Sebastian Vettel would love to come across as a more charismatic and colourful Formula One world champion but the spirit of the age is against him.
The 25-year-old Red Bull driver is poised to join the sport's all-time elite on Sunday as a triple champion, the youngest ever and only the third to win three titles consecutively.
Is this the right finger, Bernie. Credit: Reuters
The German need only finish fourth to join some of the greatest names in the sport - triple champions like Austrian Niki Lauda and late Brazilian Ayrton Senna - but he was asked at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Thursday whether he could be truly compared to the giants of yesteryear in terms of character.
It was a question he found difficult to answer.
The issue arose because Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the 82-year-old who is close to Vettel, was quoted by Germany's Bild newspaper as saying that the German and his generation lacked the charisma of outspoken champions like James Hunt, Senna and Lauda.
Ecclestone, always one to create eye-catching headlines before a race, suggested modern drivers were too pampered by their teams and muzzled by the FIA.
“I don't know exactly what he said but maybe he was just taking the piss...” said Vettel, quickly correcting himself.
“Sorry, maybe he was just taking the mickey out of the newspaper which is very possible with Bernie.”
The self-correction, to laughter as the FIA's Formula One delegate theatrically placed a hand lightly on Vettel's shoulder, was telling.
The FIA sent a letter to all teams earlier in the month reminding them, after swearing on the podium in Abu Dhabi, that their drivers should mind their language during public media events such as post-race interviews.
Vettel pointed to how things were in the days of Hunt and Lauda, in the 1970s and 80s.