Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ask Gianluca: Melbourne

Gianluca Martini is a rare type of enthusiast. He is one of the biggest Ferrari fans that I have ever met and yet his passion for motorsports and Formula 1 in particular mean that he values good racing over results. With more than thirty years of Formula 1 viewing under his belt, the Melbourne native has been enamoured with cars for as far back as he can remember. Add to that an engineering degree and you get one extremely well-educated fanatic. Since getting to know him, I have come to view Gianluca as an invaluable source of both information and witty commentary. He has a talent for picking drivers who will be the next big thing and for remembering obscure facts that most of us have long forgotten.

This past weekend, Gianluca was fortunate enough to attend the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and with Albert Park also being his home circuit, I decided that he would be the ideal person to give me the inside scoop on the Australian Grand Prix. Earlier today I asked him some questions about what the event was really like.
Danielle: As you know, I’ve never been to Albert Park during a Grand Prix Weekend before. What is the atmosphere like throughout the event?

Gianluca: It’s a good atmosphere but generally speaking people aren’t Formula 1 enthusiasts. They’re present more so because it’s a big event. In terms of knowledge I would say that it’s average which is slightly disappointing really. It doesn’t compare to Monza for instance, where you know that most of the crowd are motor-racing enthusiasts. In Melbourne, I feel the race is seen more as a social event than a motor race.
Danielle: Are you saying that there are no Formula 1 fanatics in Melbourne?

Gianluca: Not at all! There are some die-hard Formula 1 fans definitely, but not like in Europe where the majority seem to know what they're talking about. This weekend for instance, I had to explain to a guy sitting in front of me that Michael Schumacher made his come back in 2010, not this year!

Danielle: So tell me more about your personal experience. Where were you sitting?

Gianluca: I was sitting on the start/finish straight directly in front of seventh position on the grid.
Danielle: What was that like?

Gianluca: It was great for the start of the race and the pit stops. It was also exciting to see the beginning of a slipstream manoeuvre. Specifically Alonso would get sooo close to the car in front a few times I thought he was going to fly over his back wheels, the precision was extraordinary. All of the aircraft displays and action are centred around the start/finish straight, but in terms of seeing Formula 1 performance, apart from at the start, it’s probably not the best place.
Danielle: So if you could sit anywhere on the circuit, where would you sit?

Gianluca: At turn eleven/twelve, which is a fast chicane where the apex speed is around 220kph. Turns one and two is also a good position to sit, drivers tend to get greedy under brakes and more often than not drift wide across the Astroturf or gravel trap - I think it must be the most used run-off area in the whole Formula 1 calendar!
Danielle: Friday must have been brutal with the weather being so changeable. How did you manage to keep dry?

Gianluca: Huddled under a plastic poncho that I brought with me to the track. As a Melbournian I know that it can rain at any given moment regardless of what the weather forecast is or what the sky currently appears to be!

Danielle: What about what other people were wearing? What was the funniest fan outfit that you saw all weekend?

Gianluca: There was a woman in my grandstand who was wearing a Ferrari cat hat, it had two ears and a cat's tail. I’ve never seen a Ferrari cat hat before and I have no idea what a cat has to do with Ferrari. It was certainly unique; I’ve never seen them sold anywhere.

Danielle: If you had to guess, what would you say that cats have to do with Ferrari?
Gianluca: Maybe she’s a Massa fan and believes that Massa deserves nine lives. At the current rate, he'll need 20 though, one for each race haha. She was clearly a Ferrari fan; she had the jacket, the t-shirt and clearly the quintessential Ferrari cat hat!

Danielle: Aside from people wearing strange outfits, did you notice anyone else who was interesting at the track? What about celebrities?
Gianluca: I saw plenty of drivers and team personnel because I was sitting right in front of the pits but one that stands out in my mind is Lenny Kravitz. He looked absolutely ridiculous with his beanie and dark sunglasses even though it was nearly night time and pissing down with rain. Then he mentioned something about not knowing anything about Formula 1, yet he got a personal garage tour of McLaren and I had to sit out in the rain! Yes I’m a disgruntled fan…damn you celebrities!

Danielle: Let’s talk about the actual racing itself. Was there anything that you noticed that people watching the race on television might have missed?
Gianluca: Kimi Raikkonen’s start! It was fantastic because he just shot between two cars. People watching on television would have probably been concentrating on the front of the grid as opposed to eighteenth position. Vitaly Petrov also stopped right in front of me when he had his steering problem. And of course Alonso's millimetre perfect overtaking moves, unfortunately mostly on lapped cars!

Danielle: What about the cars themselves, did you notice anything that was of particular interest to you?
Gianluca: I spent a fair bit of time trying to work out how the DRS F duct stalls the front wing of the Mercedes.

Danielle: Did you manage to work it out in the end?
Gianluca: Schumacher spun in free practice three and got stuck in the gravel. The crane had to lift his car up and he was standing in front of the front wing to block any views of this DRS F Duct device. You could tell that he was trying to block it because he was spreading his arms out and ensuring the car wouldn’t be lifted too high so nobody could see under it. Obviously that means there is something to the rumours and that the system exists because thus far it has only been speculation really.

Danielle: What about HRT? Exactly how bad is their car in person?
Gianluca: I actually really like the car! I think it’s one of the best looking cars on the grid in terms of the shape and the minimalist colour scheme is classy but it’s visibly slow, even in a straight line.

Danielle: What was your favourite support race category this year?
Gianluca: Australian V8 Supercars. They have probably the best set of drivers outside of the Formula 1 grid at Albert Park and usually produce close racing along with a fair bit of commotion.

Danielle: Was there anything about this year’s V8 events that stood out to you?
Gianluca: The stupid rules that they trialed. First there’s a qualifying 'race' and every three laps the last three cars are eliminated until there are ten cars left. At this point, if the ten cars are too far apart they call out the safety car to bunch the field up and then restart the race for the remaining 8 odd laps.

Danielle: That’s one way to force competition. It makes DRS look tame.
Gianluca: Yes, it makes DRS almost seem like a good idea doesn’t it? To be honest I’m not entirely sure that I dislike DRS. What I don’t like about it is that it gives only one car the opportunity to use it at a time. The driver who’s the faster car is in front but with DRS, he’s disadvantaged by being in front which is against the whole point of motor racing. In terms of overtaking though it’s no different to the turbo boost button they had back in the 1980s although then you could also use it defensively too.

Danielle: Imagine if DRS had been around when Gilles Villeneuve was driving. It would have certainly altered his legend.
Gianluca: Yes, he’d have been in trouble. One of the skills of motor racing is being able to defend your position. With DRS, and if both cars have similar performance, you almost have no chance.

Danielle: Alright, time for a conclusion. What is the most annoying thing about Albert Park as a venue?
Gianluca: I don’t particularly like the layout of the circuit. There are too many chicanes and left/right or right/left combinations. It doesn’t have a nice flow to it, not until the last sector anyway. The other thing would be vantage points. It’s not like Sepang for instance, where you can sit in one spot and see most of the track. All the views are pretty limited.
Danielle: I know what you mean, Canada’s like that too.

Gianluca: Yes, because they’re both street circuits essentially, surrounded by concrete walls and trees.
Danielle: Finally, what is the best thing about Albert Park as a venue?

Gianluca: The organisation is excellent, you'd have to try really hard to get lost going to/from the circuit or making your way around it. It’s a four day event and the programme is filled with so many things to see and do, both off and on the track. There are historic parades, car shows, aircraft displays, stunt motorcycle displays, concerts, 'jet pack man' and a massive support race program including V8 Supercars and the Porsche Carrera Cup. It’s pretty impressive, there is something going on all the time. There’s almost too much choice, you literally could not see everything.

Danielle: Did you say 'jet pack man'?

Gianluca: Yes, he’s basically a guy with a jet pack who flies for a pretty short amount of time, like 10 seconds, until his fuel runs out. There’s a video of him on Youtube actually. He was on the pit straight and trying to fly over a bridge, it was bloody loud. Unfortunately one of the days he couldn’t do it because he had a problem with his jet pack and only hovered a metre off the ground - understandable as you don't want to be falling from a 20 metre height with only your legs cushioning the landing!
Danielle: Sounds epic. What was his name?

Gianluca: Jet pack man…literally.
Danielle: I love Australians!

**Photographs for this article were generously provided by Gianluca Martini**


  1. LOL! Good interview. Jet pack it!

  2. "Danielle: I love Australians!"

    Kool we [i] love u!