Monday, April 03, 2006

So great it's spooky

As many of you know I don't officially acknowledge the new year has begun until the start of the Formula One season. Traditionally this happens in Melbourne on the March long weekend. This year however, March was mostly taken up with those pesky Commonwealth Games, which were nowhere near as interesting or bloodthirsty as the Winter Olympics. Subsequently, the race that Melbourne so expensively poached from Adelaide ten years ago was delayed until the March/ April weekend just gone.

In fact, Melbourne has been so scrambled by an overdose of sport they even resorted to playing a football game on a Monday night. The poor Melbournians are hungover from so much sport. When they boast about being the sports capital of the known universe, you can scarcely disagree. It's only when they start claiming to be the arts and culture capital that you just smile politely and say "Yep. Sure. Righto".

No really, Melbourne loves the arts. That's why the highly professional Melbourne Symphony Orchestra were told they had to play at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony...without being paid. Oh yeah. We love the arts. As long as it's performed at a sporting event.

Great city. Pity about the...

...constantly crappy weather

So, as I was saying, because of the Commgames the Grand Prix got moved to round 3 which kind of spoiled all the intrigue and mystery. We already know that Renault are going to dominate the whole season. So the AGP lost it's round 1 status, which, according to AGP boss and professional snob Ron Walker, is purely temporary- next year we'll have the No 1 round status again. However, some Euro F1 boffins may disagree. You see, they liked having the season opener in Bahrain because it meant they could get their long- awaited F1 fix on telly at a civilised Sunday morning hour, one that gives them an excuse not to go to church. Much better rather than the 3am Melbourne GP timeslot.

Personally, I think that's just their problem for being 8 hours behind us. Surely Bernie Ecclestone has enough sway to bribe the Greenwich Observatory to set the clocks forward 8 hours just for the first week of F1 season.

Besides, even the European Union should know not to mess with Ron Walker. In the first year of F1 in Melbourne, ignorant journalists scrambled to ask the newly arrived F1 superstars stupid questions like "what do you think of the track??". Michael Schumacher said something like "it's nothing special". Which is true. All a driver cares about is the track's challenges. Albert Park is just a road around a lake. All the corners (or chicanes) look the same. It is flat and there are bugger-all overtaking opportunities. It's boring.

Ron Walker was outraged, calling the two times World Champion an "overpaid prima donna" and demanded that he apologise to the people of Melbourne for "the things he said about Melbourne". After all, this circuit is magnificent. It has a nice lake (filled up every year with gazillions of megalitres in a state with severe water restrictions) and palm trees. And the spectacular Melbourne skyline in the background.

Funny. Schumacher never said anything about Melbourne. It's just that he's raced at the 'Ring, Spa Francorchamps, Le Mans, Interlagos. Ergo, Albert Park is nothing special.

So don't mess with Ron Walker. He'll cry.

As ever I take up my coveted role as track marshal, the lowest form of official life on the volunteer list. Get up at 5.30am, get home at 8pm. The lowest form of life, but the best seat in the house. It means I get to take pictures like this:

The popular Turn 9. There were lots of Columbians, playing drums.

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

I believe the pictures are rightfully mine, however, I must be careful using the term "Formula One" since this combination of letters is owned by Bernie Ecclestone and some large banks and they may sue me if they read this blog.

This year sees Sam's first Formula One experience. Naturally his Dad was more than a little concerned that he would enjoy it, instead of run away frightened the moment a course car drives past and go off to become a ballet dancer.

Well okay, he doesn't look so thrilled here

So, Sharon, Sam, and Adelaide guest Martin parked at Turn 9 to spectate while I stood at Turn 10 waiting to rescue any distressed F1 superstars from flaming crashed vehicles. But some years you get posted on a corner where nothing happens. So all I can do is watch the cars go past, several meters closer than anyone else and pretend to be important.

There are a few other bonuses of this job. For example, you can walk into pitlane after the day's proceedings have concluded, and not get menaced by some powertripping security person. Then you can get in the way of important F1 personnel.

One year, Ron Walker did attempt to prevent volunteer marshals from having a pitlane walk so as to free up more time for corporate pit walks. Fortunately he was given an education on how many volunteers his prized even would get if that happened.

So, since I wasn't getting chased away for being a pleb, I took some time and took some more nice pictures...

Presumably someone remembered to put that wheelnut back on

It's like a children's playground, except these ones actually look after their toys

The "red ones go faster" thing is a myth. They actually go slower and crash

Methinks F1 debutante Nico Rosberg has neck problems. Either that or he's really cold. Oh yeah, it's Melbourne..

If only Australian mechanics worked this fast instead of just saying "come back at 5 and hopefully it'll be ready"

Sometimes I wonder about this volunteer official thing. Is it all worth it or should I just lash out, spoil myself and get a nice grandstand.

The race? Well, Montoya spun on the warmup lap (duh), Klien crashed violently at Turn 9 showering Sharon and Sam with bits of polystyrene foam, Schumacher made a rare mistake and crashed after getting passed by a car that used to be a Minardi, Button's Honda engine detonated metres before the finish line, and somebody won. But that wasn't the real highlight of the weekend.

In recent years there have been second generation drivers coming into Formula One. Some have simply had a name, some have talent, some have both. Certainly the name open doors, and therefore cynics disregard the talent. Damon Hill and Jacques Villenueve were the names of the 1990's. Villenueve showed some class but outstayed his welcome by returning later, wearing grungy baggy overalls and acting differently to everybody else. The most recent addition to F1's nostalgic names is Nico Rosberg, the German son of Finn Keke, World Champ 1982 and last of the chainsmoking F1 drivers. Nelson Piquet junior is currently in the A1 GP World Cup Series and looks good.

But while the masses fussed over F1 and the macho Aussie V8's, in the much overlooked support category of Formula 3 there was a second generation name that caused goosebumps...

no caption needed

Am I just being sentimetal...or does he even look like the great man?

No doubt this name opened some doors. But it's far more than just a name. Bruno is good. Extremely good. How do I know this is not just my tragic F1 nostalgic heart talking?

Because I got to stand near the side of the track and see Bruno Senna demolish the field in 3 races, the first barely hours after getting off a plane from Brazil and having never even sat in the car. I got to stand trackside and see him attack that first lap hard on cold tyres just like his uncle did 23 years ago, then pile drive his pursuers with several consecutive fastest laps...then win like it's all so easy. Close up, I got to see a Senna demolish his opposition. Something I thought I'd never see again. It's so great it's spooky.

I think I'll stick to this volunteer marshall gig for a little while longer. Best seat in the house.

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