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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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60comments

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1

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

2

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.

3

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

4

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

5

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”

6

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!

7

Talk about sticking yer neck out !!!!

8

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

9

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

10

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.

11
Gavin Pendergrast NZ

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?

12

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

13

“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?

14

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

15

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.

16

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

17

T-7h:19m

Each hour is going slower than previous (thank god there is a cricket world cup going on to distract me)

18

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?

19

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

20

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.

21

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

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

23

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 😉

24

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!

25

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.

26

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

27

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).

28

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

29

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.

30

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.

31

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.

32

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.

33

Dream on mate. Those days are gone.

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