I sigh a lot, but I’ve trained myself to limit the constant cringing but cringing is exactly what I couldn’t help doing when Lando Norris ‘accidentally’ revealed the launch date of McLaren’s 2020 car during a ‘live stream’ on YouTube.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually love a laugh probably even more than the next man, which certainly seems to drive a lot of you guys nuts in the comments. Far from being the cynical, miserable sod I am often accused of being, I actually quite enjoy Lando’s boyish giggling in press conferences and off-message rambling during his sim racing live streams on Twitch.

He’s a welcome whiff of child-like innocence in a paddock that is too often stale. Liberty Media might be all about racing at full speed into this brave new digital world, but have you ever read a lengthy interview with Chase Carey?

The guy is so stale and unfunny that he makes my daily jog past, what I think is some sort of rotting grape or crap cesspool, in the otherwise stunningly beautiful Barossa Valley wine region smell like a fresh breath of lightly-perfumed air.

Mainly, I just don’t get the joke – but I’ve never really understand these practical joke or ‘prank’ type jokes. Frogs in your undies drawer, credit cards glued to your wallet. Hardy frickin’ har. Google tells me that a joke is actually something that causes you to laugh or, at the very least, become amused.

So McLaren’s launch date reveal, I can exclusively reveal, was definitely not a joke on this end of the article you’re currently reading. As far as I can tell, the funny bit is that I am supposed to have fallen for it.

“You f***ing legend mate. Love what is coming from F1 these days!” someone said on Twitter.

Oh. He didn’t fall for it, but it’s … still funny?

“Jeez. Boring,” said another. That’s better.

Or: “Am I the only one who thinks that Lando Norris didn’t leak the date and McLaren had planned to release the date in that manner?” one particular idiot remarked.

No, dude. You weren’t the only one. Welcome to, like, EVERYONE with a brain.

Indeed, McLaren later released extra behind-the-scenes footage (cringe) showing what reeeeeally happened when the apparently devastated member of McLaren’s brilliant (ahem) marketing team abruptly turned off Lando’s live stream.

If you haven’t seen it, it was a round of hysterical laughter and backslapping, with this professional team of well-groomed and highly-paid marketers delighted that they’d pulled off the mother of all pranks.

“How do we know that you didn’t make that after you let it slip by mistake??? We’re not stupid!” another idiotic Twitter person told McLaren. Ugh.

I don’t even want to go anywhere near analysing that one, but I would probably start by reading all about bell curves and IQ tests or something.

The bottom line is that in a world as cool, money-soaked and professional as Formula 1, and given a company and brand as brilliantly and obsessively sculpted into the winning machine that Ron Dennis made it, there simply aren’t enough facepalm emojis on God’s good earth for this ‘joke’.

So I’m just going to say it. Zak Brown.

I’m definitely not going to say anything too rude about this slick ‘Just Marketing’ founder, but in my mind, the footage we are talking about here is about as impressive as McLaren’s efforts at Indianapolis last year. And it absolutely reeks of Slick Zak’s obvious handiwork.

Oh, by the way, Zak blocks me on Twitter. The only Formula 1 team boss who actively wants to rub me out. I (ahem) wonder why. No, really. I really do. This isn’t 1984. This is Formula 1, and a free press makes it better, Zak.

Now, I know enough about marketing to know that grabbing attention is not the same thing as trying (and failing) to qualify for a famous American motor race you are so obviously unqualified to attempt to qualify for.

(How’s that for a sentence?)

Marketing is all about getting noticed, getting press, getting the sheep-like journalists to go all ho-ho-ho, he-he-he in their write-ups as they talk about how young and fresh and silly and funny and cool and modern this new McLaren brand is.

But, all jokes aside, is it ok when a professional sporting team and the sheep-like mainstream media are in cahoots on a lie that assumes that we – the paying fans – are complete and utter morons?

“Oh, lighten up, Maitland! It’s all a bit of fun!” That’s what someone may comment, if they were slightly less rude than they actually are.

But just consider for a moment longer how F1’s official website covered this story.

“During a livestream on the team’s YouTube channel, Norris walked in on a meeting with his colleagues at the McLaren Technology Centre and accidentally told thousands of viewers when their new challenger will emerge from its covers at their Woking headquarters,” the Formula1.com story reads.

Just as bad was the copy by Motorsport.com, who – by the way – until just five minutes ago had a non-executive chairman by the name of Zak Brown. Fancy that! What an amazing coincidence!

“The young Briton was supposed to be showing fans around the inside of the McLaren Technology Centre on a live YouTube feed, and gatecrashed a meeting that was discussing the launch of the MCL35,” the website informed us, deadpan.

Except he didn’t reeeeeally ‘gatecrash’ anything, did he? He wasn’t reeeeeeally supposed to be showing fans around the factory, was he? The author was lying to you.

Get it?! (cue laugh track).

Were the rest of us – the much less ‘official’ media sources – supposed to play along with this nonsense as well? Or is it our responsibility to you, the fans, to tell you the truth?

For the record, I ignored it altogether.

Presumably, for those who really find this kind of ‘humour’ just raucously and ridiculously and side-splittingly hilarious, you were supposed to immediately see through the prank – which by my estimation makes it the un-prankiest prank ever. Alternatively, you were supposed to buy it hook, line and sinker, making you feel really effing dumb at some point later on.

(Cue laugh track again. Laugh track abruptly ends).

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