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“The Power of Exaggeration”

February 23, 2015

Alonso's Barcelona test ended with a crash. © McLaren-Honda F1 team / Sam Bloxham/LAT Photographic.

Alonso’s Barcelona test ended with a crash. © McLaren-Honda F1 team / Sam Bloxham/LAT Photographic.

Fernando Alonso’s crash on the final day of the second pre-season Formula One test at Barcelona did more than take him out of the rest of the running.

It gave a speedy rise to unfounded speculation and exaggeration. It also displayed how sensitive the sport still is to developing stories surrounding driver care.

Sometimes the most innocuous of incidents in motorsport can betray the most devastating of results.

Whether it be a seemingly everyday crash that killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001, or Jules Bianchi’s off-camera accident at Suzuka last year, these incidents can result in a profound effect on sport – and the audience that views them.

As with all incidents like these, the development of rolling news and social media through the years has given rise not just to demand for instant gratification of information, but all to uneducated attempts at dissecting incidents followed by baseless comment and insinuation.
The biggest problem with all these conclusions is that they were based on nothing. Nothing at all.

But that is real life and it is not too different to The Grapevine, in which mere rumours passed amidst gossiping souls becomes solid gold “fact” further down the line of conversation.

Alonso’s test ending accident prior to lunch yesterday kicked The Grapevine into high gear as rumours, accusations and indictments of both the McLaren team and its reports on The Spaniard’s condition powered into overdrive.

The initial statement from the Woking team acknowledged “Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda car left the track at Turn Three, causing the right-hand side of his car to strike the wall. Fernando was driven to the circuit’s Medical Centre where the circuit’s doctors gave him first aid. He was conscious and spoke with the doctors.”
The statement followed with “As per usual procedure in such circumstances, he was then airlifted to hospital where he is undergoing precautionary checks.

It is important to understand that while McLaren followed sound procedures after the incident, they could do nothing to dispel the vacuum the came thereafter.
The car, which was to be driven by Jenson Button after lunch, did not return to track during the afternoon – a factor that added further fuel to the fire.
Still hungry for information – and pictorial “evidence” – self-proclaimed experts and commentators began to exaggerate Alonso’s medical condition based on the fact that he had been airlifted to hospital, while also conjuring up a juvenile case against the team, charging McLaren with all sorts of nonsense.

And all of it based on absolutely nothing.

In the end, it turned out that Alonso had suffered a concussion as a result of banging his head in the incident, requiring an overnight stay at the hospital. As noted by the team’s Racing Director Eric Boullier, “That’s normal practice after a concussion.” Aware of the white noise that had been building since the accident, the Frenchman added: “Inevitably, some media reports have sought to exaggerate the severity of the incident – it was just a normal testing accident.”

Boullier continued: “While the car wasn’t particularly badly damaged, it was enough of an impact to warrant quite a lengthy check of the gearbox and power unit systems. Given the time needed to carry out such an analysis, we decided to bring the curtain down on our test a few hours earlier than anticipated.”

Sometimes one must accept that these accidents happen, but the speculation that followed cast an poor eye over the manner in which news information is disseminated and used. Such a shame, the desire to be “first” and the ones that are “all updates, but with no updates” flew the flag on Sunday.

For now Alonso will be required to rest up and prepare, while the team will aim to understand why the car crashed and whether a mechanical issue or driver error forced the machine into the barrier.

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