Spielberg, precisely a week ago the entire paddock and Formula 1 fans across the globe are eagerly awaiting the decision of the FIA race stewards in the Max Verstappen case against Charles Leclerc.
The journalists are especially alert, waiting for the chance to be the first to publish who has won the Austrian Grand Prix.
F1 hasn’t managed to deny the power of modern communications and this tale is one of a certain WhatsApp group of the FIA, through which media representatives are quickly informed about news. In modern times, this, of course, plays a central role in getting stories out there as fast as possible.
At this time last week, only the journalists seemed to be the ones communicating on the group regarding ‘the incident’ – For the time being, there is no official word from the FIA.
At 6:40 p.m. a document had finally been posted saying: Five seconds time penalty for Verstappen, for pushing away Leclerc. The Ferrari star would thus be the winner of the Austrian Grand Prix.
As you can see below, BBC’s Formula 1 writer Andrew Benson was one of the first to leap on the info and broadcast it without taking the time to fact-check first. His tweet just one minute after the whatsapp group fake FIA PDF was shared.
For those that bothered to notice on whatsapp, the shared PDF did not come from the FIA, but from the user “Marc The Dark” (the identity this editor knows).
Some fell for the fake document directly and distributed it via Twitter. Others quickly realised that something could not be right. For example, all FIA documents are numbered on a race weekend. The last documents before the judgement were numbers 46 and 47, but the (otherwise deceptively authentic) fake judgement was titled number 35.
So while the journalists have to wait for the official document (which was published at 19:46), the WhatsApp group goes round the clock: One writes that the “damned, stupid” and other “please put him in prison”. Others react with humor and post hand scribbled fake verdicts of their own.
Red Bull motor sports consultant Helmut Marko was no longer in Spielberg at that time, but at a meeting in Zeltweg. Nevertheless, the excitement about the fake document, which was distributed by an Austrian of all people, caught his eye: “First a ‘Fake News’ fluttered along, on A4 paper, that Max gets five seconds penalty.
“That’s where the people came from”, he tells in an interview with Germany’s “Motorsport-Total.com”. “But it quickly became clear to us that it couldn’t be true, because the two parties involved had to be informed first. Only then does such a judgement come out.
“From the point of view when considering the normal procedure, this could not be true. So it was clear that it was a fake.”
With the exception of Christian Horner, the Red Bull senior bosses were no longer at the ring: “Mateschitz flew away with his helicopter because he had to fly somewhere. And I left before because I had an important meeting in Zeltweg.” The real news reached Marko “in the middle of our meeting by SMS”, from team manager Jonathan Wheatley.
The relief that the fake document was just fake was great at Red Bull: “We always assumed that if you only want to serve the sport halfway, then you can’t destroy a race again after the two judgments of Monte Carlo and Montreal. That’s what happened,” says Marko.
If the FIA commissioners had actually punished Verstappen and thus deprived him of victory at the Red Bull Grand Prix, this would certainly have led to many heated discussions. There are quite a few who believe that Mateschitz would then have pulled the plug for the Formula 1 programme. Which Marko at least does not deny resolutely.
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