It’s nice to have a bit of unpredictability when interviewing Formula One drivers. It’s also very rare. So well media-trained are today’s steerers that you’ll rarely get anything of interest on the record in a group interview situation. One-to-one, you’ll get Daniel Ricciardo’s incandescent smile and plenty of off-the-record laughter, Nico Rosberg’s snooty indifference  or Kimi Raikkonen’s monosyllabic drudgery (the same as you do in a group, mind you). But in the dreaded post-test/race/practice stand-up at the back of the garage, it’s one great sporting cliché after another. Except for when Lewis Hamilton is the man in front of the microphone.
Much like the way he races, you never quite know what Hamilton will serve up. I’ve seen both sides, the enthusiastic and verbose Hamilton whose love of racing can prompt verbal diahorrea, and the down-in-the-mouth Hamilton who hides behind his shades and hat and mumbles next to nothing. The only thing predictable about his dealings with the media is that he rides the emotional rollercoaster, which made his comments after Bahrain testing last week so revealing.
Mercedes have looked the class of the field in the pre-season, but the caution out of Brackley has been almost as much of a feature as their lap times and reliability. There’s a long way to go, the first race is still weeks away, everyone starts the season on zero points, blah blah blah. But Hamilton let slip what everyone suspects when he faced the cameras in Bahrain after the third day.
“We’re way ahead of where we thought we would be, and compared to some others,” he said, his excitement obvious.
“We feel quite blessed that we’ve done the amount of mileage we’ve already done.”
Perhaps remembering who he was talking to (i.e. the rest of the world), Hamilton quickly changed tack and played the PR game, mentioning that it was difficult to know where everyone stood, we’re just working step by step etc. It was F1 driver cliché bingo at its finest. But there’s no denying that Mercedes are well ahead of the rest two-thirds of the way through pre-season testing – and it was nice for Hamilton to confirm it.
In Episode 44 of ‘The Inside Line’, we look back at all of the news coming out of the second pre-season test in Bahrain last week, where Mercedes and Red Bull hogged the headlines – the latter for reasons they’d prefer not to. It’s one thing to have an unreliable car, and another to have a slow one when it actually does work. While Mercedes and McLaren are doing race distances and qualifying simulations, neither Sebastian Vettel nor Daniel Ricciardo have done more than 12 laps in a single stint in eight days of testing. At this rate, even getting to half-distance of the season-opener in Australia in less than three weeks looks to be a stretch for Red Bull .
Also on this week’s show, we profile Hamilton’s old teammate at McLaren, Jenson Button. Producer Tim Nelson calls him the “gentleman of the track”, and he’s right. ‘JB’ isn’t the oldest driver in the sport – that’s the ever-garrulous Raikkonen – but he’s been around the longest, debuting in Australia way back in 2000. The story of the cab driver who drove him around the Albert Park circuit that year while trying to impact his wisdom of how Button should tackle the track in a V10 Williams still makes me laugh . It’s been a tough off-season for Button after his father’s death in January, and there would be few in the paddock with a dry eye if the Brit can add to his three previous wins in Melbourne in mid-March.
There’s plenty more on Episode 44 of ‘The Inside Line’. Check out the premiere on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 6.30pm AEDT on Wednesday February 26. We’re also on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 9.30pm AEDT Thursday February 27.
 Speaking from experience, Rosberg engages in interviews if (a) the questioner is considered to be one of the world’s premier travelling full-time F1 journos (I’m not) and/or (b) a pretty female (which, er, I’m not either). Otherwise, forget it.
 A lazy punt on Vettel to win the title after the final test wouldn’t be the worst investment. What chance an all-conquering B-spec RB10 appears for the first European race in Spain?
 Knowing Melbourne taxi drivers all too well, I’m amazed Button’s driver knew where he was going, or didn’t refuse to take him as he wasn’t travelling far enough for an exorbitant fare.