Some time ago, a knowledgeable F1 insider, who for many years has organized tours for wealthy Americans to follow F1 Grands Prix around the world, shared his thought that the best races on the F1 calendar always began with an “M”: “Monaco, Montréal, Monza and Melbourne are the best,” he said.
During the 1990s I was lucky to show my face at most of these “M” lettered venues, except Melbourne. The Australian Grand Prix felt like a distant dream, which at that time being a student based in North America, seemed too far and expensive to take part in. However, I always kept an ambition to attend the each time spectacular Australian Grand Prix, scene of habitually memorable events.
Then in 1996 the venue for the event changed from Adelaide to Melbourne – also known as the Australian capital of sport. The circuit and time of year might have changed, the race was now staged in March rather than November, however the event was no less spectacular. Although many years on, people still say Melbourne will never have the soul of Adelaide, especially with its legendary end of year post-race party.
Later during 2005, destiny took me to spend a year of my professional life based in the Kingdom of Bahrain, there in the middle of the Persian Gulf, I was fortunate to become involved in the organization of the first F1 Grand Prix held in Sakhir. Being new to F1 at the time, the Middle East Kingdom had little experience in the organization of International Motoring events, and in order to train and monitor the local F1 organization, the FIA designated CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) to coach and supervise the locals.
Having been part of that group of people involved in the running of the Grand Prix, and later the Australian V8 Supercars, I had my first touch with the Australian F1 culture. The group of people operating from down under impressed me for being so professional and straightforward to get things done, yet laid-back when necessary for people to enjoy performing at their best under pressure.
Few years later, November 2009, I gladly received invitation from CAMS to work during the 2010 Australian F1 Grand Prix. Even though journeying from Spain to Melbourne means crossing between opposite ends the world, with a total of 24 travelling hours, mindless of the biggest possible jet lag one can ever have, its opposite seasons of the year too. Despite all this, it’s time well spent once you finally get there and get to know such a beautiful city as Melbourne.
Similar to Montréal, Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city full of buzz, parks provide a nice touch of green everywhere, with packed terraces adjacent to the pleasant Yarra River, resemble those of Cresent Street in downtown Montréal. Other cool spots to be, around the CBD – City Business District, include the Italian quarter of town at Lygon Street, where most Ferrari team spend their hours off the track at Cafe Coretto. Hungry F1 fans adding a vibrant and unique atmosphere during the Grand Prix week.
Once having slept a few hours, and having an annoying early dawn jet lag wake up call, it’s time for some coffee and head for Albert Park, collect credentials and have a look around. Getting there is pretty much easy from anywhere in the central part of Melbourne, most of the trams from Flinders Street station from will get you to your main destination. It’s a pleasant journey down St Kilda Road, to Albert Park.
After crossing over the pedestrian bridge into Albert Park, crossing another bridge over the lake you arrive to the Paddock, being under the trees, with flowers around, it’s the greenest and most relaxed (only for some) you will find on the F1 calendar. As a venue, it’s not hard to understand why this “M” track is on the list of favourites. Far away from the European winter we come from, everybody seems happy and relaxed, despite that it’s round 1 of the championship, crunch time for everybody to perform, and some cars will not be qualifying and racing as expected. Being so far away from home, there is little time for new updates to appear in the race, inside the garages you can cut the tension with a knife.
New F1 regulations in 2017 mean cars look different, increased downforce both front and rear, plus new wider Pirelli tyres should make them much faster around the corners and will contribute to shorter braking distances. It’s the biggest regulation overhaul in some time, and cars look more aggressive than they used to last year, heedless of the return of those ugly engine cover shark fins. Hopefully these changes were produced in order to bring back closer racing, rather than make cars look more aggressive.
Similar to every year, on Thursday morning it was time for drivers to pose for the media during the traditional first race portrait photo shoot. Expectation was high around the Force India garage, everybody wanted to discover the new pink-liveried, thanks to latest sponsor Best Water Technology Group, VJM10. Welcomed development having a fresh major sponsor this year. Best looking car this year? – No. In our opinion, shared with most people we spoke to, the new Toro Rosso STR12 gets the title of the best looking car. Indiffetent to its looks, technically speaking, our friend Craig Scarborough describes the STR12 as a jewel of a car.
The Australian Grand Prix unfolded, and notwithstanding that we only had four cars overtaking themselves on track, once the top three cars reached Parc Fermé, we had the much-welcomed result of Vettel and Ferrari winning the first Grand Prix of the year. A positive one, the last victory from a red car came in Singapore 2015, much more importantly it’s the first time, during this hybrid powered era, a different team rather than Mercedes heads the championship. Vettel’s race pace was dominant to stay ahead of Mercedes and Red Bull.
The question at present is: Can the Scuderia keep the same rate of development as their rivals? Resources and drivers-wise, no question; it’s now a matter of seeing whether the legendary team, with all those internal politics, can punch the correct buttons and make it all work.
Let’s move on and see to Shanghai for round 2 of the Championship, where Mercedes Benz will be under much pressure to perform and win again…