Friday Practice - An F1 Dream Come True Part 3
Albert Park, Victoria
If yesterday was fantastic, today was better. Its hard to describe just how amazing seeing Formula 1 cars race just feet in front of you is. Its 22:39 local time, and after Free Practice 1 and 2 at Albert Park, I'm home in South Yarra, my legs and back are aching, and there is a lot to talk about.
Melbourne's autumnal weather was in full force today, as once again the day started dull with lots of rain in the air. I bumped into Luke, a massive Ferrari fan I had met from yesterday at the gate and we headed round to turn 9 and settled in for the day.
Up first were the V8 supercars with the first race of the weekend. Race 1 of the V8 supercar challenge is really more of a qualifying session set as a race. All 24 cars line up on the track based upon their times in qualifying yesterday, and then every 3 laps 3 cars are taken from the back and that is their grid slot for race 2. No points are awarded in race 1.
The race featured a very heavy crash on the track right beside where I was sitting at turn 10, putting debris and oil over the track and deploying the first safety car of the weekend. The marshalls did fine work in cleaning it up though, and the race was fantastic to watch.
As the V8s finished up, a shower of rain passed over the track, making the surface greasy. Free practice 1 for Formula one was on track next, but with the shower beforehand, the teams were forced onto intermediate tires. It took a while (about 30 mins) for the times to fall below the 1:40 mark, with Michael Schumacher showing some good pace in the rain.
The clouds soon cleared and the sun was hot at 1pm and so the track started drying quickly. About 45 minutes into the session the big guns decided it was time for a run on inters, and times started to tumble. It wasn't all easy going though.
Felipe Massa came speeding round turn 8 and dropped a tire in the grass exiting the corner. As soon as he did that, he was merely a passenger in his own car as it carreared right in front of me into the gravel trap at turn 9. Thankfully the car was nowhere near the barriers, and as a result was left almost completely undamaged, and Felipe climbed out of the car without a scratch.
Towards the end of the session, the cars swiched to slick tires and the times came tumbling down, eventually resulting in a 1-2 for McLaren, followed by Schumacher, Alonso and Webber. All the commentators say that practice is no real indication of race pace and that todays sessions were mearly test sessions. I tend to agree with that sentiment, except to say this. Its clear that the McLaren has pace and is going to be up there. Whats also intersting is the performance of the Mercedes. I believe Mercedes have made good progress over the winter and the new car will turn the top 3 teams into a top 4 teams scenario.
One noteable point from the practice was the speed of the Red Bulls. It was obvious they were not set up for speed, and must have been testing other scenarios - leaving them further down the field. I have no doubt they have the speed under the chassis of that car though.
By the end of FP1 the track was dry for the V8 Supercar second race. The race went off without a hitch, no major incidents occured but strategy played a key part, with the leader surrendering his spot on the second to last lap after requiring a tire change. There is another V8 race tomorrow and the results of both are combined to determine a points winner.
After the V8's it was the turn of the Formula Fords to be on track. They settled in nicely with the dry conditions, and led to some great racing - very much like watching go-karts. About half-way through the session, some light rain appeared at the bottom of the circuit, and turned the surface greasy again. It caught all the drivers off gaurd, and as a result caused 2 accidents.
As the Fomula Ford race finished, the heavens truely opened. Melbourne decided now was the time for the most ferocious rain I have seen since the storm I saw in January at Melbourne Metro. At first I tried to see it through, but a pool of water was forming on top of my bag, and seeing as I had some expensive kit in there, I was not about to let it get soaked, so I made a dash for the trees.
The rain lasted almost exactly until 5 minutes before the start of Free Practice 2, leaving massive amounts of standing water on track. The marshalls raced to clear the water before the start, but they were mostly unsuccessful and the session started with large amounts of standing water across the track.
It was almost 15 minutes before the first car, a Torro Rosso decided to risk a set of full wet tyres and take to the track. He was eventually followed by a Sauber, a Force India and a Williams. The mid pack all headed to the track with full wet weather tyres, and this was the way it remained until almost an hour before the end of the session, when the switch to intermediates was made.
For the whole session, the big guns stayed indoors - and understandibly so. There was nothing to gain to run the cars and everything to loose should they crash into a barrier, and so it was left to the mid-pack to fight it out. Ten minutes before the end of the session, the switch was made by the teams to go to slicks, and finally the times started to tumble. It was to be Michael Schumacher who finished the session in first, and again he showed the Mercedes looks good this year.
One team who did look good in practice was Force India. Nico Hulkenburg looked confident behind the wheel, and of the mid-pack they seemed to have a slight advantage. Paul Di Resta looked confident behind the wheel also, and was the first to make the jump to inters during the session.
After the practice session, I headed away from turn 9 to explore the rest of the circuit. It had changed a lot from just the few days since I did my track walk. The paddock was complete and expansive, and a temporary floating bridge now crossed Albert Lake about half way up. I headed across this bridge, and towards the pits.
On the way I passed some beautiful cars, and one in perticular caught my eye. It was an exact replica of the Back to the Future DeLorean - with every detail accounted for. It had the "Mr Fusion" power from part 2, the valve and circuits strapped to the bonnet from part 3 - even the arrow in the fuel line at the back. Fantastic. I could not resist but to get a few photos from inside.
After my time in the DeLorean - I found my way to the pit entrance. A large croud was gathered, and after fighting my way through I discovered Martin Whitmash was signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. Unfortunately, I was just too late and missed grabbing a photo by a tiny bit.
Not long after Martin, none other than Niki Lauda strolled past and into a waiting car. Unfortunatly, he didn't come over to the waiting fans, but he did give everyone a wave. Following Niki, and repeating him, was Christian Horner, who dove into his car and was clearly in a hurry.
Then, as I was contemplating leaving the circuit, Jake Humphrey - the BBCF1 lead presenter - strolled up to the fans. He was great - happy to wait for fans to get there act together and get there pens out for him, signed anything anyone wanted, and said hello and chatted to loads of fans. A class act. I asked him for a photo and he replied with an 'of course' and so I snapped away.
Finally, after Jake Humphrey, James Allen stopped to sign some autographs for the fans and I will give the quote of the day to him. A fan shouted over - did Kimi say anything interesting, he replied with a firm 'No. He only did fifteen laps and wasnt very talkative'. Amusing.
I had a truely fantastic day at the Grand Prix, and cant wait for qualifying tomorrow. I have plenty of photos and videos, so if your an F1 fan go take a look.