Saturday, 16 March 2013

Australian GP – Qualifying (warning: this blog may end abruptly!)

F1 cars chomping at the bit to start the new season

Confession time. I had fully intended to watch the first qualifying of the season live and one of the 2 year old’s many talents is to double up as an alarm clock that goes off at unearthly hours including Melbourne o’clock so all should have been fine and dandy. Except the 2 year old has chicken pox and is wailing at all hours of the day and night. And however loud F1 cars are (assuming they actually are on track – boom!) they do not drown out the sound of her wailing. Then I had to head off to do my running course which essentially involved getting soaked to the bone and splattered in mud for 5km. It pretty much strained every sinew in my body running and dodging floods for 30 minutes but obviously not the kind of thing that would phase elite sportsmen. NOT THAT I’M STILL BITTER (but spoilers!).

So post-run and on a strict Twittter/Internet embargo, I settled down to watch recorded-but-as-if-live qualifying on Sky. And coverage kicked off with a blank screen saying there was a temporary fault (portent of doom if ever there was one). Eventually the Sky team appeared and told us there had been a power cut, torrential rain and thunder. Clearly Simon Lazenby has survived the mini Sky-cull (ok just Georgie Thompson) and perhaps slightly surprisingly so had Damon Hill (who was wearing what looked suspiciously like a jacket his wife might have packed for him - bless!).

The Sky team competing with the Australian Air Force for our attention

Time for yet another temporary fault and when coverage was restored we could hardly hear a word (apart from Johnny Herbert shouting Kimi Raikkonen – and indeed why not!) due to the very loud airplanes that were flying overheard. Its fair to say it had all gone a bit Pete Tong.

First up to be interviewed was naturally Christian Horner who was asked about an electrical issue with Vettel’s car that had occurred during FP3. The tantalizing prospect of Someone Other Than Vettel Getting Pole was a possibility. Then we had a strange feature where Natalie Pinkham played beach tennis (or merely umpired – can’t remember) with all the rookie drivers and Giedo van der Garde (my new Narain) won beating Max Chilton in the ‘final’. Its too obvious to say it’s the only thing Giedo will win all season but there I’ve said it.

Then possibly an Even Worse segment where all round lovely bloke Jenson Button, Sergio Perez, Simon Lazenby and Natalie Pinkham went to a country pub for the afternoon. Is it just me or are Sky trying VERY hard to cement Simon (in particular) as a real F1 dude who hangs and has bants with all the drivers (obviously this isn't the natural way I speak!).

Time to return to Melbourne where Martin Whitmarsh was interviewed in the rain looking very depressed (get used to the sad Martin Face – I think we’ll be seeing a lot of it).

As the clock ticked down to the Official Start Time of Qualifying for the Rolex Australian Grand Prix, the weather had by now turned into monsoon conditions. This never happens on Neighbours. Helpfully some Qualifying Pointers popped up on screen. Apparently ‘wet conditions may mix up the order’. No kidding. What is this? F1 coverage for complete morons?! The decision was taken to delay the start by 10 minutes and Martin Brundle usefully explained that teams had a big decision to make. The moment the cars leave the garage they are officially in Parc Ferme and they are locked into the settings for the race so teams could either focus on qualifying performance or sacrifice that for an overall better set up for race conditions.

The most technologically advanced sport in the world still needs men with brooms

We then had a lot of filler – including the Voice of Chris Hoy (why not just say Chris Hoy?) who basically wanted Paul Di Resta to win. We saw Niki Lauda chatting to some people (is Niki Lauda a force for good at Mercedes – one to mull over another time perhaps) and Mika Hakkinen. Honestly. They could have at least showed us the Top Gear guys knocking back the tinnies. Ah well.

After another 10 minute delay by which point Martin Brundle was getting increasingly annoyed, we saw two Mercedes cars waiting by the little pitlane traffic light. Within seconds there was a queue of cars behind them. Could this be a Ross Brawn/Toto Wolff/Niki Lauda masterstroke? And Q1 was underway!

Hamilton leading the pack was driving pretty raggedly and being considerably outpaced by Nico Rosberg. Within minutes, it had all been too much for poor Giedo and he’d crashed his Caterham into a wall. Then we saw Lewis Hamilton HAD STOPPED (this news was imparted in semi-hysterical tones). He had beached his car, clattered the rear into a wall but somehow reversed and managed to get back on track. He was told to come in but elected to stay out on track.

Lewis Hamilton's crash in Q1 - that's what they call a baptism of fire

Meanwhile Massa had spectacularly spun off and crashed losing his front wing and we then saw Maldonado careering off track. Interestingly some of the drivers though were moving onto intermediates as track times were coming down. As the drivers raced against time to move onto inters and set a flying lap, disaster struck. First Pic crashed, then Gutierrez lost his front wing and his car slithered to a halt on track. As Giedo was still aquaplaning around, the session was stopped.

So booted out of Q1 were Maldonado, Gutierrez, Bianchi, Chilton, Giedo and Pic. The fastest three on track were Rosberg, Alonso and Grosjean.

As the biblical downpours continued, the Sky boys manfully tried to squeeze every last ounce of analysis out of Q1. Ant Davidson talked us through lots of stuff on the Sky Pad (which I’m much more inclined to watch now without Georgie looking vacant in a cocktail dress next to him). We were informed that Q2 was delayed by a further 20 minutes and had the rarest of rare things, an interview with the Real Charlie Whiting who didn’t sound at all hopeful that the restart would be anytime soon.

This was there the action was at!

Then suddenly the big news came that qualifying would be delayed until Sunday morning. I can’t help feeling that was the worst of all options. Either they should have run qualifying straight (without the 40-50 minutes delay) and let it just play out. Yes cars aren’t driving at their optimum (if I can just get all Schuey for a minute!) but then again they aren’t on the limit in wet races and what are you going to do…suspend those as well? At the end of the day, the first session ended with the drivers on intermediates so it was hardly cataclysmic aquaplaning conditions (Giedo aside). OR they should have just called the grid on the basis of the Q1 results. Yes it was all mixed up but that would have made for a brilliant race. This way we’ll probably just end up with a Red Bull front row.

Webber to win tomorrow.

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