2012 Australian Grand Prix

I originally wrote this article for VeloceToday.com, and it can be found here on their website. I extend my utmost thanks to them for allowing me to re-post it here on anygivenreason.com.

Formula 1 has always been the holy grail of motorsport. It doesn’t matter if you’re a driver, an engineer, an official or even just a spectator, the FIA’s premiere category has an attraction that no true motor racing fan can deny. It was this magnetic-like pull that brought me to Melbourne for the opening round of the 2012 season. Being there live is a world class experience. No matter how many cameras are used to televise the event, no TV coverage can match. In many respects, TV does a very poor job of portraying what actually makes Formula 1 so special.

One of the best parts of a Grand Prix weekend comes at the first Friday practice session. You’ve been reading up on the developments made by the teams and drivers over the European winter, and you anxiously stand on the side of the track as the FIA officials make their final circuit inspections. As soon as the clock ticks the hour and pit lane opens, the whole circuit is flooded with the piercing howl of the high tech V8’s as they’re unleashed for the first time this season. No matter how many times you’ve been before, the cornering speed and sheer volume of that first car to go speeding past is staggering.

It’s not just the race or the cars that make attending a Grand Prix such a unique experience. It’s the little things you notice, the minor details that differentiate a grand prix from local racing. The logos of international broadcasters on shipping containers, spotting Mark Webber’s reserved parking space in the car park, a group of Scuderia Ferrari engineers discussing setup as they walk in from their hotel in the morning and the beautiful, rich and powerful people who come to watch the race from their corporate boxes. It’s hearing the rumor spread amongst the crowd that Damon Hill is currently doing a track walk. It’s constantly trying to devise a foolproof plan to gain access to the exclusive F1 paddock. It’s all this and so much more that makes attending a race such a memorable event.

The on-track action at the Australian Grand Prix certainly didn’t disappoint, and the feeling of energy pulsing through the crowd was electric going into qualifying. Much has been made of Red Bull’s dominance last season, but general opinion was that the rules had remained static enough over the off season to allow teams with the resources of McLaren and Ferrari to catch up. The qualifying session in Melbourne would be the first real test. Lewis Hamilton set a blistering pole time closely followed by his McLaren teammate, Jenson Button. It seemed the era of Red Bull dominance may be over.

After qualifying, another aspect of the weekend not shown on SpeedTV was the Shannons Historic Demonstration. Run as the first event each day, 60 significant sports and racing cars took to the Grand Prix circuit to stretch their legs while awed spectators, young and old, looked on. Notable cars in the demonstration included Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari 156/85 F1 turbo, an Alfa Romeo 2300 Monza, a trio of Ferrari 275GTB’s and a Talbot Lago T26C GP. The relaxed atmosphere of the demonstration carried on into the paddock, where spectators were free to view the cars in detail and talk to their drivers, all to the accompaniment of a live jazz quartet.

 

The Australian Ferrari clubs came together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Ferrari in Australia with 60 Ferrari’s on display just behind the main straight. The entire span of Australian Ferrari history was on display in chronological order, starting with another 275GTB and a pair of Daytonas, Dinos and Berlinetta Boxers, F40s, 355s and 360 Challenges, 458’s and the new FF. The line culminated in a contrasting pair of ultra-exotic 599 GTO’s. 

Hugh Harrison was racing his Alfa Romeo GTV6 Group A in the historic racing class for Group A and Group C cars. This is possibly the most famous GTV in Australia, and was built by the Alfa Romeo factory as a Group A racer. It competed in the Australian Touring Car Championship and at Bathurst in 1985, where it finished an incredible 8th outright with Colin Bond behind the wheel. It used a 250bhp 2.5L V6 originally, but it’s since been converted to a 3.3L V6 producing around 320bhp.

As interesting as the support categories and the off track attractions are, the thousands of spectators were all eagerly awaiting the Formula 1 race. As the Australian national anthem finished and an F1 liveried Qantas 747 jumbo jet made low and slow passes over the circuit, the teams fired up the highly-strung engines of the 22 cars on the grid and they were away on their warm up lap. The grid was two drivers short – both HRT drivers failed to qualify within 107% of the pole position time, so were therefore excluded from the race. Development of their car was so rushed that they weren’t able to complete any pre-season testing before arriving in Melbourne.

 

We were all cheering for the two Aussies in the field, Mark Webber for Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo, racing for the Toro Rosso team in his first full season in F1. Despite qualifying 5th Webber had one of his (unfortunately) trademark slow starts, which dropped him back in the field. However, he won a fantastic battle in the closing stages of the race to see him finish one position up in 4th. Ricciardo was caught up in a first corner incident and had to pit on the first lap for a new front wing, but managed to recover and even passed his teammate on the last lap to score points by finishing 9th.

Michael Schumacher had a disappointing race for Mercedes when he suffered a gearbox problem that caused him to run off the track at turn 1. A lot has been made of Schumacher’s comeback. If one judges success in numbers you’d conclude that his comeback has been a failure. But to be honest, I don’t see it that way. Nobody doubts that Schumacher is one of the best, but a lot of his success back in the Ferrari days could also be attributed to the “dream team” of Schumacher, technical director Ross Braun, team principle Jean Todt and chief designer Rory Byrne. Last weekend in Melbourne, I saw in Schumacher a man that has a genuine passion for Grand Prix racing who simply couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch. You could see in his facial expressions that he loved every minute of the whole weekend.

 

Jenson Button convincingly won the race, with Sebastian Vettel finishing second and Lewis Hamilton claiming the final podium position as the summer sun began to set over the Albert Park circuit. As soon as the last car entered pit lane we rushed over the fence and onto the track, sprinting down the main straight with thousands of other fans in a desperate attempt to see the podium presentation. We just missed it, but it didn’t matter. Just being there, standing on the main straight and experiencing all that a Formula 1 race has to offer was more than enough. Attending a Formula 1 race in person is something that everyone simply must do, even if just once.

 
Stay tuned for further coverage from the Australian Grand Prix. I’ll take a detailed look at the cars in the Historic Demonstration, the Group A/ Group C Historic class, the Ferrari parade and the other off-track attractions.

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