Friday, March 16, 2012

Australian Grand Prix: Friday Free Practice

Okay I’ll admit it, even though I am really excited about the start of the 2012 Formula 1 season, I feel like I have been hit by a bus, knocked over by a marching band and trampled upon by a herd of rampant elephants! Any European enthusiast who tells you that they were not suffering from severe sleep deprivation by the end of this morning’s second free practice session at Albert Park is either a liar or a chronic Red bull drinker. In Italy, free practice one began at half past two in the morning and free practice two ended at eight o’clock, creating one very intense Formula 1 all-nighter. 

Like every other fanatic in the world, I turned on my television this morning wanting some answers to all of the questions that have been floating around since the 2011 season ended all the way back in November. Which team would have the fastest car? Is Ferrari really in as much trouble as everyone is saying? How will Kimi Raikkonen perform upon his return to the sport? Which colour earrings will Lewis Hamilton be sporting? Sadly at the end of the day I have to admit that I can not even answer one of the questions, not even the one about the earrings. I was too taken aback by the presence of Lenny Kravitz and Nicole Scherzinger in the McLaren pit to pay any attention to Lewis’s ridiculous jewellery. I guess that there is no truth to all of the recent comments insisting that his days of celebrity schmoozing and personal distractions are over. All I can say is that Felipe Massa had better watch out on Sunday. He is one driver who is more than aware of the havoc that a distracted Hamilton can wreak during a Grand Prix weekend.

As for the remaining questions, the unpredictable Melbourne weather kept the mystery alive when it alternated between dumping buckets of rain onto the Australian spectators and glorious sunshine throughout the day. The result was that none of the teams were particularly keen to run their latest challengers as the rest of the weekend is expected to be dry. When the cars finally began putting in their hot laps, McLaren’s MP4-27 emerged as a strong chassis and the Mercedes looked formidable in the hands of Michael Schumacher. Both teams seemed reasonably pleased with their position and with the way that their cars were handling.

The opposite can be said of Ferrari, whose car looked ragged and unpredictable. Felipe Massa had an off-road excursion during the first of the morning’s sessions and Fernando Alonso also had a twitchy moment of his own. Still, the team can gain satisfaction from the fact that although it appeared to be a bit of a handful, the F2012 also looked fast, with Alonso ending both of the day’s sessions in an encouraging fourth position.

Of the front-runners, the team that appeared to be most caught off guard today was surprisingly Red Bull. Clocking a speed that was twelve kilometres an hour slower than both the McLaren and the Mercedes through the speed trap, Red Bull could only manage to finish the day in tenth and eleventh positions respectively. Although the team’s strength last year was not the car’s straight line speed, there were apparently a few worried faces in the Milton Keynes based squad’s garage. In the aftermath of their difficult start to the weekend, reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel stated that he was unhappy adding that Red Bull would have to go “a lot quicker tomorrow” if they hoped to compete against their rivals.

At the blunt end of the grid, HRT struggled with an ill-fitting nosecone that forced the team’s mechanics to literally file pieces of carbon fibre off of the unruly part in order to get it attached to the car. Narain Karthikeyan’s twenty-third place lap, with a time that was a staggering thirteen seconds off of Michael Schumacher’s pace, has prompted team principal Luis Perez-Sala to admit that there is a real possibility that his cars will not qualify for the season opener. “It will be difficult for us” he said “I’m not thinking now about the speed of the cars, now we are trying to fit all of things to make do as best as possible to make P3 tomorrow, doing several laps and then we will see on the qualifying. For us Melbourne is like a place where we are going to take certain information from the cars and go forwards for the next races.”

Finally, in terms of what is new in the paddock, Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen showed off a new helmet design in Albert Park today. His new helmet is red in colour and pays homage to the popular computer game “Angry Birds”. As I mentioned in my previous blog post on January 26th I am quite the fan of the game and so it is only fitting that Kovalainen, who is one of my favourite drivers, now looks like a motorised version of the game’s red bird. Although the design is a result of Rovio sponsorship, I like to think that Heikki has a sense of humour it. I have always admired him for being one of the drivers on the grid who has managed to remain down to earth despite his profession and once again he has given me good reason to smile. In fact, I also found it amusing that he was practicing his golf swing today while waiting to head out on track. Heikki, you are phenomenal…don’t change a thing!

As the sun sets and I prepare myself for another sleepless night of Formula 1 action, I find myself nervous, excited and full of hope. Tomorrow we will see once and for all just who will be the team to beat and I know that I will be sitting on the edge of my seat during qualifying. Formula 1, it’s good to have you back!

**Photographs for this blog post were generously provided by Luca Martini, who is attending the Australian Grand Prix this weekend**

No comments:

Post a Comment