As you know, Ferrari Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa made a quick visit to Manila yesterday to do some PR work for Shell Philippines. The work involved meeting and greeting fans and motoring journalists at SM Mall of Asia.
Prior to the event, Shell's PR agency had asked several members of the motoring press to submit questions for Massa. If their questions were approved, the journalists were given the go-ahead to ask them during the Q&A session, which was moderated by TV personality Drew Arellano. Obviously, the organizers were trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing scenario in which the superstar driver would be put on the spot. The last thing anyone wanted, of course, was for the Brazilian F1 celebrity to storm off the stage after being asked an awkward question.
During this session, microphones were passed around among the few who had been cleared to shoot their questions, including Top Gear Philippines' resident F1 fanatic, Jason dela Cruz. Indeed, the questions were straightforward and rather businesslike.
Here was the thing: TGP editor-in-chief Vernon B. Sarne, fresh from an overseas trip, was not aware of the arrangement regarding the pre-approved questions. (And well, okay, the guy likes asking questions out of left field; Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo knows this now.) So he raised his hand and got the mic from an understandably tense officer of Shell's PR agency.
Vernon's question: "Is Fernando really faster than you?"
If you're not a hardcore F1 fan, the question was a play on Ferrari's infamous team order at the 2010 German Grand Prix, in which race engineer Rob Smedley mouthed off the now-classic line to Massa over the radio, implying that the race-leading Massa should move aside and let teammate Fernando Alonso through (just because Alonso had better chances of winning the championship at that point).
Vernon held his breath--as did the entire crowd. Massa would be totally excused if he decided to walk out, the sensitive nature of the question still seemingly too serious to be treated flippantly.
But Felipe Massa, who looked every inch like a nice fellow, gamely answered, pronouncing an emphatic "No!" to the delight of his fans. The place erupted in applause, and Massa was deliciously cheered by his adoring audience (one of whom even posted a message of jubilation on Facebook).
As for Vernon, his colleagues had one and the same thing to tell him after the event: "Only you could have asked that question."
Here's hoping our friends from Shell's PR agency weren't scolded afterward.
Photos by Mikko David