From the stands
Damon Smedley met a group of F1 Fanatic readers at the Australian Grand Prix last week.
Read on for his experience of the race weekend and meeting some of the faces behind the comments.
A soggy start
First lesson of booking an F1 race trip: don’t leave it too late to buy your tickets. That nearly caught me out when planning my trip to the Australian Grand Prix.
My father and I planned to sit in the Jones stand but by the time we came to book there was only one seat left. Instead we booked two of then ten remaining seats at Brabham, next to turn one.
Thursday was uncharacteristically gloomy. Seeking shelter from the rain, we spent the morning exploring the city, and it was not until well after midday that we headed to the circuit.
When we finally arrived, the weather had worsened and we spent much of our time standing under trees rather than making full use of our AUS $500 seats.
With only support race practice and qualifying sessions on offer, plus Pedro de la Rosa in a lone McLaren doing a publicity stunt, we made an early retreat to the hotel.
Friday was relatively dry, but by far the coldest day of the race weekend. Almost as soon as we had arrived, an enormous crash at turn 12 halted the Carrera Cup race.
We saw Karun Chandhok’s Lotus go past once but never again as he dropped it into the barriers a few hundred metres down the road from us. Another of the day’s highlights was local hero Mark Webber topping the times in first practice.
I endured the first session without earplugs before the noticeably loud Renault, with its front exit exhausts, started to make me feel strangely dizzy. I saw sense and decided earplugs would be a wise purchase.
The F1 Fanatic meet-up
The weather improved as the weekend went on and although the sun remained elusive on Saturday, the wind eased and it was a much more pleasant day.
The Brabham stand proved an excellent vantage point, with drivers decelerating from speeds of over 300 to just 150 kph into turn one, before delicately applying the throttle and threading the car through the long radius turn two. We saw some amazing slides and equally impressive saves.
There was a hair-raising moment when Felipe Massa spectacularly went through turn two on opposite lock, and nearly everyone in the stand (including myself) gasped before turning to one another with enormous grins.
Later the crowd gave another cheer as Vitantonio Liuzzi slowly completed the first ever lap in the new HRT.
Final practice on Saturday morning was uneventful – a warm-up for the big event of the day. That’s right: the F1 Fanatic meet-up, scheduled for one hour before qualifying.
Stephen Jones (aka AUS_Steve) joined me at the rendezvous point with Magnificent Geoffrey. We were still a few members – it took a while for us to realise the group standing not five metres behind us were also F1 Fanatics.
We all had a chat and Magnificent Geoffrey revealed a humorous message he had printed out for the planned group photo in front of the F1 Central pillar (see picture). The meet-up was a great laugh, and a brilliant chance to meet the faces behind the comments.
Qualifying proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend.
Unsurprisingly, HRT were well off the pace, but it was clear from the way that Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan were wrestling with the steering wheel through turn two that both drivers were pushing the car to the limit.
At the opposite end of the field, the Red Bulls were flying. I was in awe of how much earlier Vettel was able to open the DRS through turn two than anyone else, including his team mate.
Adrian Sutil provided the most spectacular moment of Q2, when he lost the car coming off the final corner, yet somehow managed to regain control. The cloud of tyre smoke filled the pit straight and could be seen and smelt from hundreds of metres away!
Vettel absolutely dominated. It was obvious how much quicker he was through the first corners, and he promptly smashed his own lap record. His final flying lap looked set to be even quicker, but he made a small error in the last sector, spoiling what surely would have been an amazing time.
After the first lap of the V8 Supercar race, we headed for the trams back to the hotel along with around 100,000 disheartened Webber fans, ready for the final instalment of what was proving to be the quickest four days of my life.
Sunday morning was overcast and drizzly, raising hopes the race might be a repeat of the 2010 thriller. But the sky cleared and by 5pm there wasn’t a cloud in sight.
An enormous crash on the back straight during the last V8 Supercar race shocked the crowd and wrecked several drivers’ cars.
As the race began, to my irritation, the late afternoon sun hung low in the sky in front of the east-facing stands, at the worst possible angle for spectators, and I spent much of the afternoon squinting. I hope everyone in Europe enjoyed their extra three hours’ sleep.
Finally, the race got underway. The first corner produced none of the customary Albert Park mayhem and, for the second year in a row, the biggest loser was Fernando Alonso.
By Albert Park standards, the race was somewhat uneventful. The Jenson Button-Felipe Massa battle provided the most excitement of the afternoon.
Sergio Perez’s late race un-lapping move on none other than reigning World Champion and race leader Sebastian Vettel proved popular with the crowd. Vettel cruised to victory, but I was happier for Perez and Vitaly Petrov, who produced fine drives. Later I was quite upset to hear of Sauber’s disqualification.
The Australian Grand Prix weekend has long been my favourite of the year. Whether I’m attending or simply watching on TV, it puts me on a high. So you can imagine how disheartening it is to read stories about its uncertain future.
I’m sure many of you would agree it is one of the best events of the calendar, not only for the race itself, which is often exciting, but for the atmosphere and joyous feel of the event. I sincerely hope it remains in Melbourne for many more years.
Damon and Steve’s pictures from Melbourne
Find other F1 Fanatics who are going to races this year here:
- 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Chinese Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Turkish Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Spanish Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Monaco Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Canadian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 European Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 British Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 German Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Hungarian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Belgian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Italian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Singapore Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Japanese Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Korean Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Indian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix discussion
- 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix discussion
This is a guest article by Damon Smedley. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.
From the stands
- F1 still struggling to gain a foothold in India
- Why the Hungarian Grand Prix is a must-see race
- Why the Spanish GP was better in person than on TV
- Watching Brazil’s spellbinding F1 season finale
- Silverstone fans’ mixed views on the rain-hit weekend
- Nigel’s memories from the last 37 British Grands Prix
- F1 Fanatics meet up in Melbourne
- Watching at the Paddock Club, Parabolica and podium at Monza
- In the Paddock Club and in the stands at Spa
- Steven’s 51 F1 race visits in 25 years
Images courtesy of Damon Smedley, Andrew Robertson and Stephen Jones