F1 Fanatics meet up in Melbourne

From the stands

Dan Campbell, Toro Rosso, Melbourne, 2012Five F1 Fanatic readers took the opportunity to meet up at the first race of the year in Melbourne.

Here’s Damon Smedley’s report from the race.

Thursday

I flew into Melbourne and was greeted at the airport by fellow F1 Fanatic member Iamsa8, whose family kindly provided me with accommodation over the race weekend.

We braved the inclement weather and arrived at the track early on Thursday to attend the FOTA Fans Forum hosted by Australian commentator Neil Crompton.

Sadly, the sense of it being a ‘fans’ forum was lost and none of the questions that were put to the representatives from Williams, Marussia, Mercedes and Caterham came from members of the audience.

After the forum finished we bumped into the BBC’s Jake Humphrey outside the paddock and had a quick photo taken with him. But the fun was only just beginning.

Steve had won a tour of the paddock and Mercedes garage in a competition on the Australian Grand Prix Corporation?s Twitter account. He saw several drivers along the way and had his photo taken with the Mercedes car.

As Thursday at Melbourne offers little in the way of racing ? with only support categories cutting practice laps ? we decided to do some exploring around the park.

Our first stop was the official autograph stand, where we waited in a large queue to meet the two Sauber drivers. We were halfway to the front before I realised I had nothing for them to sign, so I made a frantic dash for the merchandise stand to buy the official race program. Unfortunately, by the time I had returned, it was all over.

We wandered over to the paddock entrance in an attempt to spot some drivers as they were leaving the circuit. We had timed it perfectly, and I managed to get a dozen autographs from drivers and prominent team personnel in the space of just an hour, including Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean.

Friday

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2012Day two greeted us with similar weather conditions. But sporadic showers (and one heavy downpour before the first practice session) failed to dampen the atmosphere, and seeing the 2012 F1 cars for the first time was a highlight of the weekend.

For the second practice session, we left our seats and walked the circuit to find some good general admission vantage points and shoot some good footage of the cars at speed.

Perhaps the best place to watch from was between turns three and six, with spectator mounds and concrete stands offering fantastic views of the cars as they wrestled their way through the first sector.

We also spotted Sebastien Buemi as he walked the track with a member of the Red Bull team. Once again, we quickly snapped a photo with him as he went by.

Saturday

The weather improved considerably for the third day of our Grand Prix weekend, and both fine practice and qualifying were held in glorious sunshine.

Massa, similarly to in 2011, provided us with plenty of entertainment as he slid the car through turn two sideways on several occasions. The Ferraris looked to be struggling more than anyone else for grip, and were making by far the most corrections through the opening chicane.

The meet-up

Iiamsa8, Nefor, Jay, Damon Smedley and Arkay meet up in MelbourneSteve had arranged a meet-up for F1 Fanatics before qualifying to chew the fat and talk with some very like-minded individuals.

The turnout was lower than last year, but we still got to put some faces to names. The Mercedes ??F-DRS? was a particularly popular topic, with everyone scrambling to get shots of the front wing.

Qualifying

The most exciting part of the day was qualifying. Fernando Alonso arrived backwards right in front of us in Q2 and it was looking likely he was heading for a large shunt. Luckily, the gravel trap did its job and stopped the car before it reached the wall.

The crowd let out a large cheer as an unhappy Alonso emerged from his car having failed to persuade the marshals to give him a push.

It was very satisfying to see McLaren beat Red Bull so comprehensively in qualifying, and it assured everyone that we?re in for a much more unpredictable season than 2011. Romain Grosjean was the star of the day, however, and his third place was very popular with the crowd.

We headed for the city at the end of the day and hit Southbank, where we immersed ourselves in the St. Patrick?s day atmosphere and viewed the beautiful night scene from above in Melbourne?s tallest building.

Sunday

Race day was to be a fitting end to an amazing weekend in and around Melbourne. The weather stayed dry and hot for the duration of the race and left us all slightly sunburnt.

On the way to the circuit, we spotted Jaime Alguersuari walking through the streets of St. Kilda in running shorts and a t-shirt. No-one else seemed to recognise the former Toro Rosso driver.

With little on-track action on offer other than the F1 race, we spent much of the day checking out the attractions and entertainment around the track. The entrance to the paddock was a lot more crowded than earlier in the weekend, however, and we gave up on trying to squeeze back in to get some more autographs.

The race

We sought shelter from the sun before the race before heading to our seats half an hour before the lights went out. The race got underway in dramatic style, and we were provided with a spectacular display of chaos as Bruno Senna was tipped into an aerial spin by Daniel Ricciardo right in front of us.

The biggest disappointment for the enthusiastic crowd came when the hero of qualifying, Grosjean, retired in a collision with Pastor Maldonado early in the race.

Mark Webber’s usual poor start was to be expected, and came as no surprise to his hundreds of thousands of supporters.

The appearance of the safety car raised the prospect of the top four being closed up for a 20-lap sprint to the finish.

As we counted down the laps to the finish, we cheered Hamilton and Webber on in their pursuit of Vettel. However, after a while, it became apparent that the Vettel had the legs of his pursuers, as he pulled away from them and began to eat into Button?s lead.

Further down the road, the other local favourite, Ricciardo, had quietly made his way back onto the tail of Jean-Eric Vergne. He closed in on his team mate rapidly before eventually pipping him on the final lap, to the delight of the crowd.

Unfortunately, the laps ran out before Vettel could challenge Button or Webber could find a way past Hamilton. As the flag fell, we hurriedly made our way for the nearest gap in the fence, before running down the pit straight to enjoy the podium celebrations.

The atmosphere was electric, and as the ever-popular Button celebrated his win, the huge crowd cheered loudly and proudly. It was a surreal experience and something we will never forget.

We couldn?t have asked for much more from the first race weekend of the year.

Steve met the Sauber drivers, won a paddock and garage tour, we both got several drivers? signatures, met a few famous F1 people, walked the circuit, got wet, got burnt, and at the end of it all, saw a classic race. For me, it was easily the best weekend of my life.

See here for some more pictures taken by Dan:

From the stands

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24 comments on F1 Fanatics meet up in Melbourne

  1. dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 22nd March 2012, 16:15

    Sounds like an awesome weekend @damonsmedley.

    we immersed ourselves in the St. Patrick’s day atmosphere

    I hope that’s a masterful euphemism for “drank a lot of Guinness”!

  2. JustinF1 (@justinf1) said on 22nd March 2012, 17:19

    Great video of the start,. You guyz must of had a great time.

  3. Macca (@macca) said on 22nd March 2012, 21:41

    Sorry I couldn’t make it to the meet up guys. My mates made a last minute choice to attend Saturday so I spent the day out the back of the track on the hill. Glad you all had a great time.

  4. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 22nd March 2012, 22:02

    Nice write up @damonsmedley

    Glad you enjoyed it and good to see you flying the F1 Fanatic flag high!

    Reminds me of my trip to Monza last year. We came away getting more than what we bargained for when we got to explore the pit lane. Amazing experience.

  5. nefor (@nefor) said on 22nd March 2012, 22:27

    Nice write up, impressed by the amount of F1 people you guys managed to meet!

    It was good to meet a few other Fanatics! Did you guys notice the sound of the Red Bull during Quali after I’d mentioned it?

    • Selbbin (@selbbin) said on 23rd March 2012, 0:43

      Yeah, I noticed that as soon as they were on track, very different when he reduced gears or slowed than any of the other cars on track. After a few laps I could tell when a Red Bull or McLaren was braking and about to appear.

  6. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 22nd March 2012, 22:56

    Thanks for this @damonsmedley !
    I always like to read these 1st hand experiences!

  7. Theoddkiwi (@theoddkiwi) said on 23rd March 2012, 0:09

    Sorry i didnt make it to the meet up i had my two little ones with me and my daughter was not in the mood to walk around too much. They got a photo with Lightening McQueen though.
    When my son saw Lewis get pole he ran up to me and gave me a huge high five, just magic! We were also please to see Webber out qualify his team mate too.

    Race day i had my son on my shoulders the whole race… he is seven and 30kgs, but he didnt want to get down and did really well following the race and working out who was winning etc. We were on the top of the grass mound to the right of your grandstand so had a similar view of turns 1 and 2 but had to stand. There was a guy with a big Red Bull Flag down the hill in front of us and just as the grid formed up he put the flag up covering the large video screen. I began to shout “put your flag down!” and before long we had half the hill yelling at him to put his flag down so people could see the screen. He did so and there was a huge cheer fortunately just before the start..

    My Son loved the first corner tangle and yelled out “Oh man, now thats what i am talking about” (from Lightening McQueen not Vettle) We had a great day but as my legs where locked at the knees there was no chance to get down to the ceremonies. With the insight of a seven year old, he told me it was ok that Lewis got third.. he still got a trophy, perhaps he needed to have a chat with Lewis too to cheer him up too, and sure he would have appreciated it.

    Great day and great race! look forward to the dramas to come…

  8. Selbbin (@selbbin) said on 23rd March 2012, 0:39

    I didn’t meet up with you guys even though I saw the sign and the first few starting to mingle. The crowds heading back across the bridge were so intense I wanted to make it back to my seat in the Jones stand before qualifying started. Maybe next time meet up a bit earlier than moments before qualifying. I was sitting right on the other side of where the video is shot and can see myself as a speck. It was indeed a brilliant four days and wasn’t bored for a minute. Sat with various random F1 fans and had many beers, and certain to hold on to my seat and return next year. I also managed to get into some secure areas after the activities on Frid and Sat because all of a sudden security would vanish, and the pit lane tour was brilliant, although not as good as an actual pit tour. The Fan vision was cool too, although the timing didn’t update very quickly, so I mainly used it to listen to the BBC radio commentary rather than the track commentary.

  9. Mike (@mike) said on 23rd March 2012, 0:50

    I dunno about Vettel catching Button though, seeing as Button was setting numerous fastest laps and had quite a lead by the end of the race.

    I think after the restart, there was a short time when Lewis had more pace than Vettel, but as soon as his tyres started wearing Webber was pressuring him.

    I still feel bad for Maldonado, lap after lap I was yelling to my friends that he would surely try to pass him, being on the inside of turn 3 I was sure in my head that it was the most likely place for a pass. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

    Ricciardo’s last last was, wow, it was only when I got home that I knew what happened.
    I kinda feel for Webber, because he was at least on the pace of Vettel.

  10. Pink Peril (@pink-peril) said on 23rd March 2012, 2:18

    Sorry guys, I had every intention of coming to the meet up but with the delay in the V8 Supercars race I didn’t realise the time & missed it. Hope you all enjoyed yourselves anyway.

  11. Dave (@davea86) said on 23rd March 2012, 2:42

    Thanks for the story @damonsmedley

    Makes me even more jealous that I couldn’t make it down to Melbourne this year. The photo album is really interesting too. One of the things I noticed on the coverage and in the pics was the catch fencing along the pit wall was clear plastic/polycarbonate rather than the steel mesh around the rest of the track. It’s a shame they can’t do that around the whole circuit since it really does ruin a lot of photos. I guess maybe it would reduce the sound or separate the cars from the fans too much.

    • Selbbin (@selbbin) said on 23rd March 2012, 2:58

      Interesting you noted that the plastic barriers could block the noise. There were so many people using ear protection that there would be many who won’t mind. But I certainly would hate any noise reduction (which is a real fear considering future engine size downgrades). I had really good sound-reducing ear-buds in, and actually took one out while listening to the commentary so I could hear the thunder of the engines properly (especially the downshifting Red Bull). I didn’t want to dull any of the senses while I was there.

  12. Stephen Jones (@aus_steve) said on 23rd March 2012, 5:50

    Here’s some footage of Damon attempting to get signatures

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