The Ben Evans column: A race worth getting up early for

Mark Webber, Takuma Sato, Nelson Piquet Jnr, Melbourne, 2008, 470150

F1 2008 started with a bang in Australia – and as a weekend did more to vindicate the views the armchair enthusiast (you and I) have held about F1 for a long time.

Before the action even kicked off, I thought that Bernie Ecclestone?s comments demanding that Australia move to a night time race to accommodate European TV viewers veered between the stupid and idiotic. The Australian organisers quite rightly told him where to go.

My question to Bernie is this: if the European TV audiences are so important ?ǣ why do you keep moving races out of Europe?

After all it is hardly as if the European fans will stick around if they have to travel to Bahrain to watch their heroes in action. This must have come as a particularly bitter pill to British fans who for years have been threatened with losing their race, only to now be told that races on the other side of the world should be rescheduled for their viewing pleasure. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

After all, as every F1 fanatic knows the excitement of the first race of the year is amplified by its dawn start.

And what a start it was, I was crying into my coffee as the traction control ban reaped its first victim after half a corner. Ok so the race for the lead never quite materialised ?ǣ but what a race it would have been had Raikkonen managed to pass Koivalinen and keep the car on the road. But behind the leading trio, what a race we had.

Wheel-to-wheel

Australian Grand Prix 2008 start, Ferrari, 470313

Three-car Formula Ford-esque dices with Raikkonen, Alonso and Kovalainen, this was great stuff. To actually see F1 cars overtaking around Albert Park was almost enough to make me cry with joy. Seeing David Coulthard have a sizeable shunt actually did.

For the past few seasons Coulthard has been amongst the most aggressive defenders in F1 frequently shutting the door later than is really safe. Unfortunately on Sunday when he went to shut the gap he found that half a Ferrari was holding it open. That Coulthard was so gracious after the event (doling out a four-letter rant live on ITV) only amplified my happiness.

The best element of the TC-free cars was that for the first time in years the punishment was fitting the crime. For several seasons now drivers have become accustomed to hurling their cars into the corners and letting the electronics bail them out. Now that is no longer the case and it claimed several scalps.

For example in 2007 there is no way Timo Glock would have had the shunt he did. Sunday in Malaysia will be fascinating as there are a number of very fast corners which put a lot of strain on the car?s traction and stability.

The new breed of cars will see a number of new stars emerging. While the likes of Felipe Massa have been flattered by traction control, others such as Jenson Button have been muffled by it. Button?s extremely smooth driving style will flourish this year and I expect many will be surprised by his results.

Lewis Hamilton drove a stellar race showing, as in Canada last year, that his greatest strength is his ability to keep a calm head when those around him lose theirs. I can almost image him discussing the football results during the safety car periods.

Elsewhere Sebastien Bourdais had a top class drive, benefiting from Vettel?s early retirement, to establish his F1 credentials. Certainly his Champ Car experience came to the fore in the closing stages as he kept an aggressive Alonso at bay in an ill handling car.

For the first time since, well, ever, the Albert Park Grand Prix was thoroughly enjoyable. If even half the races in 2008 are this good, then we?re in for a vintage season.

More about the 2008 Australian Grand Prix

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