Running Diary: 2019 Australian Grand Prix

Jonathan Simon runs us through his fan perspective of the 2019 Australian Grand Prix

It’s free practice Friday! I’ve travelled to the Australian Grand Prix for yet another year. I’m with my buddy Stefano for the weekend. You guessed it, Italian name, Ferrari fan. Myself? A Lewis Hamilton supporter since his GP2 days in 2006. One of us is leaving this weekend pleased, the other will be dismal. There’ll be plenty of banter and bias, but all in friendly love.

I kept a running diary of the weekend, here’s what transpired:

Friday • Practice 1

11:55 a.m. (AEST): We’re coming to you live from Albert Park. Inside the exit of turn 2, an awkward yet thrilling spot to see the cars for the first time this year. The new F1 opening title starts playing on the big screen five minutes before the session commences. Forget the hype videos, is there anything better that pumps you up for an F1 event than that? Even the ten second FOM introductions were enough to keep me shaking. So let’s have a quick YouTube party before we continue, here are all the introductions compilated into one video:

12:02: Man! Are the cars all of a sudden louder this year? Maybe I’ll just get used to this by the end of the weekend.

12:13: The installation laps are over and the goosebumps are gone. I missed this.

12:15: It’s the perfect time to walk over the bridge to the outside of turn 2 before we miss any more action. We see a Ferrari fan with a classy long black top hat. Somebody should’ve told him that Sunday is St Patrick’s day. Or maybe he already knows? Black top hat for Friday, red for Saturday, green for Sunday. For all we know, he could have a whole wardrobe of those bad boys.

12:27: It’s official, the Williams is the ugliest car on the grid. I feel like I want to brush my teeth each time I set my eyes on it. The Red Bull, Haas, Ferrari and Toro Rosso are a sight for sore eyes. They all look brilliant.

However I’m disappointed with the McLaren in person. It was my favourite looking livery right as it was launched. I think the lighting in the lecture theatre the car was launched in gave it some needed glamour. It’s like seeing a girl look ten times better at the club at 2am, maybe I need a few beers to enjoy the McLaren? I predict it’ll be the best looking car at any night race though.

12:30: Let’s answer the pressing question coming out of winter testing. The Ferrari is indeed orange. The Alfa Romeo ‘wine red’ looks splendid though. What if they ran the same colour with a tinge of black instead of white? I think that would compete with the Lotus 77 as one of the greatest liveries of all time.

12:34: We can barely see the TV screen here and can hardly hear track commentary. Surely they’ll turn it up soon?

12:38: Since 2010, Red Bull have visually looked like the swiftest, most aerodynamic car through the turn 1/2 complex. Maybe my mind is deceiving me, but they win that award again this year.

12:42: Sunny, clear skies. Not hot, not cold, but a lovely breeze mixes in well with the warmth in the ambience. I didn’t forget to bring a pack of skittles, just to sweeten up the day a little more. Perfect weather for Formula 1 this weekend.

12:50: Stefano and I each buy a Bratwurst sausage to fuel us on the long walk down to turn 3. Food costs here are the same as the prices of stadium food. They’re selling track radio headphones for $20 a set. $20! Bratwurst or two track radio sets? We can live without the radio.

12:56: Team radio to Alexander Albon: “wind is increasing”. Here we are boiling to death with no wind at turn 3. Rub it in why don’t you.

12:57: Okay, wind speed has increased now, always trust your engineers.

1:03: Again, the eternal struggle of finding TV screens to keep up to date with the action. Almost all of the screens are setup for areas with grandstands. There’s no fun in a grandstand seat though, I want to be in the thick of it with the fans. There are some rare spots though where you can still see a good portion of the track – with a screen and commentary to follow the action.

1:08: Turn 4. I parked here just a month ago to play some basketball at the stadium, now I’m watching Sebastian Vettel slice through the complex. It’s not motor racing without street circuits!

1:13: Awesome, they closed off the inside of turn 7. I’d love to understand the reasoning to that decision. I used to love watching the cars trail brake into the corner here. I noticed Kimi’s brake-by-wire issues here in 2016 before they were reported publicly. Such a brilliant corner.

1:21: So I’ve been forced to walk over the bridge to the outside of turn 7, still not a bad spot to end practice one. The corner is significantly more cambered than the cameras give it credit for. The drivers are SCREAMING through here towards the end of the session. It’s insane how quick these cars look in person. I just finished writing this one note and Lewis Hamilton just completed two laps.

1:23: Valtteri Bottas has spun at another part of the race track and almost wacked it into the wall. Hamilton comes flying past again through turn 7, stable and quick. Bottas arrives moments later, rear end ragged and oscillating. A Ferrari now comes sailing past and I was extremely close to suffering whiplash. I can’t wait until Q3 on Saturday afternoon, the battle will intensify.

1:27: I’ve just seen the fifth young kid today looking inspired, sitting on their dad’s shoulders. I remember David Coulthard echoing the sentiment ahead of the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. The government can’t stop funding the event, got to inspire kids, tourism and so on.

1:28: A Toro Rosso struggles to move out of the way of a few quicker cars. It gets caught up at the apex of turn 7 where Bottas is forced to travel around the outside. Tricky situation…

1:32: My buddy Stefano: “the Williams is what it must feel like to be ugly and out of shape.”

Friday • Practice 2

4:06 p.m. (AEST): We’ve decided to begin this session by heading to the final corner. I just want to see a lockup or two before we move on. Charles Leclerc comes through the final couple of corners now. We see a motion picture of this sunny Ferrari looking more orange than it does red. This Ferrari is definitely going to grow on me. It’s like hating an album the first time you give it a listen – afterwards, it evolves into a gold record.

4:16: We’ve crossed the bridge to the outside of turn 14. We hear the first car coming through here, but can’t see it. Where is it…?

Bam! It pops out of nowhere and it’s already gone. The downforce these cars can carry through this corner is incredible.

4:19: I just saw my first Williams fan of the day, he looks like he needs a hug.

4:37: So my friend and I were walking towards the quick turn 11/12 complex, just as we see Martin Brundle speeding away in a golf cart with his camera crew. I’ve been trying to locate Martin on his track walk every year since Sky Sports took over the F1 coverage in 2012.

Note: He gets right to the edge of the lake (where the most traction is present). He’s literally an inch away from hilariously driving into the shallow lake. Racing drivers don’t think about consequences do they?

We finally catch up to him at the penultimate corner where he’s ready to go live.

5:06: It’s taken us almost 30 minutes, but I got my photo and a short chat with Martin. I told him I was planning to work as a journalist in Formula 1 and would see him in a few years in the paddock. You see, I’m trying to say the same things Lewis Hamilton told Ron Dennis in 1995 in hope that Brundle would ask me to ‘phone him in nine years’. He wished me “good luck”.

5:29: After an exhausting thirty minutes hunting Brundle down, we sit down and rest at the penultimate corner. To our enjoyment, we see a Daniil Kvyat lockup, along with Alexander Albon, Antonio Giovinazzi and Charles Leclerc spins.

5:49: We decided to head out for dinner and a night out in the town. I’m leaving the track and just don’t know how to summarise this day. Ferrari don’t look as quick as they did during winter testing, are they sandbagging? Were Mercedes sandbagging? It looks like Ferrari are struggling, not a promising Friday at all.5:49: We decided to head out for dinner and a night out in the town. I’m leaving the track and just don’t know how to summarise this day. Ferrari don’t look as quick as they did during winter testing, are they sandbagging? Were Mercedes sandbagging? It looks like Ferrari are struggling, not a promising Friday at all.

Thankfully, somebody has completed my work for me. A drunk Ferrari supporter trying to ask out a well-dressed Ferrari girl ahead of us as we walk out of the circuit. To nobody’s surprise, he gets rejected. Thanks for summing up the day good sir.

Saturday • Practice 3

1:54 p.m. (AEST): As we wait for the green flag to wave for the final practice session of the weekend, there’s too much talk of Lewis Hamilton’s dominance in the turbo-hybrid era. Not that I hate all the talk, but it’s almost certainly going to curse his weekend.

2:06: We’ve bumped into a couple of mates who’ve joined us for the practice session. One of them has purchased a Renault Daniel Ricciardo cap, priced at $70. Someone has to pay his $35 million salary.

2:11: Sparks illuminate the darkened tarmac as Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull traverses through the concrete and steel barriers. We’re watching the cars exit turn 2 and onto the second straight. It’s early in practice three and it’s obvious the car is running quite low ride height settings. I would assume Red Bull have beefed the car up with fuel for one last race run before they switch into qualifying mode for the rest of the day.

2:19: We’ve spent the past eight minutes talking about Formula 1: Drive to Survive, the new Netflix documentary. Possibly a podcast I need to record?

2:27: Esteban Ocon is on screen. I’m guessing he’ll be broadcasted on screen at least three times per race this season.

2:37: The big screen shows a replay of a Sauber blocking a McLaren. I’m not scripting this, just five seconds later, we see it happen in person again, but the McLaren pays the Sauber back on the exit of turn 1. I love a bit of bad blood in motor racing.

2:41: Replays now show a track marshal cleaning up the entrance to the pit lane after Kubica’s kiss with the wall. A fan shouts “HURRY, Kubica’s going to run you over”. A few people in the crowd start to erupt laughing.

2:55: Stefano and I have been having our annual argument over the final few laps of Brazil 2008. It’s distracted me from the closing laps of the session. As a Ferrari fan, he still believes Lewis Hamilton cheated by asking Timo Glock to allow him through. Ironically, Timo Glock stayed out and didn’t pit, aiding Felipe Massa’s chances for the world title. Had Glock pitted, Hamilton would’ve had the title regardless.

Out of nowhere, a drunk Ayrton Senna fan now interrupts our conversation, explaining that my friend shouldn’t been calling Lewis Hamilton a cheater. He also called Michael Schumacher the biggest cheater of all time. After a lengthy five minute conversation with this random fan, I’m lost for words. Although once the drunken fan sped off, my friend explained that he’s “never seen anyone enjoy talking to themselves so much”.

Saturday • Qualifying

4:58 p.m. (AEST): A Charlie Whiting tribute takes over the screen. Oh man… We will miss you Charlie.

5:01: It’s been announced that Lance Stroll received the first fine of the season yesterday. A €200 fine for pit lane speeding. Our friend instantly chimes in: “Dad will pay that!”

5:04: Kubica comes flying through turn one and the downshifts sound something along the lines of, “POP!, POP!, POP!”. I remember the Lotus Renault back in 2012 or 2013 sounded like nails were blending as it downshifted. Even the Force India cars around that time had a pretty ‘poppy’ downshift sound. I love it when cars have iconic sounds to them, hopefully that returns once this turbo-hybrid era is over.

5:07: We’re watching from outside the main straight, just before turn 1 and just after the bridge. In the braking zone, Hamilton screams through and brakes the latest out of all drivers on the grid. That’s been the iconic trademark for his entire career hasn’t it?

5:16: The track is evolving rapidly. It seems whoever will be out on track last will take pole position. I genuinely believe pole could be in the 1:19 range today. I remember when I was frightened by a 1:24 around Albert Park. Oh how times change.

5:21: Ladies and Gentleman, we have our first blunder of the season! Red Bull have left Pierre Gasly out in the pits for too long (after the event, I noticed Red Bull had some issues charging the battery in the car and this meant Pierre could only fit in one good run). Carlos Sainz Jr also fell foul of Robert Kubica’s puncture and misses out on a spot into Q2. Surely we’ll have some entertainment tomorrow with these two starting down the order, especially Gasly.

5:30: I remember watching qualifying from here in 2012. I saw Fernando Alonso spin right in front of me during Q2. It was astonishing to see him walk through the gravel after ripping his wheel away from the track marshal. I saw the entire thing live, it’s one of my favourite moments of Australian Grand Prix history for just shear drama. Will anything similar happen today?

5:46: Q2 has concluded and the crowd is in a state of shock and silence. Both Renault cars have been eliminated – noticeably home hero Daniel Ricciardo. Even I’m shocked! Their race pace wasn’t impressive on Friday and now they’re starting from outside the top 10? At least they have free choice of tyre for the beginning of the race.

5:51: Goosebumps. Surely a 1:19?

5:55: Wow, I think it’s happening. Mercedes actually have the quickest car at Melbourne… This is unbelievable after winter testing. Then again, the same thing happened last year. Stefano called it out this year, he said Mercedes would be quickest going into Melbourne despite what the media was reporting. I guess freight would cost too much if they transported their sandbags to the southern hemisphere.

5:57: The cars are going out quite early. The track is evolving rapidly. I feel like this is a session where whoever is out last will end up on pole. At least between the two Mercedes drivers.

6:01: What can I say, that was such an insane lap from Lewis. Oh how I’ve missed the thrills of the end of Q3. They show Lewis enjoying it on the big screen. He hasn’t celebrated qualifying performances with enthusiasm since 2010, but you can tell that was an awesome lap. Credit to Max Verstappen, splitting the Ferrari drivers. To think Max is still five to ten years from his peak is scary.

Sunday • Race

We are back to the track for Sunday, this time a little more exhausted than usual. We’ve gotten the drunk stories out of the way from a lengthy, yet enjoyable Saturday night. Now it’s time for the driver’s parade as we’re coming to you live from the outside of turn 1, just after the bridge.

Nothing interesting happened this year unfortunately, my favourite driver’s parade story from the Australian Grand Prix occurred in 2014. All drivers from the top teams had taken off and there was nobody quite popular coming through anymore. The crowd was silent for a few moments, before a French fan behind me gave me a jump scare and screamed “JEAN-ERIC!!!!!!!!!!”. Even Jean-Eric Vergne was surprised he had a fan.

3:30 p.m. (AEST): The reconnaissance laps begin and we hear the growl of Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault take off from the end of the pit lane. I love the sound of the cars taking off, with or without the good old launch control of the mid-2000’s.

3:42: We’re already discussing how clean the racing side of the grid will be at the start. Considering how quickly the track evolved here during qualifying yesterday. Surely those in odd numbered grid slots will have a hasty getaway. Luckily, I have time to take a quick toilet break without losing my spot.

3:50: We’ve gone through the entire weekend so far without seeing Ralf Schumacher’s flying crash in 2002. It’s so commonly played I’ve been waiting for it the entire weekend, but to no avail. I think I might have just missed it every time they’ve played it.

Lap 1: The crowd cheers, the lights are out, away we go! I saw dust fly in the air along with Ricciardo’s front wing. Incredible sight to see in person. There’s a two second delay from when you watch the start on screen to then flicking your head to the right to see the cars in person. In those two seconds, EVERYTHING happens.

Lap 5: Oh god. We’ve spotted one of those overenthusiastic ‘I know everything about F1, but all my facts, predictions and everything I say is wrong’ fans. There’s a group of three of them, I’m just happy I’ll have some content to fill in from them when I have nothing to say.

Lap 8: Pierre Gasly has a quick peek at turn one and takes a tighter line heading onto the next straight. I don’t mind one slight look, but I don’t understand why drivers would give up a smoother exit to glance up the inside. I would sit behind the driver and take the racing line heading onto the second straight.

Lap 11: Carlos Sainz Jr’s engine starts cooking. (We actually visited this spot after the race, the wet patch was still there).

Lap 15: The first Haas car pits for the day. We’re all asking… IS IT ON!?

Lap 19: Nobody panic, but I might need to let these security guards near us know something frightening. Lance Stroll is currently in sixth. Stay calm people.

Lap 24: That’s it, we’re just going to say it. We don’t want to say it, we didn’t want to say it, but we finally did. This is a boring race so far. I felt like the weight of the earth came off my shoulders after admitting it.

Lap 26: A Trulli Train — uhh Giovinazzi train emerges. Over the off-season, how has nobody pointed out that Antonio is the first ‘full-time’ Italian on the grid since Jarno lost his seat at the end of 2011? That’s a big deal to me.

Lap 31: Max Verstappen passes Vettel, awesome move. People are off their feet. I don’t mind overtakes like that. The right car, the right situation. It reminded me of those Bridgestone-era overtakes that were thrilling and felt earned. Just as Michael Schumacher describes it:

Lap 33: Romain Grosjean retires in what seems to be yet another Haas pit stop issue. IT WASN’T ON! That looks like the same area on the car where they had the issue at the pit stop.

Lap 34: “I’ve got no rear end, tyres are really neutral,” says Hamilton. Our overenthusiastic fan and friends: “Hamilton’s sooking and complaining again.”

I just want you to read Hamilton’s radio feedback, then read what the annoying fan said, one more time. Come on, that’s unfair.

Lap 38: Welcome back Torpedo! Thanks for thirty outstanding seconds of entertainment. If I was Daniil, I would gladly adopt that as my nickname. For the good and the bad – much like Gilbert Arenas.

He coined himself ‘Agent Zero’ after critics predicted that ‘0’ would be the number of minutes he would play in the NBA. Just a little motivation for you Torpedo.

Lap 47: Just as I was starting to become a little impatient with the race, Valtteri is warned by the team that the only way they can lose this race is through a safety car. Way to make everyone nervous.

Lap 51: We’ve just spent a few laps discussing which drivers should push or pit for fastest lap. Why Ferrari haven’t pitted Leclerc for fastest lap is bizarre. Even if there’s an issue and he falls behind the Haas, he’ll have enough grip and pace to overtake Kevin Magnussen. I don’t mind this point for fastest lap rule…

Lap 53: Bob Geldof appears on screen where fans yell “Jackie Stewart!”, followed by “Still alive!”

That cracked me up.

Lap 58: We wave to winner Valtteri Bottas and make a mad dash to the podium. We’ve improved our position to the podium almost every year and I can feel it… We’re going purple again this year.

And purple we went.

The weekend was summed up perfectly. We headed down to the paddock to bump into a few of F1’s community and personalities before they leave Albert Park for the final time. I surprisingly said goodbye to Timo Glock whom nobody noticed… Along with Max Verstappen, Paul Di Resta, David Coulthard, Martin Brundle, and so so so many more…

But as David Croft left the race track, I introduced myself and had a good ten minute conversation with him about all things journalism. What an awesome guy.

These are the events that inspire me. These are the events that make me want to work in Formula 1. The events that make me WANT to be part of this travelling, yet exquisite circus.

Maybe some day soon…

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