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Melbourne blog day 1
Posted By:   |  26 Mar 2009   |  8:55 am GMT  |  33 comments

It’s been a fairly calm day for the start of the new season. The predicted protest from the teams over the diffuser row has happened and the stewards are looking into it as I write this in the Melbourne press office, with the sun setting outside.

I’ve felt all along that the three cars in question, from Brawn, Williams and Toyota will be declared legal. Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s top technical man, has approved the cars and you sense that he actually admires the innovative solutions the teams have come up with. Whatever the outcome we’ll have an appeal in a Paris court room, that much is clear. To quote Humphrey Bogart, “We’ll always have Paris.”

I’ve posted on ITV-F1.com today about the nub of the diffuser issue, as well as making the point that McLaren is staying out of it because Brawn is a customer of Mercedes engines.

Actually they are a delighted customer of Mercs. I’ve been hearing today what a fantastic engine it is, but also how easy the Merc guys are to deal with and how professional. Force India say the same thing. It’s amazing that this is Mercedes’ first year as a customer engine supplier, so slick is their operation.

I started the day collecting my F1 permanent pass, the 20th I’ve had now. Can’t believe this is my 20th season in the sport. As a TV person for the last 17 years, I’ve had a heavy, metal topped pass, issued by FOM. Now, although I am doing some work for Italy’s RAI TV, because I represent the Financial Times newspaper, I fall under the FIA’s jurisdiction and they have much smaller lighter passes. I guess the TV people get the bling pass because they pay the big bucks to be here, tens of millions a year in rights fees.

From the accreditation centre I travelled over by tram to the Westin Hotel in the City, where the Ferrari boys did a press briefing, Kimi was his usual eloquent self [not] while Felipe got quite worked up on a few issues. He hates the idea of the winner takes all point system. As a Ferrari driver you can see why. It’s a system which calls for a team to have a clear number one and number two driver.

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He also described the U turn last week over the winner takes all points system as ‘a complete mess.’

Meanwhile Kimi managed one smile, when a camera man got up from his prone position in front of their table and knocked the glasses of water over. Kimi got a big rise out of that. Otherwise he was even more detached than he normally is. We’ll see, but I felt from watching him in testing that he has rediscovered his sense of purpose. He’s got his race face on again.

After Ferrari I jumped back on the tram and headed to the Stokehouse restaurant, on the St Kilda beach, to see the McLaren lot. They have been doing a lunch there for 11 years. Lewis admitted that he was in new territory with a slow car, which has a lot of work in front of it, to close the gap on the others. New team boss Martin Whitmarsh was on our table and looked very calm. In some ways they might wish they hadn’t thrown so much effort at last year’s car, as it seems to have cost them this year, but then again McLaren desperately needed to win that drivers title after ten years of missing out.

Part of the McLaren event is a quiz, with some very obscure questions. I was sat on a table with a few people who knew the most obscure facts about F1 you could ever imagine. And guess what? We came away with a little trophy for winning the thing! Can’t say I had much to do with it!

At the circuit, everything looked busy and colourful as normal. There is talk of the credit crunch, of teams laying people off, but the general mood is very positive, everyone excited to see where they are in the pecking order.

Behind the scenes there is a general resignation that we are in for a long and painful battle between the FOTA teams, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone and some of the things which happen this weekend will be wrapped up in that political and financial struggle. But there’s nothing really new there.

Elsewhere one winner already is Giancarlo Fischella, who took part in a poker tournament at the city’s Crown Casino on Tuesday night and won £400.

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33 Comments
  1. Phil W says:

    Do you think McLaren are staying out of the diffuser row because it might mean Ferrari won’t win the first races of the season? If McLaren’s new car is as slow as pre-season testing suggests, Ron, Martin etc would be delighted to see someone else taking points from Ferrari.

    That’s if we still use points. I can’t seem to work that one out….

  2. It’s amazing that this is Mercedes’ first year as a customer engine supplier, so slick is their operation.

    Given that Mercedes have obviously been building very good F1 engines for a decade or so, why haven’t they begun supplying customer teams until now? Is because of the extra resource freed up by the increased restrictions on engine development?

    What do you think of the relationship between Raikkonen and Ferrari is at the moment? They’re paying him top dollar, and he can’t have another year like 2008…

  3. Ben G says:

    Thanks James – but! – do tell us every now and then that your life isn’t all so enviably, teeth-gnashingly enjoyable, otherwise those of us sitting here chained to our desks in rain-sodden Blighty will start to get jealous. Hopefully your flight to Aus was arduous, back in cattle class…
    Only joking.
    Look forward to the rest of your reports.

  4. Wilson Chen says:

    Raikkonen loves slapstick humour, last year he got kicks out of knocking over photographers and little girls.

  5. Aaron James says:

    Great report James, cheers!

    One thing I really enjoy with Ed Gorman’s blogs is the feeling he gives us for the paddock. When he started off in 2006 he was quite an outsider and it really gave us fans a better appreciation of a hack’s life.

    I don’t know what angle you could give it, but I think a lot of us would be interested in things you might take for granted – like how you get to the circuit, what’s involved with the press pass, anecdotes of the city you’re in, the interaction between the press people themselves.

    The sort of ‘zeitgeist’ that you can only get a feel for by being in the paddock and which us mere mortal fans have no idea of.

    As always thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  6. mattanddebz says:

    Finally the season is about to start! That was one hell of a long (and rather eventful) winter!

    Is it true this race still hasn’t sold out? I always find it surprising when a race doesn’t. Especially one in a major city.

    I’m lucky enough to be going to 2 races this year. Camping at Silverstone and repeating the amazing time we had in Singapore. I’d be surprised if either of those don’t sell out!

    Bernie claims there will be 3 new teams next year. Apart from USF1 any ideas who he’s talking about?

  7. john says:

    20 years of F1! Congratulations James. I didnt know you have such a long career in this sport.

    Yes, I knew before Murray Walker retired you were already part of the commentary team at ITV, but 20 years.. this is what you call experience.

  8. Ben Parker says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now James, but never really got the chance to comment on it. This article was really fascinating however as it gave a real insight in what’s involved in a journalist’s day.

    Interesting to note that you say Charlie Whiting thought it was quite innotative what the Brawn/Williams/Toyota camps came up with regarding their diffuser designs. Just a shame that after F1 is trying to move forward with technlogy and innovation that once again politics is involved because teams have sour grapes in not thinking of it themselves. It’s disappointing to see such a scenario at the first race, but I guess that’s F1 for you.

    Big congratulations on the twenty years also, that’s quite some achievement – keep it up! ;)

  9. Eric says:

    You said in your ITV column that Massa said that everyone else was racing for third place. I think a team like Ferrari could quite possibly obtain 2nd position by using teamwork and KERS. If Brawn are 1-2 on the grid, and Ferrari 3-4, couldn’t one of the Ferrari drivers pass a Brawn at the start using KERS and then essentiall hold up the Brawn long enough for 2nd position to be a realisable goal? Potentially even a win if they manage to leapfrog both cars off the start line. I think it’s going to be a very interesting race.

    I also cannot understand how the other teams, Ferrari, BMW, etc haven’t copied Brawn’s diffuser idea by now, surely they have had long enough?

  10. Red Andy says:

    James, what is your general feeling about the season as a whole? Are you still looking forward to it?

    A lot of people have said that all the politics and the erupting FIA/FOTA tensions (nearly wrote FISA/FOCA then …. force of habit, I guess) are dampening their spirits before the racing has actually begun. For me, the politics is nice to talk about between the races, but I can’t remember ever anticipating the start of a season so eagerly!

  11. Stuart Fraser says:

    You say that this is Mercedes’ first year as a customer engine supplier, but it really isn’t. The old Ilmor outfit, which Mercedes bought up to form their engine division (after a few years of slapping a Merc badge on an Ilmor V10), was supplying customer engines in F1 as early as 1992 and in Indycars even before that.

    Presumably they retain some institutional experience of how to do it.

  12. Kamran Tunio says:

    Excellent work James. Good to see true enthusiasm! Keep up the good work.

  13. Padmanabh says:

    For last couple of months I am following up your blog and I must admit that I wait for your latest posts. Your blog and the comments provided by all F1-lovers make it unique and no-nonsense stuff.

    Really great to hear some of the things you mentioned in this blog. I always wondered about logistics, time spent by teams on race weekends and organizers. Your comments help in getting some insight.

  14. alex m says:

    This stupid diffuser row is being nicely dragged along by Max, eager to cause as much trouble between the newly united teams as possible, whilst also distracting attention from the ‘winner takes all’ farce of his own creation.

    Once again, the sport is suffering massively due to Max and Bernies power struggles. Teams are struggling to get sponsors this year and in past years due to these stupid power struggles whilst the whole future is up in the air due to the proposed 30M budget caps … I mean, who would pay a team $20M to sponsor them when you can get a whole team up and running for 30…. ? This uncertainty of what the rulers will come up with next is working like a cancer through the foundations of F1.

    We must get rid of Bernie and Max or ourselves, do whatever it takes to achieve this.

  15. Kevin M says:

    I noticed today at the Brawn GP autograph session that Rubens stated that the team simply did not have the budget for KERS. As a driver who before the season started needed to shed some kilos, I think Rubens might just be happy about the lack of KERS.

    As an aside, are you available at any stage of the race weekend to say g’day to any Aussie readers?

  16. Finn says:

    I’m not (yet) in the “everyone else is competing for third place behind the Brawn cars” camp … really think we will have to wait until Saturday to get an accurate picture of where the cars are in racing trim compared to each other.

    Have read about Lewis saying he would talk to other teams if they approached him …. seems like an odd line to come out with on the eve of a new season. He really should have some faith in Macca to get the car right and in his own ability to develop/drive the car. Macca’s problems are in part down to the focus they made last year to help him win the WDC … think he should have been more loyal in his comments and unequivocal in his support of the team/his determination to stay with them. Sewing a seed of doubt about his future does him no credit at all.

  17. Finn says:

    I would love to understand exactly which part of the diffuser design is being questioned: size? position? design?

  18. Caanan says:

    This blog has turned into one of my favourite sources for F1 information over the winter months and I really look forward to your posts over the season. Thanks for keeping us up to date!

  19. Steve Temple says:

    Hi James, welcome back to Melbourne.

    Hopefully this diffuser row is settled away from Melbourne. I’m still putting my money on a Honda,oops sorry Brawn win. Hopefully I can collect my winnings from the betting agencies before a protest gets to Paris!

    By the way James do you get an opportunity for some sightseeing around Melbourne after the GP? Let me know if you need a tour guide!

    Cheers, Steve

  20. Colin says:

    Now THIS is what we come here for!

    Just the sort of comments the “officially bridled and embedded” reporters dare not make.

    We expect more of this terrific stuff Sir:
    “He’s got his race face on again.”

    We’re sick and tired of PR groomed comments from the F1 circus, so we’re depending of you being our eyes and ears.

    Particularly since I don’t have a TV!

    Wind them up James, and tell us what they are REALLY like.

    Aside:

    My heart sank when I heard the BBC had stuck an F1 mike in Mr. Legard’s hand.

    I used to wince listening to his BBC radio reports on F!, you could tell he wanted to be a football commentator. What really irritated me was he never gave the practice times, and often only mentioned who was fastest, not the first six grid places even.

    Remember the year JV went blonde?

    Mr. Legard’s radio report spoke of nothing else, it was pathetic.

    Yet as soon as he became a football commentator, he got his zest back, and never fails to punch out the scoreline in his sign off.

  21. Mark says:

    The best thing about the new Formula One season is your blog James – it gives us humble fans a great insight into the behind the scenes goings on – keep up the good work.

  22. Arnet says:

    Thanks for the great blogging, James.

    You mentioned the looming war between “the FOTA teams” and Max and Bernie. Aren’t all of the teams FOTA teams?

    Also, how do you see this playing out, taking into consideration the money owed issue, Bernie insisting his “medals” route is cast in stone for next year, and M & B’s obvious divide and conquer tactics with the diffuser, etc. As someone with a pretty good grasp of who the players are, where do you see the chips falling?

  23. john g says:

    massa has gone up in my estimation with the comments about the scoring system in terms of a sporting person – he says that it doesn’t matter that he would have won the wdc under this system, it would not be good for the sport. good on him.

    also, i really like kimi, the more awkward he is for the press, the better. i know i’d hate all those microphones in my face too – all he wants to do is race. same as kubica, the only thing that interests them about F1 is the pure driving. we don’t need soundbites and all that to know that they are still very funny and personable guys.

  24. James Allen says:

    Keith, glad you are back. Thought you had the hump with me! Kimi looks well primed to me. Domenicali made his position clear the other day as I posted. It’s up to Kimi now.

  25. James Allen says:

    It was, but I got lucky as the Malaysian Airlines plane was only half full so I had three seats to myself. More comfy than business class! And with a couple of tamazipans it all went very quickly. This is the 22nd time I’ve been to Australia (I also did Surfers’ IndyCar in the Mansell days and a trip when I was 18)

  26. James Allen says:

    Thanks Aaron. I have it in mind to do just that.

  27. Alastair says:

    Why do you want two bloggers doing the same thing? I read Ed Gorman’s blog as well as this one and I think that James is doing just fine.

  28. Colin says:

    I also have read Mr. Gorman’s blog for over a year, and have to say he really needs James to show him how it should be done.

  29. Colin says:

    James was the best pit-lane reporter there’s been so far.
    Enthusiastic, quick, analytical, and almost always right.

    James; is “Muzza” doing the within the circuit commentary again this year?

  30. Colin says:

    Lewis certainly let his guard down in making those ill-advised comments, even managing to include a dredful expletive. Not the role-model-perfect-performer his paymasters want to see.

    You have to view them in context; genuinely disheartened by a duff car, jet-lag, not centre-stage etc.

    We forget he’s only a lad still.

    As the Aussies say; “Cut ‘im some slack Mate.”

  31. Not at all. Life’s too short and this is a good blog 8-)

  32. Matthew says:

    Hyundai hinted long ago they were aiming to enter in 2010 due to F1′s first visit to South Korea being pencilled in that year so i’d imagine they’re a good bet. As for the other team i’ve no idea. Could Prodrive finally get their act together?

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