By Ollie BarstowFollow @OllieBarstow on Twitter

Lewis Hamilton has come in for criticism with his 'distracted' social media antics during the Thursday's press conference for the Japanese Grand Prix... but was he being disrespectful or was he simply having a bit of fun?

Going up in front of journalists - along with Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz, Kimi Raikkonen, Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer -, Hamilton didn't endear himself by being appearing to be more interested in his phone than taking questions a few days after being so vocal in the wake of his Malaysian Grand Prix retirement.

When Snapchat posts started appearing of him using the app's (amusing if bizarre) animal face filters - showing him 'dressed' as a bunny and Carlos Sainz as a deer - as the press conference was ongoing, he was subsequently lambasted for showing a lack of respect by those both present and watching on television.

It didn't entirely help that he tagged it as 'This s**t is killing me', though he didn't dare attempt to try and pull the same trick on Raikkonen. Maybe he should have.

His actions have somewhat inadvertently raised a debate about both what is considered decorum in such an environment and whether it is the environment that is actually the issue.

Press conferences are taken remarkably seriously by the powers that be across sport. Huge fines are levied to those who don't attend and more for bad language or inappropriate behaviour. There is some irony that in such a competitive, occasionally no-holds barred sport, demeanour and respect in the direct aftermath of a session is still held in significant regard.

In Hamilton's defence, his presence in the Suzuka press conference days after being so outspoken about his Mercedes engine failure was very inevitable. He would have known it was coming before he was told he must attend, so in the wake of the fairly broad criticism he received in the way he aired his frustrations in Sepang, it's likely he'd have mentally steeled himself to be disinterested in entertaining journalists questions about the past as he looked to the future.

Hamilton is often seen fidgeting with his phone in the press conference - once getting caught out with an iPhone when he should have been wielding a Blackberry as part of a Mercedes sponsorship deal - and is never far from social media at any time. His Snapchat use has even reached the headlines after being advised by FOM to stop taking video in the paddock under its strict regulations over moving image rights.

It's worth noting that Hamilton's indifference is magnified somewhat more by it occurring at Suzuka where even the Thursday schedule attracts a wealth of dedicated fans hoping to get a glimpse of their heroes, either in person or just on the big screen from the grandstands.

Then again, as F1's most active driver using social media and arguably F1's biggest personality with a fanbase that transcends the sport, it can certainly be argued that Hamilton was doing his bit for the sport.

Whilst he wasn't engaging journalists in that moment, he was engaging his fans... and the rapidity the 'Carlos Sainz deer face' Snapchat was shared - both by fans and even other F1 teams - represented its worth, just in a different way. Carlos later responded on Twitter by saying his 'Mum thought he was cuter'. Good banter between drivers, something not seen so often today.

So perhaps not the right time or place depending on your position (or profession) - and Hamilton did later clarify that he wasn't meaning to be disrespectful - but the incident has had the seemingly unintentional side effect of bringing the press conference format into focus.

Pre-event press conference have been a regular fixture across sports for years but in this modern age their purpose in F1 has been somewhat muddled. Originally designed as a way of journalists - including local press who will only get to one or two races a year - to get their questions to probably the local man and others of interest, it is succinct and serves purpose for the press.

However, with the Thursday press conference now televised, the impact for journalists is limited. Its immediacy to fans is tempered by the words no longer being exclusive to journalists. Fair enough there are other moments in order to get those interviews later in the weekend, but if a driver is up in the press conference then their (not for broadcast) media sessions are often cancelled.

So if the press conference has lost its 'hack' element and is now erred towards fans, then many feel the format deserves a shake up to reflect this.

Many have suggested selected fan questions being put to the drivers or maybe hosting the press conferences in more engaging locations in front of an audience. Hard hitting it may not be but so long as drivers are obligated time with the press over the weekend it could prove mutually beneficial.

Some drivers (not all) do however deserve some criticism with the way they approach obligations. Hamilton himself has irked many with his penchant for wearing headphones and zoning out during the driver parade, while Sergio Perez (correctly) received a drubbing for being on the phone in Malaysia!

Drivers may not enjoy all of their duties, but it must go both ways when people pay money catch a glimpse of you for fleeting seconds and you are paid to wave and pay attention for those fleeting seconds.

In the meantime, whilst Hamilton's press conference antics can be described as 'misguided' rather than necessarily intentionally rude, it might have just had the unexpected side-effect of 'snapping' the FIA into change. It would achieve more than the flaccid 'Driver of the Day' vote at least...

What do you think? HAVE YOUR SAY...

 

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