t’s all very quiet in Formula 1 at the moment, at least in public-facing terms. You may have noticed this.
But then there’s Lewis Hamilton and the strange case of his vanishing social media posts.
Over the Christmas period, the world champion found himself at the centre of a storm after posting on Instagram a video of his young nephew wearing a pink dress, and Hamilton saying: “Boys don’t wear princess dresses.”
The video was posted on Christmas Day. Hamilton was widely criticised. An apology followed on Boxing Day.
Then, over the next day or so, all the posts Hamilton had ever put on Twitter and Instagram disappeared. They were systematically deleted over a period of several hours. Although his Facebook account appears untouched.
As yet, no one outside Hamilton’s close circle of friends and advisers knows why, or what that means.
What could be going on?
Has Hamilton disappeared from social media for good? If so, why keep the accounts open? But if he hasn’t, why delete the posts? Was this a fit of pique following a torrent of online criticism for what was interpreted in some quarters as him admonishing his nephew for wearing a dress?
I don’t have an answer to these questions. In fact, I would hazard a guess that there will never be a clear one.
Investigations over the last few days have, though, revealed a few pieces of information.
Firstly, Hamilton has apparently not disappeared from social media for good. It was, I’m told, always the plan of Hamilton and his advisory team to empty his “social channels” this winter; the idea being to make a fresh start in 2018.
Several questions, however, remain unanswered: Why the perceived need for a clean slate? Why now and not any other year? Is it to stop media trawling through his social media history for posts and using them to illustrate stories? And was the deletion and/or its timing anything to do with the controversy over the ‘princess dress’ video?
An adviser to Hamilton told BBC Sport: “We have no comment to make on this. We really don’t think taking a break from social media during the holidays is newsworthy.”
If that’s all it was, it wouldn’t be. Except, of course, what Hamilton has done is rather more than “take a break” – he has actively sought to wipe his entire social media history.
For a sportsman who has been at the forefront of the use of social media, has 5.3 million followers on Twitter and 5.7m on Instagram, who has used it to give fans an insight into his life, and who has occasionally caused himself trouble as a result, that is news, whether Hamilton likes it or not.
There are two other issues with that response – it does not actually address the questions at issue; and it ignores the fact that the media decides what is newsworthy, not the people whom the news is about.
Could it cost him a title?
What has any of this got to do with sport, you might well ask? Well, potentially, not a huge amount perhaps, at least on the surface.
The ‘princess dress’ controversy is a ‘News’ story, not a ‘Sport’ story – in that it is about Hamilton’s life away the track, not at it, and touches social, political and cultural issues that go way beyond what he does for a living.
But these things have a tendency to spill over into people’s professional lives.
One person close to Hamilton says that all this will all go away once he publishes his first social media entry post-deletion. It might – but only if he addresses what he has done on Twitter and Instagram in deleting his posts, and why.
If not, the strong likelihood is that his first official news conference for his Mercedes team following the winter will be at least partly about this non-sporting matter.
If it is, it will likely go one of two ways. Either Hamilton will address it head on, deal with it, and everyone can move on. Or he will become defensive, stonewall it, and it could fester.
Ultimately, this might not matter. But in the past sometimes it has.
For all his global profile and superstar status, Hamilton is a sensitive soul and he does not take kindly to public criticism. Who does, to be fair? But it’s not that long ago that Hamilton allowed extraneous – and largely irrelevant – off-track issues such as this to distract from what happened on it.
The most recent was the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix, which immediately followed the race in Malaysia, where Hamilton made some controversial comments about an engine failure that left his title hopes hanging by a thread.
In the days following, Hamilton posted a message on his Instagram feed which appeared aimed at damage limitation. Then, at a pre-event news conference in Japan, rather than answer questions fully, Hamilton repeatedly referred journalists to that entry. And he spent the rest of the time putting cartoon animal faces on fellow driver Carlos Sainz on another social media outlet, Snapchat.
He was criticised in some media outlets for that. Two days later, not long after being beaten to pole position by team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg, he made a speech at the start of a second news conference saying he had been disrespected, and walked out saying he would not answer questions.
The next day, Hamilton made a terrible start from the front row and Rosberg cruised to victory in a race in which beating the German was Hamilton’s last chance to keep the destiny of that year’s championship within his own control.
Rosberg was loving it – rightly or wrongly, he perceived what his team-mate was up to off track as a needless distraction that was affecting Hamilton’s performance and playing into his hands.
There is no reason why this latest social media snafu should affect Hamilton in the same way. There is plenty of time between now and the start of the season for this all to settle down.
It may all turn out to be nothing. But it may not. And it’s certainly given