Inside Line: Formula Flip Flop and other Oz musings

After all the pre-season hype, the Winter World Championship is now confined to history and the first round of Formula Flip Flop has come and gone and it is almost back to the same old, same old. Well, it would have been had not Mercedes had a computer glitch on it’s strategy programme and lost some 15 seconds!

First of all, though, let’s deal with the halo – and yes it is bloody ugly.

Watching Lewis having to use steps to climb into his car looked incongruous, followed by the indignity of having to adjust the position of his manhood before sliding into his office.


However, some teams have done a better job with the aesthetics than others. I have to say that the cars that had the halo painted the same colour as the chassis looked more pleasing to the eye. Also, the smart ones used it to their advantage by adding additional camera friendly branding, something that would not have been allowed in the Bernie era and McLaren should be congratulated for their creative thinking by branding the halo with a flip-flop brand!

Because of the halo, many of the drivers had two timing screens, one to the left and one to the right, as the traditional one screen was obstructed right down the middle by the central halo pillar.

One of the main pieces of collateral damage was the onboard camera angles, where the halo obliterated quite a lot of the view of the track. Maybe viewers who watch on pay per view networks should demand a discount! However, to be fair, come race day, many of the camera angles had been altered to make the view of the track clearer, but still you were very conscious of the top bar across the screen.

Another victim was the hiding of the drivers’ helmets which were masked by the halo. I’m sure that there can be a solution found here as the helmet designs are inherent to the drivers’ personality and identification on the circuit.

However, having said all that, as Lewis has said, we will get used to it, and by race day I had almost forgotten about it. Such are the creative minds in F1 that the halo will be fine-tuned, adjusted and we will become oblivious to it.

Take the F1 new logo for example. When it was launched in Abu Dhabi at the end of last year, the reaction was not overwhelmingly positive, but looking on the TV screen at the weekend, it looks modern, fresh and stylish, plus there is a complete improvement with graphics and type styles, which are much easier to read.

The bottom line is people inherently don’t like change, but you do actually quickly adapt.

The halo, whether we like it or not, is with us to stay, and will also be introduced into the lower formulas. The genie is now out of the bottle. Studies have been made, concepts introduced and accepted. In the politically correct world we now live in, where the health and safety risk factor has to be minimised, there can be no going back, for fear of litigation should something go wrong.

My only fear is how would Fernando Alonso been able to escape from his upturned McLaren at Melbourne three years ago with the halo!

In the pre-race build up, there was much talk of a potential breakaway series, led by Ferrari and Mercedes, a subject which got quite a few online commentators very excited. Judging by the results on Sunday, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, as that would have meant homegrown hero, Daniel Ricciardo winning the Australian Grand Prix!

However, I digress. One of the keys to understanding F1 is not what some of the influencers say, but rather why they are saying it. Bernie was a past master at this, and even now, he is still having his say that a breakaway series is a real possibility.

Formula One is going through a revolution and there will have to be a number of changes, leading up to a new agreement with the teams for 2021 and beyond.

All the talk of Ferrari leaving F1 and a breakaway series is posturing for tactical negotiation.

The bottom line is that the Formula One model, as it has been allowed to develop in recent years under Bernie, is no longer sustainable. Apparently, over the years, some 150 teams have left F1. Whilst the argument has often been made that only the strong survive, F1 still needs a regular injection of new blood to keep it going. In English football terms, you need something along the lines of the FA Cup where a minnow team can take on the establishment as the underdog always excites the media. Whilst the manufacturers are an now an important part of F1, you have to have the base covered in the eventuality that they do decide to leave!

For whatever is reported in the media, and this is an ongoing juicy story, all the respective parties have a position and each wants to maximise what they have and minimise what they could lose. Over the coming months and years this will be a hot topic, so let’s hope sense will prevail.

For whatever has been said about the threat of a breakaway series, with Toto Wolff at some stage sounding like a vocal supporter of Ferrari, the importance of F1 to Mercedes was stated by
Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche, who was clear about how committed the German car manufacturer was to the current F1.

Writing on LinkedIn, he said: “People often ask me if Formula 1 is really still relevant. Isn’t it just a relic of the past given climate change, rising e-mobility and the self-driving future of mobility? I’m sure some of you have come over these discussions too. From my perspective, Formula One is absolutely relevant! And maybe more so today than ever.”

Citing F1’s technology, Zetsche said that it was a breeding ground with hybrids, business lessons from running a team and the emotions of the sport, all are key factors in keeping the sport attractive.

“Formula 1 plays on some of the most fundamental human emotions: passion (for your favourite team or driver), dislike (for the other teams), agony (over a lost race) or euphoria (when it goes well) – along with the sensory experience that comes from the speed of the cars and roar of the engines. Formula One can provide everything one needs for a perfectly entertaining weekend. That’s why Mercedes keeps investing in racing.”

To get a very interesting behind the scenes interpretation, I can thoroughly recommend a podcast with Martin Brundle here>>> 

Back to the racing at Albert Park, what were some of the observations?

Thank goodness the ‘coat hanger’ has gone, which always was an ugly appendage to the rear bodywork.

Hairstyles, both head and chin played a part. Sebastian Vettel championed an extreme short back and sides, which looked very similar to Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder character. Vettel christened his new car, but maybe more appropriately it should be renamed Pudding Bowl! Also, Cyril Abiteboul of Renault was clean shaven, a distinct change from the previous Neolithic look.

Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying lap was stunning. Complete and utter commitment, very reminiscent of a Mika Hakkinen ‘flat out’ lap.

During the race, both the Haas cars showed a momentous step forward in terms of speed, with Fernando Alonso implying that they were second generation Ferrari’s. Such speed and such a shame that pitstop problems led both cars unbelievably to be stranded out on the track. At least the cause can be identified as a mixture of human and equipment error.

However, Mercedes blamed a computer error which Lewis lost the lead through a pitstop. With Grosjean stranded on the track as the victim of the second Haas malfunction, it brought out the Virtual Safety Car and Ferrari took the opportunity to pit Vettel.

Under the Virtual Safety Car rules, the speed of the cars is limited on the track. However, the speed limit was higher in the pit lane, which meant that, combined with the fact that in Albert Park, the pit lane follows a shorter route than the track, this allowed Vettel to maintain his lead.

Whilst sympathising with the Mercedes computer glitch, it does make you wonder whether there is too much reliance on data and not observing what is actually going on in reality, in old-fashioned terms – gut instinct!. This was ably demonstrated a few years ago at Monaco, where the Mercedes computer predicted that mathematically it was quicker to have a second pitstop, sidestepping the fact that it is almost impossible to pass at Monaco, which cost Lewis the lead.

According to a number of media reports, after Monaco, Melbourne is the second worst circuit on the F1 calendar for overtaking, which even with the aid of an additional DRS zone, saw little overtaking and there is still a lot of work to be done by Ross Brawn’s F1 study group. However, whilst a hindrance, it didn’t stop F1’s two premier overtakers, Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso from having a go!

Red Bull were certainly the leaders of the ‘second division’ on performance, whilst new fellow Renault users McLaren showed inspired revitalised form.

Which could not be said for Williams for whom Lance Stroll said that the team were “surviving” rather than racing with Stroll coming home 14th at Albert Park, second to last of the finishers, the final car on the lead lap, and behind Ferrari powered Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc.

So that is now one down, 20 to go. What is clear is that there is going to be a titanic battle for the championship between Hamilton and Vettel, with rest snapping at their heels, waiting for the fallout!

Inside Line Opinion by Peter Burns