First of all, a big welcome to my new blog. As you can read in my profile, I’ve been to a few Grands Prix over the years and with other members of my family (wife, sons and nephew) I have taken an interest in all forms of motor sport for many many years.
So, like them, I’m very much looking forward to the start of a new motor sport and Formula One season and from what I hear, there are lots of others who feel the same. I’m constantly asked about how things are shaping up: testing, who’s going to be good, who isn’t, how’s Lewis going to do, will it be easier or more difficult for Mercedes?
There are a lot of questions but then that shows the following that motor sport and Formula One in particular still enjoys. I’m not going to get into the sport’s popularity at the moment – that may be a subject for another day but there’s no doubt that a lot of people still enjoy it.
One question I’m constantly asked is ‘which is your favourite Grand Prix?’ I used to reply rather facetiously ‘the one that’s easiest to work at’ but then that actually places me in conflict because my favourite Grand Prix isn’t the easiest one.
I don’t mind saying that Australia is my favourite. I stay in a little apartment down by St Kilda beach; the sea’s a five minute walk away, as was the famous Stokehouse restaurant before its devastating fire just over a year ago. Acland Street is at the end of my road and I have a wonderful walk to the circuit every morning, through a lovely quiet suburb called Middle Park which compromises mainly single storey villas one after another, all different but actually much bigger than they look. The streets are wide and deserted and they’re shaded by huge eucalyptus trees. It’s a lovely peaceful walk to work; I love it.
Once at the circuit, Australia’s health and safety culture kicks in: ‘don’t walk there’, ‘don’t cross until I tell you’ it goes on and on and really annoys everyone, particularly Europeans. Hell, they’ve made it across the world without perishing and it doesn’t say much for the locals that they have to be molly-coddled by authorities just to stay alive. That’s the downside, as is the fact that I have to walk for ten minutes just to get to my commentary position, but we’ll leave that be for the moment.
However, what seals it for the Australian Grand Prix is that it’s a proper Race Meeting. There’s entertainment, lots of different support races – V8s, Formula Fords, historics – enthusiastic fans, there’s track action for four days, almost continuous. This is a race meeting done properly which is rare these days. (To give it its due, Canada is a pretty full day too). There’s a lot going on and it’s properly presented. For those of us who do all the Grands Prix, an endless diet of GP2, GP3 and Porsches does get a little tedious although for a commentator, such continuity is quite welcome. I don’t have to re-research a different class of racing every weekend (how do those horse race commentators do it? Different silks each race!)
And that’s before we even get to the fact that Australia is these days usually the first GP of the year, so there’s massive anticipation as to how the season’s going to pan out. I’m always being asked what’s going to happen. I feel like roaring out ‘if I knew what was going to happen, I wouldn’t go to the races and neither would you (the questioner).’ But that would be rude, the questioner is only looking for an inside line, a little insider info.
And actually I’m not one of those second guessers whose trying to work out what’s going to happen before it does. Maybe I’ve been around too long and I don’t have that thirst for news; I just prefer to wait until it does happen, and then I can get caught up in the excitement of it all.
(Actually the second guessers are a funny lot; they think they’ve worked out what’s going to happen long before team principals and engineers etc. It’s quite funny at a race weekend press conference because they tell the people were meant to be interviewing what’s happening. They don’t ask questions, they know best. I would never presume…)
All I can do is discuss teams’ chances and what’s happened so far. We’ve had twelve days’ testing. Manor hasn’t had anything, Force India did two thirds of that but were phenomenally reliable and were quicker than McLaren who showed pace but not reliability. Ron Dennis’s size zero car is a pretty bad idea for a test car but if/when it all gets sorted out…
Lotus had a slightly late start but did show, on occasions, that they have the pace, depending on Pastor Maldonado’s ability to stay out of trouble. Sauber were super reliable too, doing more laps than anyone but it’s surely not believable that they can make a massive jump to the front. Toro Rosso had their moments too – and some unreliability – but the car sometimes seemed difficult to drive. However, their two rookies and Verstappen, in particular, looked fantastic.
Which leaves us with Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull. Mercedes have looked very good but with the occasional hiccup where they weren’t certain why the car’s behaviour had changed. So they’re not totally on top of it. Rosberg or Hamilton? Rosberg will have learned after last year which is a dangerous proposition; has Hamilton, with his personal problems, also taken a step forward?
Williams have a quiet confidence but is it enough to challenge Mercedes; that’s surely the doubt? Ferrari is a different being from last year and thank heavens. They need to earn their money, but after what James Allinson did at Lotus a couple of years ago, when he was put in charge, surely we should have expected a step forward and boy, we seem to have got it. Even Kimi seems happy.
And Red Bull? Daniel’s going to be on top of the world this weekend unless he finds what Mark Webber used to find at home and that the Australian media can be all-enveloping. Mark was a different bloke at home; much happier away from his home GP. But Daniel seems to thrive on some of that and will be a very happy chap, particularly if he can get on the podium. However, to do that he will have to beat Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari… Tall order.
Looking long term, the prospect of in-season engine development is a good one, in my view. Teams are awarded 42 tokens for the year and each component in the engine is awarded one to three tokens, so engine developers can use up those 42 tokens on whichever component they see fit. But they don’t have to do all that development by the start of the season, as in years passed, they can use them when they want, so we may see a little more ebb and flow to engine power and performance during the season, which just might mix things up a bit.
So there’s lots to look forward to , not just in terms of my walks to the circuit, but the whole season. How it’s going to pan out is another story altogether, but I’ll try and make some sense of it for you. Just keep coming back to see if I’ve been teased into action!!
By Bob Constanduros