Going from on your couch to the actual F1 paddock is a surreal experience. A place for the drivers, team personnel, the ultra-rich, ultra-connected, and media blowhards – yet at least this weekend, I am one of those blowhards. So with that in mind, I thought I’d keep a diary of just what went down in Melbourne.
Press conferences tend to be a bit hit and miss in F1 – usually, they’re dull, meandering affairs where drivers try their darndest to say nothing of consequence.
Thankfully, the first one of the season provided something of an exception, mostly thanks to Fernando Alonso. He cuts a fascinating figure nowadays, and his joke about “equal engines” was particularly illuminating.
It’s almost like he’s gone through the five stages of grief and finally reached acceptance, the whole situation seems comical to him, which is both good for his own sanity and a bad sign for his commitment to racing – at least with McLaren. Also Lewis Hamilton’s response that they “not [be] Honda” was priceless. Press conference transcript here>>>
Speaking of Hamilton, until you see it in person, you don’t get a real sense for how ostentatious his chains are. Like it’s legitimately distracting – you’re trying to gauge just how defeated Alonso is, but your eye keeps getting drawn to the guy who looks like he wandered off the set of a Migos music video.
That said I do feel somewhat bad for Lewis. The amount of attention he gets from photographers can’t be easy to deal with. He smiles. Forty cameras go off. He frowns. Forty cameras go off. He raises an eyebrow. Forty cameras. He shifts in his seat to let out a sneak fart. Sixty cameras. Maybe he knows what he’s doing wearing all the jewellery after all.
Also credit where its due to Lance Stroll, he handled himself well in his first ever press conference. I certainly wasn’t that composed at 18 – or now really, to be honest. Maybe if he can translate that calm to the track he won’t be a Maldonado-clone after all.
Day one of on-track action kicked off with a press conference with Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches, who together make quite the couple. Brawn has quickly settled into his role as the cool uncle of F1, getting to promise all the cool stuff while Bratches is more like a high school vice principal – all the responsibility, none of the glory.
Together they’re an interesting combination, and it actually made for an interesting discussion, giving well-rounded responses to the various questions.
Answering questions about levelling the playing field (Brawn is in favour), engaging fans (a popular refrain from Bratches) to playing tough with the next commercial agreement (Brawn wants Ferrari et al to make concessions), they were pretty candid. Of course, whether they actually follow through on what they say remains to be seen.
Today was also the first day I got to take in the paddock, and I’m ever lucky enough to make it back, a French dictionary is essential. I mean of course the FIA is French, but even the Japanese guys at Honda are speaking the language of love (although there’s not a lot of that at McLaren these days). Not that everyone doesn’t speak English, it was just an interesting quirk.
Speaking of speaking, around 3 o’clock-ish that was no longer possible, thanks to the Royal Australian Air Force, who seem to have taken it on themselves to destroy everyone’s hearing. It’s like they’ve been given a mission to make up for the noise of the V6s, in which case they easily succeeded. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good ol’ fashioned flyover, but they might as well have been strafing the paddock – if I wanted to feel like an insurgent in Syria, I’d join ISIS.
On-track there’s not much to say that won’t be written elsewhere – Hamilton was dominant, and as much as he might pretend otherwise, Mercedes are still out in front. Nevertheless, Ferrari were impressive, and watching from the left-right sequence at turns 11 and 12, the SF70H – along with the Toro Rosso(!) – were really able to attack the corner, taking plenty of kerb on entry. Assuming development keeps pace, they could be serious contenders come the first European race in Barcelona.
Finishing with the team principal’s test conference, perhaps the most interesting tidbit was Christian Horner’s assertion the cars will be 1.5 seconds faster by Abu Dhabi. Is it possible for the cars to be too fast? At what point will the increased physical toll start to decide the racing? This year we might find out…
Melbourne Diary by Ben Stevens at Albert Park for GrandPrix247