After Naomi Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros to protect her mental health, F1 drivers – Hamilton, Gasly and Ricciardo – share their opinions.

On May 27, tennis player Osaka announced on Twitter her intention to skip press endeavors during Roland Garros, in an act of self-care to protect her mental health. The situation escalated, and Osaka decided to withdraw from the tournament.

The media exposure of a Slam Tournament is as intense as what F1 drivers face at every grand prix. During the press conference pre-race in Baku, the drivers were asked their opinions about the situation. It is a unique occasion for the media to take a look at the system, and rework things to protect the athletes’ mental health.

Already, Mercedes’ Hamilton had shared his thoughts on social media about Osaka’s move. He added more when about in Baku, elaborating on his past and fight from young age. He even aligned it with how it is in F1 and how the relation can be improved.

Not just him, but AlphaTauri’s Gasly and McLaren’s Ricciardo shared their views on the topic, as well. The Australian’s teammate Lando Norris recently informed having taken a backseat from his social media, with a person doing so on his behalf.

Here’s what the three F1 drivers said: 

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri: “It’s a difficult topic. It’s also very specific to each individual and each person, we leave things, we feel things in our own way. And, obviously, as an athlete, you’re seen as an athlete, but you’re also a person and I feel you can be two different characters. And it’s important not to mix this, we all have highs and lows. We all have different responses to these situations, to these emotions.

“I think it’s important people respect that. In Naomi’s one really expected that. But I guess it’s important for all of us as fans, media, journalists, to respect and understand its important we are athletes, but we are also people, we also feel we are all emotional, and we all need our space, in all situation, in our personal life, but also as an athlete, and I think it’s important to respect all these decisions.”

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren: “Everyone can respond to highs and lows very differently, even in Naomi’s position, she’s one of the best in the world, if not currently the best, let’s say, riding such a high, but that could have some negative impacts to her and her well being and then others suffer more with just probably being in lower spots and not, you know, trying to achieve something and not get there.

“So I think it is very different, obviously, for each individual. But I think this highlights that, even when you may think someone is at the top, you still have to be very respectful of their space and where they’re at. And they’re seen as a, in her situation, a tennis player, but she’s also a human, and I’m sure she has so many other things going on in her life.

“It’s very easy just to see someone as their profession, but not as from a wider aspect of what they really are in their day to day life. People always have other things going on. Obviously, I haven’t read a whole lot about it. People have to accept that with an open mind of maybe it’s not all what it seems. And if someone needs space, for sure, give it to them.

“In general, the media have to be just careful sometimes maybe how they, I don’t think this is the situation now, but how they write things and people can be quite sensitive and feelings are real, and no one seems to be bulletproof. Just have some things taken into account when going after someone.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: “When you’re at such a young age with so much weight on our shoulders, this is inevitable. The fact is when you’re young, you’re thrown into the limelight and into the spotlight, and it weighs heavily on you. And the thing is, most of us are not prepared. I remember when I got to Formula 1. And I was given…the team had PR, I was never prepared for being thrown in front of a camera, I was never guided as to what to look out and helped to navigate through that. So you kind of just learn through mistakes.

“It’s incredibly nerve wracking, especially when you have all good intentions, but people take advantage of it. So yeah, I think she’s incredibly brave. And I applaud her for her bravery, because I think it’s now asking those in power, putting them in question. And making them have to think about how they react because I think the way they reacted was not good with the fine.

“I’ve learned over my time here of how, or have been continuing and I’m trying to continue to learn of how, how I engage but as I said, When I was young, I was thrown into the pit, and I wasn’t given any guidance or support. And what I do know is that when youngsters are coming in, they’re facing the same thing as I did. And I don’t necessarily know if that’s the best for them. And I think we need to be supporting more. And I think it shouldn’t be a case where you’re pressured.

“There are scenarios where because you freeze up, with Naomi’s scenario, she didn’t feel comfortable for her own personal health not to do something. And the backlash is ridiculous. People not taking into account that she’s a human being. And she’s saying, ‘I’m not well enough to do this right now’. I think that needs to be really looked into and how people react to that. And rather than be supportive and uplifting to her.”

(What can be done between athlete and media whether in tennis or even F1)?

Hamilton: “I think it’s a really good question. I honestly haven’t put any thought to that, because I just come in to do my job. I’ve learned the hard way, made many mistakes. And I still do today. It can be daunting, still standing behind a camera, it’s not the easiest. Particularly if you’re like an introvert and you do struggle to be under those sorts of pressures, some people are less comfortable than others.

“Someone talking about their personal mental health and then being fined for it. That wasn’t cool. I think they could have definitely handled it better. I hope they take a deep dive into it and find a better way to navigate in future. As athletes, we are pushing ourselves to the limit. We are on the edge. And we’re only human beings.”

Here’s Valtteri Bottas talking about mental resolve amid a difficult season

The story was written by Lorenzo Liegi