front of a camera. I was never guided as to what to look out for and helped to navigate through that, so I sort of learned through mistakes.
“But when I was young, I was thrown into the pit and wasn’t given any guidance or support.”
This is very true if you look back on Lewis’s career in the early days and some of the comments he’s made in the press. It’s not just Lewis, several drivers have struggled with this element of being on the world stage at such a young age.
I know Sir Jackie Stewart was advocating the concept of a driver coach for many reasons and this is one of them. How to manage messaging, time, PR and brand. I think several drivers have engaged in those services.
Lewis has taken a lot of incoming over his comments through the years and on one side of the coin, fans like drivers who are frank, blunt and to the point even if it rubs a few the wrong way. Think Jacques Villeneuve or James Hunt. Others bemoaned the corporate speak and polished PR of some drivers.
For Lewis and many other drivers who mature in the limelight, it isn’t easy to manage the world press and I am sure you have all experienced the challenging notion that you can’t make everyone like you. That holds true in every walk of life. No matter what Lewis does, some will not resonate and others will. That’s human nature.
What is very difficult is to manage the press and media you get to control the narrative and that can be very taxing mentally. I know Lewis struggled with that, as did Michael Schumacher, as they became more successful.
In the end, Lewis feels the tennis association could have managed the situation better but there is an argument to be made that Lewis, like it or not, has media responsibilities and brand representation to do. It is part of the job. No one disdains that more than, perhaps, Kimi Raikkonen but he still does it and the times that I have engaged with him during press events, he was actually very pleasant to speak with.
“They could have definitely handled it better, and I hope they will take a deep dive into it and find a way to navigate it better in the future. As athletes, we are pushing ourselves to the limit, we are on the edge and we are only human beings.”
I tend to think that part of being a global athlete and star means that you will be required to do things you hate but in those cases, perhaps utilizing services to safeguard mental duress, messaging and these particular challenging elements of the job would help? Maybe Sir Jackie is right, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, Nikita Mazepin, Mick Schumacher, Geroge Russel could all use driver and media coaching to help them balance the demands as they are pushing themselves to the limits mentally.