F1 Winter Break
Flat out on the Straits
Flat out on the Straits
Posted By:   |  31 Mar 2009   |  3:12 am GMT  |  41 comments

After an overnight flight from Melbourne I arrived at the hotel in Kuala Lumpur at 8am to find that my room isn’t ready. That’s okay, there is a pool for later, a decent restaurant and a pretty good wireless signal in the main cafe area, so here I am. It’s hot here, as you’d expect, but blessedly quite overcast which takes the edge off it.

It’s a new hotel on me, Port Dickson overlooks the Malacca Straits and it’s about half an hour’s drive into the track. It’s a lot better than the place we used to stay with ITV, which was like Las Vegas. Here we are tranquil, can reflect on the events of the last few days. On the way in the car, we passed through lots of rubber tree and oil plant plantations, trees as far as the eye can see. We also passed two Chinese cemeteries and my cab driver pointed out that the Chinese tradition is to spend BIG money on a headstone. Even normal working people have a tomb to satisfy a movie star or a monarch !

We had to pass the Sepang circuit to get here and I asked him what the Malays think of the race and the track these days. He said that they are still proud of the event, of the fact that it is putting the country on the world map. Most people cannot afford to go, but they support the idea of it.

Like I said, the cafe at this hotel is the only place you can get wifi and so that’s where myself, Anthony Davidson and Radio 5 Live producer Jason Swales are working.

Judging from the comments I’ve seen on the web in the last few days, the 5 live commentary team have gone down a storm back in the UK, particularly with their work on the red button for BBC TV during the practice sessions. I’m pleased for Ant. He’d rather be driving, like any racing driver, but he’s a brilliant communicator, as I discovered when I did that 2006 Hungarian GP with him, Jenson Button’s only previous win before Sunday.

He’s got a great eye for what a car is doing and he’s able to communicate that to his audience.

There are about a dozen of us here in Port Dickson, journos, a couple of of the McLaren communications people and some photgraphers. Many of them have been coming here for years. Tonight there will be a good vibe in the bar. There is a camaraderie among people on the road. We miss our families and very much appreciate their support, but most of us share the same reasons for being here and are passionate about the sport and what we do.

We will stay here today, working, then go into the track tomorrow to see what’s new. I expect to see some new parts flown out for some of the big teams. They stick them in the hold of the passenger plane, pay the excess baggage charge and just get on with it. Many is the time I’ve helped out some poor engineer, who has three trolleys with front wings, rear wings or gearboxes in huge flight cases!

All the teams are chasing the Brawn’s performance at the moment. I was thinking back to my chat with Jenson yesterday afternoon. He now goes to a race expecting to win, rather than merely hoping to, as he did in 2004 and 2006, the only times he’s had a competitive F1 car. I’m pleased for him, because most F1 drivers never get to know that feeling, it’s only the household name who do.

Red Bull has the hardest job to copy the diffuser concept because it doesn’t fit their design at all. Ferrari too have a lot of rejigging to do.

Sepang is more of a proper race track than Albert Park and this will allow the Brawn to stretch its legs a bit more. I guess that the Red Bull will give chase again and I’m sure we’ll see more from Ferrari there. Williams and Toyota failed to take advantage of a quick car in Melbourne, we’ll see if they are similarly competitive here. You have to take your chances when they come and Rosberg fastest race lap showed that the Williams was easily capable of repeating its podium of last year, but niggly problems took that away from them. It’s so tight in the group behind Brawn that teams have to grab every chance they get.

We saw on Sunday that getting the car to look after both the hard and soft tyres is critical to success. That will be the thing to look out for on Friday in practice.

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Hi James,

was good to meet you last weekend in Melbourne, I was the guy whom you borrowed some sunscreen from in the paddock, hope you didn't get to burnt.
Just to add that you were missed from the TV coverage, the new guy ain't a patch on you!

Thanks again for the chat on Sunday.


Interesting comment about Sepang being a 'proper' racetrack James. Could you elaborate a little? I must admit that after watching Jenson zoom off into the distance during the first couple of laps in Australia, I was surprised that the Brawn didn't flex its muscles more (relative to Red Bull). Was this just a tyre-warming issue?


I also found myself tuning into the 5live commentary and thought ant was very good. On the lead commentary role you were missed as we were left underwhelmed at such an exciting race.

loving the blog and the insights we don't get elsewhere. I hope that the brawn domination continues for a while, its good to see Mclaren and Ferrari struggling (its clear they wont for long)


James, thanks for this awesome site that I head to a few time each day, to get your insights into whats going on with the teams and behind the scenes.

Best of all, these little snippets you give about the stuff that's not directly related to F1, like in this article, are what makes this unique!

Being able to watch only Star Sports, I've only heard of your ITV "reputation", but what you're doing now is just fantastic! Keep it up for us 🙂


I have a rude question for you, James. We share a surname so perhaps I will be allowed to ask it - plus, I have been resident in the States during your F1 commentating days for ITV and so don't really have an axe to grind (I'm just interested, that's all). My rather long-winded question is this:

From what I read on the net, it would seem that you came in for an awful lot of flak for your commentary style in F1. Most of the comments I have seen over the years have been ummm, uncomplimentary, although your writing has received general approval. A large part of the criticism centred upon an apparently slavish worship of Hamilton and the resultant over-concentration on him in the broadcasts.

I have noticed that many are remarking on the fact that the Hamilton mania has gone, now that you are writing this blog, and so I wonder whether the style of your commentary for ITV was ordered by policy or compulsion from on high.

As I said, it's a rude question and one you may not wish to answer - I will certainly understand if you don't. But it seems only fair that you should give your side to the discussion, now that you have a little more freedom.


Looking forward to your Sepang reports! By the way, James, it's "Malaysian" not "Malays". Unless you really mean just the ethnic Malays (prob. about 55% of the population in the state of Selangor), and not the Malaysian Chinese, Indians, etc. as well.


Having found this website though the ITV site it is giving a huge insight into how the whole circus of F1 moves round.

They regard me as an F1 anorak at work but who cares...this is great stuff!!

Keep up the fantastic updates James

Oh and the Twitter feed is pretty good too!


I did a web search a couple of weeks before the season started just to see which F1 commentary team we might have here in New Zealand this year. I was sad to see you're no longer alongside Martin Brundle. I always thought you did a terrific job filling Murray's enormous shoes.

I'm sure no one wants to see the internet crowd start a vendetta against your replacement, but watching the race on Sunday I felt as if something wasn't quite right; like watching the Tour de France with Paul Sherwen, but no Phil Liggert.

Anyway, all the best. Hopefully this is not how the story ends!


Hello James. Half an hour from Port Dickson to the track? Thats unlikely, you need at least half an hour of driving time. If you stay in a town called Seremban, maybe.

Take note that the Chinese are visiting their ancestor's grave site over the weekend. Since you are driving pass TWO sites, I urge you to start your journey early. Except delays and traffic.


I would like to pick up on your comment about Ferrari having a lot of work to do if they are going to change their diffuser. Now you'll probably be able to correct me on my facts here but I seem to remember reading a while back that Brawn decided to take the Mercedes Engine (and possibly gearbox?) over the Ferrari because it was a better fit for their car.
So would I be correct in assuming that the Brawn's rear diffuser had a big part to play in the Mercedes engine fitting better and therefore would it be too big a presumption to think that Mclaren should therefore have an easier job of updating their diffuser?

Obviously this is all assuming the FIA doesn't do what it does best and turn a perfectly good racing spectacle into a legal farce by banning the diffuser and taking points off everyone that has used one...

Really like the blog, it's a very refreshing and honest insight into the less seen side of F1.


Nice Blog James!

Really good scene set for this weekend, the insight into your surroundings & the feel of being part of a large team on a year long adventure are fascinating!

It's this behind the scenes stuff that us regular fans really struggle to get a feel for, excellent stuff


Have to agree about the Five Live Team they are fantastic. To be honest I got so tired of Legard, I switched over to the radio guys half way through. I missed Martin, but Anthony is cut from the same cloth.

Jason is a great guy too, he indulges a lot of us on the Autosport forums and shares a lot of info with us. He's someone that really cares about the sport and is a passionate fan too. I think that really comes through on-air, you know, that's why the Five Live coverage is so universally excellent.

Great background piece this, I do wonder what you think, though, James about the perverse situation we have with the looming development war. There's talk coming out of Italy of Ferrari basically bringing a new car to Barcelona and throwing close to €20 million at the gearbox project. McLaren, no doubt, will be spending just as much.

Ferrari and McLaren are perhaps uniquely placed to spend this much, but I can't see BMW sitting on their hands either.

I guess my point is this - while the diffuser is wholly legal according to the letter of the regs - it is completely outside the spirit of the regs in terms of creating additional downforce and creating more disturbed air behind the car.

Then there's the cost element of teams spending, combined, hundreds of millions of euros to develop new rear-ends only for that development work to go in the bin next year.

I just wonder if some real-politik is going to go on here. It's going to be hard for Mosley to talk about cutting costs when teams are going about like this. And it's hard to make the case for KERS when the extra power doesn't outweigh (heh!) the car balance drawbacks.

Anyway, I must say despite being a one-eyed Ferrari fan, I'm finding this season to be utterly compelling. This may well be where F1 'jumps the shark' as we witness the last no-hold bars development war.

From next season I doubt you will see teams able to just roll out what is basically a new car in the space of 6 weeks.

Anyway, love your work, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!


Hi James,

I've heard there was a possibility for a wet race in Malaysia? Could you please confirm?

I do agree that the pairing Croft/Davidson works wonders.

Let's hope Anthony can find a seat next year though. You can hear there's this regret of not knowing what having a great car is.


Another great piece on the life of the travelling circus they you and many others have called the F1 circus.

Thanks for the insight!


It's still strange to hear that the Brawns are the cars to beat,isn't it,James?I don't think I'd ever get used to it this whole season.

And James,while we're at it,I wanna ask a stupid question : Is there an easier way to follow your twitter than to continuosly hitting the refresh button on my browser? I'm not used to twitter,and it's pretty hard to watch the race,watching the live timing chart and the commentary on formula1.com,listening to the commentators on TV and trying to explain the race to my younger brother.I kept forgetting to check out your twitter...Hehe...


Hi James, first of all thank you for the great blog. Would it be possible to insert more pics of "behind the scene", please? The official sites usually get the same photos and cover mainly the race weekends, it would be great to see some "lifestyle" photos e.g Ferrari team travelling together etc. It is a kind of niche blog already. Also, in the name of the not native English readers, I'd like to appologise for any misspelling and language troubles, hope you don't mind us to comment anyway.


Anthony Davidson - such a shame that he's not driving one of the Brawn cars.. that's where he should be. Rubens out, Anthony in. The old Brazilian needs to hang his helmet up as far as I'm concerned.

Didn't hear Anthony's commentary on Sunday.. will definitely check it out for Malaysia.


In spite of my critical comments about implied bias last time I commented on your blog, James, I agree with most of your contributors....yours is the best background/insight F1 blog as far as I'm concerned !

No-one else gives us that 'insider' feel that your stories and anecdotes do ! And it's what us real fans need so much. We get an enormous amount of PR doctored statements from 'official' sites and elsewhere. Most of it is cr*p.

Please keep up the first class work.


The 5Live commentary might have gone down a storm but the TV commentary was awful in my view.

Legard sounded just like he was actually on 5Live (I know he used to cover F1 in the late 90s) describing the scenes we could see without informing us of what was actually going on tactically, lap times etc

That role was left to the brilliant Brundle who must be beside himself with a football man like Legard next to him.

It was notably embarrassing when Brundle explained the lap times of Button related to Kubica and there was a silence from Legard which prompted Martin to ask "do you understand what the point I'm making?"

The start was equally as bad when he told us there were a couple of Ferraris that had got themselves up the field into fourth and fifth. I know the Ferraris look similar but Massa has a lime green helmet and Kimi a red one.

Bring back Murray or that guy who did it for ITV.


Hi James -- have been following your blog the last couple of weeks and thought I'd pop in and leave a comment to say what an excellent job you've been doing. The last season and a half I really enjoyed reading Ed Gorman's candid views on the sport in his Times Online blog but this season he seems to be mailing it in but thankfully you've filled the void just fine.

I really enjoyed your tv commentary and wonder if you've put any thought into doing a pod cast every now and then from the paddock? I think it would be a real hit.

Keep up the good work


Forgot to say that is how my dad used to enjoy cricket and he wasn't the only one that did that.


I wonder, is it just the British that watch the TV with the sound off and listen to the radio commentary? 🙂


Clive I disagree. It wasn't a large majority of British fans that disliked James' commentary. As ever it was a very vocal _minority_. Take this site for example - you could get 20 or 30 of us expressing the same opinion but that doesn't mean that it's an opinion shared by any kind of majority. Take the Viewers And Listeners Association as an example - vocal but clearly not supported by the majority or British TV would have been a good deal tamer than it is.


No, I am not talking about Planet F1. It is not on my list of sites to visit daily since I dislike its glitzy interface and style. Most of my impressions come from the comments on F1 Fanatic, other good blogs and a few forums (I am not really a forum person but read them occasionally).

I am surprised that you never noticed the quantity of anti-James opinion out there; as an innocent bystander, it seemed widespread to me. Perhaps we read different sites.

And you are quite right about the worm turning - already I detect a longing for James' return from some of F1 Fanatic's commenters. Such is the fickle nature of humanity, it seems.


Let me explain a bit further since it seems I was not clear enough. I am English but have lived in the States for several years now and have had no opportunity to hear James' commentary as a result, apart from snippets from the occasional video that evades Bernie's attention to YouTube. I have no opinion, therefore, and am only pointing out the general feeling I observe in blogs and forums.

Naturally I have taken into account the fact that some, at least, of the criticism will have come from Hamilton haters. There was still a large majority of British fans who appeared to dislike James' commentary, however. There were few who rose to his defence and I thought it would be interesting to hear his opinion on the matter, if he noticed it at all.

Incidentally, I try not to allow my own nationality to affect my assessment of F1 drivers. Even so and after watching Lewis at work for a couple of years now, my opinion is that he is the best of the current drivers and likely only to get better. For a long time, too, I have hoped that Button would get the car necessary to show his true ability and am glad that at last he seems to have exactly that.

I do not have to go back to look at either Senna's or Schumacher's styles - I remember them both well. It is only fair to point out that, in my opinion, Senna was the greatest driver who ever lived and he can do no wrong in my eyes. So you may call me biased (but not by nationality) on that score and I will add my dislike of Ferrari. But that's it.


ITV was the Lewis Hamilton show. As I've mentioned on here before, you only have to listen to Brazil 2007 to gauge that. Listen to how excited they are when Kimi Raikkonen takes the title, or how much they talk about a potential collision between the BMWs and Rosberg that might give Hamilton the title.

I think the BBC's coverage so far indicates that selling Hamilton to the UK isn't the only way to go about broadcasting F1 to the people in Britain.


Yes i agree a podcast would be good!


He probably means it's a purpose built facility rather than some roads around a large park which get converted once a year.


You can't please all of the people all of the time (gosh, and I hate clichés).

James Allen, like Legard, will always have his detractors. If one group of people petition to get James back, another group will petition to keep him out.

I miss his commentary and think he did a better job than Murray Walker (which, for many people, is a sacrilegious thing to say in the UK), but I doubt if we will see him back behind the mic on TV again. Reckon he is doing very well outside the constraints of a TV contract, and he is dealing with an audience that seeks him out and enjoys his work ... without having to subject himself and his family to all the silly playground-style snide remarks that people throw around in forums.

In commentating/journalism terms, James Allen is (IMO) enjoying a renaissance this season that is pretty much on a par with what Brawn is doing in F1. Looks like a season when two Brits turn circumstances into personal triumphs and one Brit might turn what looked like the end of his F1 career into a WDC.

James has published another article today about Hamilton and never giving up ... wonder if, in part, it is a valedictory address to the TV people and a nod to the rest of us that success is possible if we keep on trying. He mentions his son in the article .... expect both dad and son must have had some tough months in the public eye ....


How can you say such a thing? Barrichello is the perfect driver for a team like Brawn. He outdrove Jenson last year and it would have been a scandalous, money making exercise taking on board Bruno Senna, who isn't that good a racer. Davidson IS far more talented and deserving of that race seat.


James Allen was never biased towards Hamilton and nor did he worship him. That was the view of many paranoid little people. And if he was talking a lot about Hamilton then it's quite obviously because the last 2 years it has all been about Hamilton. ITV gained new viewers thanks to the Hamilton effect so had to make sure those viewers interests were being catered for. I've watched f1 for years and I never ever remembered James shouting something like "YES, LEWIS IS GOING TO WIN IT!". He had equal praise for the likes of Alonso, Massa and Raikonnen as well. In fact on the last race of last season, James showed more commiseration and praise for Massa than Hamilton. It just so happens that many of those who criticise James, ran away from F1 when Schumacher and Ferrari dominated things and then crawled back once their dominance was over. Those people are in a minority and were a vicious bunch who made their voices loud. Most of us would like to see James back commentating.


I watched every race shown on ITV F1 over it's tenure and I certainly do not think their coverage was biased. You have to remember that they are a British company and when a Brit does well it is the big story. The Hamilton years naturally created in the UK a big demand for information on this new found British talent. ITV had a duty of care to respond.

Imagine the coverage that Felipe Massa must have received in Brazil last season (and rightly so). I would expect no different from any country with a title contender. Don't imagine for one moment that Michael Schumacher wasn't on German TV during every race in his dominant years.

As a Welshman who loves the game of rugby I am used to the highs and lows of international sport. I well remember how much attention the English world cup win generated at the expense of the other home nations but what else would you expect? They were World Champions. Wales' recent Grand Slam exploits have seen the positions reversed. It is the nature of sport.

The Olympics and International Football is no different. ITV and BBC pundits regulary refer to England as 'us' and the opposition as 'them'. The same is happening in reverse in the country of their opponents.

ITV were given the task of reporting F1 to the UK. A pre-requisit of such a task is to tailor the coverage to the audience. Considering the overwhelming interest in Hamilton in 2007 and 2008 I thought they did really well in presenting such a balanced approach.


listen to rpaco and finn....I think they are the blogs biggest readers/comments


Are you talking about a certain Planet F1? They're all now turning their attention to Legard, the fickle lot.

Never noticed any particular bias to be honest. He was fighting for the the championship, so what do you expect? It would have been just the same in 1996 if we had today's quality of coverage.

The ironic thing is that a certain website is now complaining that Hamilton was ignored in the commentary!


James never showed a slavish devotion to Hamilton. Since Hamilton was either leading or second for most of the season he got mentioned a lot. His team was in contention for the team championship as well. So not to have mentioned him very frequently as he did also Massa almost equally would have been dereliction of duty.
Also note UK we had a British driver who was leading the WDC and lost it by one point the previous year. So naturally the British press interviewed Lewis a lot. In comparison to the hyped up mania that the USA provides for it's stars I think we remain somewhat subdued.
Oh and yes we will be interviewing Jenson a lot this year! Many of us Brits want him to win. We shall also see much more of Lewis's legendary passing skills as we did in Oz. Poor guy couldn't do anything right for some of you, if he overtook he was aggressive if not he was weak. Go back and look at how aggressive Schumacher and Senna were, Lewis is polite when compared to those two giants.


I'd agree that James was pretty level headed about Hamilton, though clearly he had to talk to his ITV audience about Lewis as that is what the audience wanted in part.

I think ITV in its preamble went OTT and became rather too fawning, to the point that its programming was ingratiatingly nauseous and unbalanced. Yes, Lewis was one on the main drivers, but ITV seemed to lose any sense of balance and left fans being overloaded by some coverage that was pure Lewis trivia, while not giving them anything at all about other drivers, teams or tech aspects of the sport.


I have to agree with Marco here. The BBC is doing a good job and we may need some time to adjust however something is misssing. That is James.

On the positive side, I quite like DC and Jordan, their comments are fresh air from last year.


I'd agree with that Marco!!

And the TdF too. It would all sound wrong!!


But Brawn are using their own gearbox and not the Merc one, so that may well be significant in the design of the back end.


Hi Justin,

As far as I understand it Brawn only use the Mercedes engine, not their gearbox. Brawn was considering using Ferrari engines but found that they didn't fit in the car they'd built. It would have been impossible to change the car to fit the engine so they went to mercedes and it was a perfect fit! Nice and small, requiring no aero reshuffle at the rear. Ferrari made some statement responding to stories about them supplying Honda/Brawn saying there was no such deal. I think this was trying to save face as Ross had made the decision not to use Ferrari engines.

Yes I hope too that it doesn't turn into a legal farce, however, if you look back over just the last 3 or 4 years, there has been a huge legal controversy every year!! 2006 - Dampers, 2007 Spygate, 2008 Mosely Scandal and Spa Gate.

I can't wait to get past the hearing, then I can relax again and fully enjoy the racing. What happened to Trulli....shouldn't have!

lower-case david

James, go and noise-up Swales in the bar, see about getting one of the 5-live free-practise gigs; the more leisurely pacing would be an ideal venue for a lot of the background-stories, insights and smart juicy stuff that only us blog-readers are currently enjoying.

a coupla roofies, he wont even remember signing the contract.

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