It’s been a fairly calm day for the start of the new season. The predicted protest from the teams over the diffuser row has happened and the stewards are looking into it as I write this in the Melbourne press office, with the sun setting outside.
I’ve felt all along that the three cars in question, from Brawn, Williams and Toyota will be declared legal. Charlie Whiting, the FIA’s top technical man, has approved the cars and you sense that he actually admires the innovative solutions the teams have come up with. Whatever the outcome we’ll have an appeal in a Paris court room, that much is clear. To quote Humphrey Bogart, “We’ll always have Paris.”
I’ve posted on ITV-F1.com today about the nub of the diffuser issue, as well as making the point that McLaren is staying out of it because Brawn is a customer of Mercedes engines.
Actually they are a delighted customer of Mercs. I’ve been hearing today what a fantastic engine it is, but also how easy the Merc guys are to deal with and how professional. Force India say the same thing. It’s amazing that this is Mercedes’ first year as a customer engine supplier, so slick is their operation.
I started the day collecting my F1 permanent pass, the 20th I’ve had now. Can’t believe this is my 20th season in the sport. As a TV person for the last 17 years, I’ve had a heavy, metal topped pass, issued by FOM. Now, although I am doing some work for Italy’s RAI TV, because I represent the Financial Times newspaper, I fall under the FIA’s jurisdiction and they have much smaller lighter passes. I guess the TV people get the bling pass because they pay the big bucks to be here, tens of millions a year in rights fees.
From the accreditation centre I travelled over by tram to the Westin Hotel in the City, where the Ferrari boys did a press briefing, Kimi was his usual eloquent self [not] while Felipe got quite worked up on a few issues. He hates the idea of the winner takes all point system. As a Ferrari driver you can see why. It’s a system which calls for a team to have a clear number one and number two driver.
He also described the U turn last week over the winner takes all points system as ‘a complete mess.’
Meanwhile Kimi managed one smile, when a camera man got up from his prone position in front of their table and knocked the glasses of water over. Kimi got a big rise out of that. Otherwise he was even more detached than he normally is. We’ll see, but I felt from watching him in testing that he has rediscovered his sense of purpose. He’s got his race face on again.
After Ferrari I jumped back on the tram and headed to the Stokehouse restaurant, on the St Kilda beach, to see the McLaren lot. They have been doing a lunch there for 11 years. Lewis admitted that he was in new territory with a slow car, which has a lot of work in front of it, to close the gap on the others. New team boss Martin Whitmarsh was on our table and looked very calm. In some ways they might wish they hadn’t thrown so much effort at last year’s car, as it seems to have cost them this year, but then again McLaren desperately needed to win that drivers title after ten years of missing out.
Part of the McLaren event is a quiz, with some very obscure questions. I was sat on a table with a few people who knew the most obscure facts about F1 you could ever imagine. And guess what? We came away with a little trophy for winning the thing! Can’t say I had much to do with it!
At the circuit, everything looked busy and colourful as normal. There is talk of the credit crunch, of teams laying people off, but the general mood is very positive, everyone excited to see where they are in the pecking order.
Behind the scenes there is a general resignation that we are in for a long and painful battle between the FOTA teams, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone and some of the things which happen this weekend will be wrapped up in that political and financial struggle. But there’s nothing really new there.
Elsewhere one winner already is Giancarlo Fischella, who took part in a poker tournament at the city’s Crown Casino on Tuesday night and won £400.