This is probably my favourite blog post of the year to write. It means we are finally talking in terms of days, not weeks and not months, but actual DAYS until the new F1 season begins. A mammoth 19 race schedule starts in Melbourne this weekend and culminates at the Yas Marina circuit (it wouldn’t have been my choice to host the season finale but hey) in November. And finally there will be a point to Sundays again which quite honestly without F1 are just interminably dull and pointless.
No matter what kind of season has preceded the imminent one, whether it has been truly sensational (2012) or bored the proverbial pants off you (2013), the first Grand Prix of every new season engulfs me in a huge wave of excitement. Its like being a little kid on Christmas Eve again – the sense of anticipation, bundles of nervous energy and the hope that your parents have bought you the latest U2 album that you’d been asking for every single day for weeks on end and not, in a moment of explained madness, The Greatest Hits of Elton John. This memory (yes from the late 80s) scars me to this very day.
This particular season really feels like a Voyage into the Unknown. This type of clichéd phraseology is trotted out by lazy journos so often at the start of new sporting seasons that it sounds trite but really and truly the 2014 season promises to be unlike anything that has gone before. Actually I must confess I re-read last year’s Dash of Eau Rouge Season Preview earlier and I *may* have said something like I really couldn’t predict how this (2013) season would play out. Moron Alert.
|Red Bull, winning everything in F1 since 2010|
The Red Bull/Vettel dominance hasn’t been a great selling point for the sport in recent years. A technologically driven (no pun intended I promise) sport like F1 must keep reinventing itself to stay ahead of the game and lets be honest, with the exception of Christian Horner and Sebastian Vettel, who in their right mind would want another hideously dull season like 2013. And even Sebastian Vettel must occasionally want to actually race another car as opposed to them being grainy flecks in his rear mirror or mere obstacles for lapping. These changes will hopefully inject some real excitement and edge into races again [dispels from mind the not-at-all ludicrous possibility of Silver Arrows winning every race between now and Monaco].
My Twitter feed has already gone F1 mental. The drivers have now arrived in Australia, the teams are all there, the cars are there (well only in a manner of speaking in some cases), Lewis is chillaxing in Sydney with his bro Tinie Tempah and I would honestly give a squidillion trillion pounds to be there. Melbourne does season openers so so well, all the drivers clearly love it there as well as the TV presenters and crews. Come race day it will be Celeb Central on the grid (oh #MartinsGridWalk I have missed thee) but in all fairness if money, kids, real life etc were no object Melbourne would definitely make it into my Top 5 F1 races to attend.
|A Grand Prix in a beautiful city with a relaxed party vibe - whats not to like?|
Since the Australian GP moved from the iconic Adelaide track (the destination for the final race of the season from 1985 to 1995) to Melbourne it has had the honour of opening the F1 season (bar a couple of years for reasons or indeed races that entirely escape me). And Albert Park has given us a mixture of magnificent races, shock results and controversy. These ones immediately spring to mind:
|Irv the Swerve on his way to being a title contender (yes really!)|
1996 – the one where Damon Hill won after Brundle’s horrendous airborne crash on the first lap.
1998 – the one where we all watched in awe as the gleaming MP4/13s obliterated the rest of the field and then some (admittedly it was an utter snoozefest but oddly memorable for its significance).
1999 – the one where Eddie Irvine took his first win for Ferrari (so not in Jean Todt’s script) after a thrillingly topsy turvy race.
2002 – the one where half the cars were eliminated in an apocalyptic accident by the end of the first lap and home favourite Mark Webber came home on his debut in 5th place IN A MINARDI.
2009 – the one where Brawn GP came from nowhere (literally nowhere – Brawn GP was formed out of the dormant Honda team only 3 weeks before the first race) to wipe the floor with the opposition and their drivers (Jenson and Rubens) sealed a 1-2 victory. Funny what can happen when you bring in a whole load of major rule changes. Oh.
2013 – the one where Kimi took first blood for Lotus and everything seemed possible. Sobs at what could have been...
|Brawn GP in 2009 - the surprise package to end all surprise packages|
What will be the story of the 2014 race? Mercedes dominance? A joyful Williams first win since 2012? Renault engine carnage? A stunning debut by Kevin Magnussen? Multi-21: The Sequel at Ferrari? Will Martin flirt more with Kylie than Dannii on the grid or bypass both for Tanja Bauer? So many imponderables…
|Those gorgeous Minogue girls|
Last year everyone banged on endlessly about tyres. This year it is officially the Year of the Engine which has given the sport the biggest shake up since like…well ever. Christian Horner (the savviest media operator in F1 by a mile) has predicted Mercedes could have the race won in a couple of laps. Certainly (on the face of it) it looks like a straight fight between Mercedes and Williams with the dark prancing horse of Ferrari impossible to discount. The word is a lot of the teams will use the three practice sessions simply as test sessions. McLaren for starters are bringing a brand new aerodynamics package to Australia. That cushy happy existence at McLaren under Martin Whitmarsh is but a thing of the past – if the Dark Lord himself Ron Dennis says he wants a better car, then he will get a better car.
Only three days to go. I can almost smell the burnt rubber. By the time I wake up on Friday morning, Practice 1 (1.30am-3am) will have taken place but the 3 year old’s inbuilt dawn chorus alarm clock means at least I will be up in time to catch Practice 2 (5.30am-7am). But the main event will be the utterly spine-tingling moment when finally after months of waiting its lights out in Melbourne at 06.00 hours on Sunday morning and we will witness the dawning of a new F1 era.