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Upbeat mood in Melbourne paddock despite the gloomy weather
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Upbeat mood in Melbourne paddock despite the gloomy weather
Posted By: James Allen  |  24 Mar 2011   |  8:26 am GMT  |  60 comments

The F1 paddock in Melbourne was a lively place this afternoon, despite the grey, overcast and at times rainy conditions.


Among even the most battle hardened racers there is a real sense of excitement about this weekend and the season ahead. I think it’s because there are so many unknowns in terms of the racing and in particular the way the tyres will behave. It’s a lottery to some extent and the teams and drivers expect the unexpected.

I spoke to one leading engineer who said that drivers need to understand that it’s okay to stay out on degrading tyres with your rival having pitted and catching you at 2 seconds a lap, if you save a pit stop by staying out doing a few slow laps. That would have been anathema to most drivers in recent years but it’s a reality they need to get their head around today.

The sense of excitement is really palpable. The winter break was unexpectedly lengthened by the problems in Bahrain and now everyone is raring to get going.

I started the day at a Mercedes event on the coast road, where Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were upbeat. Rosberg in particular feels that his ability to make a set of tyres last longer than his rivals will count for something this year. Last year he and Jenson Button managed to extend the life of the soft tyres on numerous occasions.

Schumacher was interesting on the subject of how he will stack up against Rosberg this year and when asked how he would feel if the car won the title but in Rosberg’s hands and not his, he replied that he would be fine with it, “if that were to happen.” Then added, “I don’t think that will be the case.”

Some took that to mean that he didn’t believe Rosberg would be the one to get the most out of it – the next question was “How do you rate your team mate?” – but what he more probably meant was that he doesn’t think it’s a championship winning car. He later said that he felt it would get podiums this year and maybe a win, if they got the rub of the green, “I think this year our target and our realistic possibility would be to fight for podiums and if things go very well then maybe to win a race.

“Does this put us in a position to fight for the championship? No.”

Like many drivers, who have lost weight to allow for the KERS weight gain in the cars, Button looks stick thin, but he too is very positive. He knows that the tyres give him a chance; speaking this afternoon he said, “I said at the start that these are interesting, exciting tyres to drive and I’ve not changed my view.”

The McLaren starts behind, due to reliability problems with the exhausts, but they’re reworked the car and they have a lot of work to do tomorrow in the practice sessions to test and validate all the new parts. Rain, like we had at several points today, would not be helpful to them.

I did a TV piece for Network 10 Australia with Lewis Hamilton this afternoon and have rarely seen him more cheerful and talkative. Despite the obvious problems he had with getting the tyres to last during the testing, he believes he will fight for the championship this year, “I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and more focussed,” he said. “And when the car is at its best we’ll be in the hunt.”

Feeling the pressure of expectation from Ferrari and its fans, Fernando Alonso said that the world title is his sole objective this year, having seen it slip so painfully from his grasp at the last race last year, “I think if you race for Ferrari then there is no other goal than fighting for the world championship, that is the history of Ferrari, the power of Ferrari,” he said. “This team is about passion, motor racing and winning, obviously that is our aim, that is our goal for 2011 campaign – to try and fight for the world championship. I am sure we will be there.”

Although it’s giving something away to the Red Bull on raw pace, the Ferrari has been gentle on its rear tyres in testing and this will be crucial for Alonso and Massa’s hopes; their ace in the hand over the champion team, possibly.

It is now five years since Alonso has won a world title – 2006 – a similar gap to that which Michael Schumacher went through after his two early titles with the Enstone-based team (Benetton in his day, later known as Renault in Alonso’s). Now the weight of expectation at Ferrari in focussed on him, as it was on Schumacher in 2000. The parallels are uncanny. Schumacher got the job done that year, Alonso is up against a stronger opponent in Red Bull.

The reigning champions are arguably more determined to keep themselves on top than they were to get there in the first place. None of the key backroom engineers have left – unusual for a championship winning team. It is reported on BBC that Ferrari approached designer Adrian Newey twice last season, but he has now committed to a new three year contract at Red Bull.

Success breeds success and you sense that they’ve mentally flicked a switch, going from being the hunters to the hunted and redoubling their efforts in the process. No doubt there will be some legality rows soon, as rivals look to probe for weaknesses or illegalities.

The feeling that the Red Bull car has three or four tenths in its pocket over the next car, Ferrari, is still in the air among engineers I speak to. Some fear it may be more, we will find out on Saturday, if it’s dry, which is a big if at the moment.

Behind the scenes there are doubts and concerns, will Bahrain ever come back on the calendar, will all the teams survive the season financially, will India’s new track get finished?

But in terms of the show it’s all set up and for most, first practice cannot come soon enough.

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60 Comments
  1. Rich says:

    AMEN to that James! Will be staying up tonight for FP1. Cant wait. Anymore thought on doing ‘a day in the life of JA’ (a race weekend with JA) Would be great to read what you get up to and your schedule etc…

    Thanks for all the great content over the winter. Fantastic!!

    Rich

    1. wayne says:

      Here Here…. It’s been a long winter by any standard. This website should be applauded for the insightful and often unique content it has provided during the off months. The users of this site should also be applauded for demonstrating their knowledge of, passion for and commitment to our sport with some great posts of a standard not found on any other website to my knowledge. Thanks for an informative winter to all who produce and contribute to jamesallenonf1. Look forward to sharing an immense season with you all!

      1. Galapago555 says:

        Fully agree with wayne here: standing ovation for JAF1 site for providing us with such interesting contents during the long long off season months. Same for the users, whose passionate comments and discussions have helped to go through the winter break.

        And now let’s get everything ready for an intense F1 weeknd at last!! It’s just 10:45 hrs till FP1 begins!! :-D

      2. GP says:

        Couldn’t agree more! James adds an extra dimension that is not only informative but highly enjoyable as well.

        Now, if Red Bull doesn’t blow everybody away, we’ll have a great season.

      3. Kyle says:

        Couldn’t have put it better myself.

        The comments section on this site is the deal sealer for me.

        The fact that groups such as FOTA pay attention to comments made here by contributors stands as a testament to the quality of discourse that takes place here.

        James is truly an ambassador for the fans of F1.

      4. Chapor says:

        I can just share the wholehearted sentiment here. This site is truly amazing, and my thank you’s go out to all who comment with great insight and rationality.

        You have brought me even closer to the sport that I love so much.

        :-)

  2. goferet says:

    The last time I remember Hammy being this cheerful was before the 2008 season.

    Vettel is in real trouble for with the spotlight on the youngest defending champ that can only equal to spectacular blunders.

    Schumi is going to cause a lot of headaches taking away points from drivers that are gunning for glory in the WDC.

    I lost faith in Jenson Button’s smoothness last year for he could be out there in the lead for the longest time only to pit & come out in the same position before the others pitted.

    Alonso is no Schumacher so it’s very insulting to suggest Alonso’s career looks in any way to that of the great man

    Lets hope all this excitement in the paddock doesn’t lead to one huge pile up on the first bend – We have a lot of rookies believing in their ability

    1. For Sure says:

      Hmmm I agree that Alonso is a very different character and I must admit I prefer a guy who can take it to the chin, especially when your teammate is beating you and try to turn things around, instead of shouting at your boss and demand Number 1 status etc..That just one of the many things why Alonso can’t be compared to Schumi.

      BUT that’s not the point. Alonso does have a similar CV to Schumi, well, so far.
      So the expectations are there and the pressure is on him. And that’s why he keep saying how he admired Schumi blur blur because the boots are too large for him to fill.

      What I find a little harsh is that “Alonso got stronger opponent in Red Bull”
      Well, I am not sure you know. MS had Hakkien in Maclaren who beat him twice and a normal champion would have been mentally buried by then.

      1. Joe S says:

        What James meant by that was that McLaren, like eveyone else, were rather weak in 2000. It wasn’t so much that Ferrari done the best job, but that no one else got that near them. Same as 2002 and 2004.

      2. James Allen says:

        Thanks, that is right.

    2. Dave C says:

      You’re right in saying Alonso is no Schumi, career success has been similar for Alonso’s road so far but it looks like he’s about to hit a brick wall as the real MS successor Vettel is on track to match the legend, I somehow doubt Alonso can win 5 world titles for Ferrari or win 60+ races for Ferrari either, now some might say Schumacher had less competition but I disagree, he had to race against faster Mclarens and Williams in early years before Ferrari had the best car between 2002-2004 and he also had to fight the fastest raw speed guy ever in Hakkinen and beat him in an inferior car so as strong as Alonso is he’s no match for the great Schumacher, no one is.

  3. Philip Iszatt says:

    All incredibly exciting: testing outcomes mean nothing now! It’s ging to be a great great season- so long as we stop Bernie having crazy ideas like sprinklers! Always always the racing has to be credible and authentic for supporters to enjoy the genuine uncertainties.

  4. Dan says:

    Excited … not looking forward to the 4am start on Saturday though!

    1. gareth says:

      Coming from an Aussie – take a concrete pill and harden up! We have had to0 stay up at times very late for years to watch races live, I’m sure you can cope with just this one! Hope it’s a cracker and it’s worth the early wake up for you!

  5. james b says:

    I remain sceptical about the theory that Button’s ability to make his tyres last gives him an advantage. Yes in some circumstances it may work but over 19 races I think the fastest driver normally wins. I hope i’m wrong as he is a decent chap!

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      My impression was that McLaren struggled to make this quality of Jenson’s count last year, almost as if they didn’t understand it, or how to use it. Anyone else have thoughts on this ?

      1. Chapor says:

        What I think counted against Button was the fact that the tyres were bullet proof. They took whatever punishment and just kept on going. Almost whole race distances on soft tyres can attest to that. This year being kind to your tyres will give you an advantage. IMHO.
        :-)

      2. james b says:

        I don’t think having Hamilton as his teammate helps. I think Mclaren have given him a great opportunity but more often than not Hamilton does that bit more. In commentary today Coulthard commented how smooth Hamilton was driving and I think for me this is the issue, Button doesn’t have the pace of Ham and more often than not the faster driver wins. That said Button is no slouch it’s just he is up against Hamilton!

  6. CGM says:

    P’haps I’m being a bit cynical but does LH’s comment that “When the car is at is best we’ll be in the hunt” really mean “This car is not currently at its best and we won’t be in the hunt” ? Sorta sounds like he is leaving the door open for a poor showing ! Time will tell, can’t wait for them to hit the track.

  7. john brink says:

    Hi Guys, Dont worry, Bernie will have blow dryers at the tracks for when it is a wet race !!!!!
    Cant wait for 3h20 tomorrow morning. James you are doing a sterling job. Go Schumi.

  8. Adam Taylor says:

    Another great insight for the start of the season, physically cant wait to see and hear the cars in action again.

    Following on from the S-Works Venge bike piece the other day, did you find out if the drivers had a bike given to Hamilton or Button to use in preparation for the season, and if so what they thought of it?

  9. Fluebroggle says:

    I looked at this website yesterday afternoon and the last article was “my thoughts as I board the plane….”.

    I looked again this morning and four new articles have appeared in the meantime! Did you write all these on the 20 hour flight over?! Couldn’t sleep?

  10. Lilla My says:

    To say that I’m excited is like to say nothing at all! I want the night to come already.
    I hope Rosberg’ll win a race this year – I think he deserves it.
    And I’ve always thought about Schumacher’s and Alonso’s careers as being very similar. I’d like it to stay this way with Alonso following Schuey’s footspetps with Ferrari ;-)

  11. Ben G says:

    Can’t wait. And a hearty thanks for helping us go cold turkey through the off season.

  12. Thebe says:

    James,
    The first race of the season is here I am particularly interested to see which car can make its tyres last longer. There has been a lot of discussion on tyres and the general view is that, race strategy will play a significant role in this year’s championship these are all things that I want to see for this weekend.From testing I have been curious about tyres , car setup is another thing Id like insight on, I am wondering how teams set up their cars to look after the tyres during a race weekend.

    1. James Allen says:

      I think everyone will

  13. Derek Lorimer says:

    Welcome to Melbourne James. The weather is typical for this time of year. Did you see the footage of Jenson at Bathurst. Can you imagine what the racing would be like if the Australian Grand Prix was held on a real racing circuit.

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      Dream on mate. Those days are gone.

  14. irish con says:

    i alway love getting up early for the first race of the season. so im glad bahrain was cancelled sort of. just feels more like the way it should be for the first race. come on ferrari and fernando. bring it hard right from the start this year.

    1. Chris Acton says:

      Could not agree more! I like the extra effort required for Oz and I am glad it’s the opener again dispite the reason.

      Really hope they find a way to keep it on the calendar.

  15. Sebee says:

    Like having a friend with All Access pass tell you what hapened today. I hope this daily report format if not a tease and it remains going forward.

  16. DanielS says:

    It feels right to me to be starting in Australia – like the good old days. I for one won’t miss the bland, faceless Bahrain race in the least.

    I think we’ll see an upset this weekend though – if the Red Bulls have been sand-bagging a little bit in practice the car probably hasn’t been pushed to the limit in the same way as, say, the Ferrari. I would not be surprised – given their mechanical record last year – if something went on the car in one of the early races.

    I might have a sneaky bet on Schumacher; good odds, a car that looks like it might have a bit of pace, and the potential for RBR to mess it up (as they nearly did last year).

    1. devilsadvocate says:

      Or alternatively they were running flat out on twice as much fuel as Ferrari in which case, I’m excited… Being an RBR fan and all

  17. Franko says:

    Ferrari all the way,
    Reason, A, Alonso factor,and B
    The KERS,Ferrari has perfected it
    to its ultimate,note the Red bull is
    racing for the first time with it.
    It’s Renault system and they had a lot
    of problem with it.

    1. StallionGP F1 says:

      but what you forget is the redbull was the fastest non kers car in 2009 and if he builds another beast d kers might be there and it wont get used

  18. Adam Tate says:

    A very well articulated piece James, reading it has only increased my excitement that in just a few more hours time the cars will hit the track!

  19. Stephen Morgan says:

    As it’s on at 2am Sunday morning eastern time where I live (NC), it’s the DVR for me. Now, I really must pay attention when I set it up ;-)

  20. Stephen Morgan says:

    James, I think the idea of “a day in the life of JA’ is a fantastic idea. Please go for it.

  21. Stephen Morgan says:

    I’ve always felt that the drivers who finish outside the top three are neglected. I enjoy the post race interviews but I wish someone (JA?) who take the time to talk to the fourth through, say, tenth place drivers and get their stories. There are many occasions when some of the best action occurs outside the top three positions.

    1. BBC’s coverage usually features sound bites from lower placed drivers. Unfortunately, of course, BBC’s coverage is only available to people living in the UK.

      On a totally unrelated topic, proxy servers are very interesting things…

  22. Qiang says:

    James,
    About tire degradation, do you think it is linearly proportional to speed? In other word, if the driver is lapping 1 sec slow than the maximum, will he able to get the sec back in the later stage purely from the tire?

    1. James Allen says:

      I asked Pedro de la Rosa that and he said not to a significant degree

  23. Lalit says:

    T-7h:19m
    Each hour is going slower than previous (thank god there is a cricket world cup going on to distract me)

  24. I’ll be out in the freezing cold at 4am on Sunday morning having my pre-GP bbq. :)

  25. fausta says:

    I hope Alonso does what Michael did at Ferrari. We all have our favorites.

    The winter break has been painfully long and it will be great to finally see some action.

  26. “None of the key backroom engineers have left – unusual for a championship winning team”

    Why is that, James? You’d think they’d stick around in a system that’s clearly working, no?

    1. James Allen says:

      No, what tends to happen is that rivals come looking to poach engineers who’ve made a difference. Often one or two leave for a higher salary, job title. It’s significant that RBR has held on to key people

  27. Darren says:

    Im getting excited now, Im away all weekend though :( nightmare.

    Hope you dont mind me posting a link James but I found a guys blog that does some really good stuff on the technical side.

    http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/

    Some really interesting observations

  28. Gavin Pendergrast NZ says:

    James, do you have any thoughts on Bernie’s distaste for the new engine formula? He seems to be pretty convinced that it’s a bad idea. Can you see this regulation changing before 2013? What options do he and the teams have to force a the FIA to rethink?

  29. Pinball says:

    My girlfriend got an autograph from Hamilton yesterday. I have never been a huge fan of Hamilton, but he seemed like a really nice guy. Same with Alonso, he was signing autographs for people, and was really friendly. Later on in the day we saw on Alonso the big screen TV’s being interviewed, and he seemed kind of grumpy like he normally comes across on TV, but in person he seemed like a really nice guy.

  30. Andy C says:

    Excellent that its FP1 tomorrow. What a long winter.

    James, re our email conv last week, I still havent heard anything as yet from the contact you gave me.

    Thanks and have a great race weekend
    Andy

    P.S for everyones mutual amusement, heres a tweet from earlier on HRTs arrival in Oz.

    @jaf1tweets @f1fanatic_co_uk @BadgerGP @ScarbsF1 HRT arrive in Oz with work to complete the car. http://t.co/demqxoz

  31. rick says:

    DEAR MR ALLEN,MAY I ASK YOU A QUESTION,HOW BROAD IS THE SMILE ON SCHUMI’S FACE??????????? HE COULD’NT COULD HE? NOT REALLY, BIG UPGRADE,TOP OF THE SHEET IN BARCA,3 OR 4 PIT STOPS PER RACE THIS YEAR, ROSS BRAWN IN CHARGE SURELY NOT 2011 CHAMPIONSHIP NO 8

  32. Don Clayton says:

    As I am lucky enough to live just 150km from Albert Park, I will be standing with my head over the fence just before the braking point for turn 13 when P1 starts. One of the greatest spectacles in world sport – cannot wait!

    1. RickeeBoy says:

      Talk about sticking yer neck out !!!!

  33. matt says:

    Forecast for practice today is “Cloudy. Scattered showers, becoming more isolated in the afternoon. Winds south to southwesterly averaging up to 35 km/h. 20 Degrees”

    Saturday qualifying will probably be rain free- “Mostly cloudy. Isolated showers during the morning. Winds southerly averaging up to 25 km/h. 21 Degrees ”

    And the race forecast looks great- “Sunny. Light winds tending mainly northwesterly up to 20 km/h during the afternoon. 25 degrees”

    This website has the rain radar for those overseas who are interested. http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDR024.loop.shtml#skip

    - the track is right where it says “St Kilda”

  34. Pete Johnson says:

    With the 107% rule I have a couple of questions.

    1 What happens if Q1 is wet then Q3 is dry? Some or all of the guys who didn’t make it through to Q2, and even some who did, may be outside the 107%.
    How has the FIA allowed for this?

    2 Is it the pole position time that the 107% is based on or the fastest time in qualifying. Sometimes they are not the same thing.

    Cheers

  35. Nico says:

    Hi James,

    The Renault sounded very strange in slow speed corners today, almost like an ignition cut form of TC. Do you know anything about it?

    Also did you notice the Red Bulls are much quieter through the entire rev range compared to other cars? They must have some long pipes!

    Nico.

    1. James Allen says:

      The Renault sounds amazing thanks to those exhausts exiting at the front of the sidepods

  36. RickeeBoy says:

    Perez the total Rookie – gets 8th in Practise 2 in his second session – Biggest shock of the session in a Sauber. Congrats.

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