By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA (Reuters) - A Chinese Grand Prix podium hostess who had champagne sprayed in her face by race winner Lewis Hamilton has played down the incident after the Formula One world champion was accused of sexist bullying.
"It lasted for only one or two seconds, and I didn't think too much about it," Liu Siying, a 22-year-old graduate of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art who works for a real estate company, told the Shanghai Daily.
"I think some foreign media are more sensitive about the topic than local media," she added. "I was just told by my employer to stand on the podium, and that's what I did."
Sunday's incident, highlighted in photographs that showed the woman flinching as the winner aimed a stream of fizz at her, triggered condemnation from some critics in Britain and Germany as well as on Chinese social media.
The Daily Mail said Hamilton had been 'ungallant' while Wednesday's Times newspaper asked in its leader column, below comment on the British election and the plight of migrants dying at sea off the North African coast, what the Briton had been thinking.
"They shake up champagne a lot in F1, of course, and as a regular winner Hamilton is practiced in it. His die-hard fans have naturally accused his many Chinese critics of having a collective sense of humor failure," the paper declared.
"Well, we've had one too. Hamilton is a great driver but nothing gives him the right to behave like a hooligan. Not even winning."
The practice of Formula One drivers spraying champagne on the podium dates back decades, with the Mumm brand providing the fizz since 2000, and many in the sport were bemused by the criticism.
Race winners routinely spray everyone within sight, or who has not already retreated from the podium, as well as themselves.
Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey once even appeared on the podium wearing goggles to protect his eyes from the drenching that was to come.
There will be no champagne to spray in Bahrain this weekend, however, with the Middle East's oldest grand prix offering bottles of non-alcoholic rosewater known as Waard instead.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)