F1: Will Melbourne provide a much-needed shot in the arm?
By LJ Hutchins
Thursday, March 25th, 2010
So, with the Australian Grand Prix coming up this weekend, what shape is Formula One in following one of the dullest season starts any of us can remember for a long time?
Everyone has their fingers crossed that the traditional season opener, held on Melbourne’s street circuit, will provide the necessary shot in the arm to keep the casual fans from switching off until next year and give the hardcore supporters something to get really excited about.
Certainly the sport is currently generating a fraction of the buzz that it usually does, and this from what was often described as one of the most keenly-anticipated seasons for years.
Partly this is because of the lack of sporting spectacle but also, unusually, there have been hardly any new developments in the background soap-opera either, leaving fans with almost nothing to talk about.
Michael Schumacher has returned but has neither streaked to an unlikely victory Jenson Button-style nor reeled from his car clutching his neck at the first pitstops. Nico Rosberg has even commented on what an amenable team-mate he is. Having beaten him in Bahrain.
There have been few fireworks between team-mates or teams, no political scandals and no significant brewing technical controversies – just the usual minor grumbling. Everyone has their head down and is simply getting on with it.
So, what can we expect on track this weekend? Our feeling is a very good prospect for total Red Bull dominance.
The word on the inside seems to be that Adrian Newey’s RB6 is a rocket-ship that has given all the other leading teams very serious pause for thought.
In the hands of Mark Webber, at his home grand prix, still mindful of his close call on last year’s drivers’ championship and keen to squash rumours that he is looking towards retirement, it should be setting the pace from Friday onwards.
If it can retain reliability, of course, the issue that has been a bugbear of Red Bull’s since the team launched in 2005 and which probably cost Sebastian Vettel a win at Bahrain. (Unless you listen to Ron Dennis, but that’s another story.)
Of course, Ferrari will be doing its best to impose its own narrative, preferably with another successful weekend to match its maximum-points finish in Bahrain.
And McLaren will have no intention of getting left any further behind the Italian squad, having taken roughly half the number of points away from Bahrain as its rivals did. It is one of several teams thought to be in line to make diffuser modifications following a FIA ruling this week.
At Bahrain the ‘big four’ was in danger of being whittled down to the ‘big three’ as it became clear that Mercedes was not really playing at the top table – yet.
Its focus is likely to be on development and, as Schumacher has spent an entire career proving how he can win in a less-than-perfect car, there is the definite prospect of some excitement to come from the defending champions.
In the midfield, teams like Williams and Force India are busy sorting out a pecking order. Renault are better than their Bahrain results suggest, but Sauber clearly have some work to do and Scuderia Toro Rosso, cut loose from the Red Bull stable this year, does look to have lost a bit of ground.
At the back, Virgin and Hispania will be glad just to get two cars home. Lotus, with that achievement under their belts already, will be looking to close the gap to the existing teams.
Melbourne last year was a race to forget for McLaren fans after Lewis Hamilton and McLaren team manager Dave Ryan were called out for lying to stewards over an on-track incident with Toyota’s Jarno Trulli – an incident that rumbled on for weeks afterwards.
That’s the kind of talking point we can definitely do without, even though Lewis is saying on the eve of this year’s event that he learned important lessons from the episode.
Let’s just hope they can give us all a really good reason to get up early this weekend.