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Archive for March, 2010

One thing is for certain on the evidence of the opening race of the Formula One season in Bahrain – Bernie Ecclestone will have no trouble attracting the sponsorship dollars of L’Oreal any time soon.

Despite the pre-season hype, which suggested that the racing would make the hairs on the back of Cheryl Cole’s neck stand on end, the 49 laps were limp, dull, lifeless.

The portents were thunderously promising. Four world champions including the seven-time title-winner Michael Schumacher sliding his angular jaw into the cockpit of a Mercedes. For the romantics there were the names of Lotus and Senna, two Brits banging wheels at McLaren, and rapid peddlers at Ferrari and Red Bull.

As it turned out the first race of the 19-event calendar was as scintillating as a waterlogged Guy Fawkes’ night.

Speaking of combustion, hands up anyone who thought that a dodgy spark plug (four for £16.99 at Halfords while stocks last) would deliver the one moment of drama during the race?

The fact is had Sebastien Vettel’s Red Bull not lost power with 15 laps to go, allowing Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa to claim a Ferrari one-two with Lewis Hamilton, similarly benefitting from Vettel’s misfortune, inheriting fourth, Borerain was nothing more than a very expensive procession.

As it was the only legitimate overtaking of note at the sharp end was Alonso’s pass on Massa as the lights went out.

Starting from third on the grid, behind Vettel and Massa, the Spaniard got by his team-mate between turns one and two on the opening lap and was in position to seize on the pole man’s misfiring Red Bull as the flag loomed.

Hamilton and Button both moved up places, but only during the brave new pit stops, which inflame the passions much as rugby league scrums do.

Ah yes, the refuelling ban.

What has it proven so far? For starters, it has made race strategy largely redundant. Qualification is all important – a bit like the final line-up for the Olympic 800 metres title being decided by a 100 metre dash in the semis.

So settle back and prepare for 19 Monacos – i.e. you finish where you qualify.

Button’s take on Bahrain went thus: “It was pretty much what we expected. All the cars stop at the same time and don’t overtake each other.”

Schumacher concurred. “Overtaking was basically impossible unless somebody made a mistake,” he said. Or had a mechanical failure, Vettel might have added.

“That is the action we are going to have with this kind of environment of race strategy. With no refuelling, it will be difficult to see any overtaking, so after the first lap the positions will be set.”

Lewis Hamilton weighed in with: “You start with fuel, you do one stop and it’s pretty much a train all the way.”

At least on this occasion most of the ambulance chasing is coming from within. McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh calling for mandatory two stops and “edgier” tyres led the rumblings.

When was the last time the Formula One Paddock was so introspective? The last time the lavish lifestyles of those who pack a suitcase every two weeks was threatened one suspects.

Before the season, the teams, worried that the refuelling ban would lead to processions, discussed introducing a rule that would force drivers to make two stops.

Whitmarsh drove the proposal and was the first to call for “immediate rules tweaks” after the Bahrain snoozefest.

“We do need to look at mandating stops, we do need to look at the tyres and make them more fragile, and we do need to work on making the cars capable of racing close together and easier to overtake,” he concluded.

The refuelling ban has also meant that the monocoque on the 2010 cars had to be lengthened to accommodate the increase in fuel load with cars on full tanks from the off.

The result is that the most advanced racing machine on the planet resembles a hearse. The Sauber, bereft of any trace of sponsors logos, is particularly grotesque with that air box stretching back to the rear wing like most of its rivals. Shark fins indeed. Great White in the case of Sauber.

It seems that even some with a vested interest in proceedings found themselves unmoved. Hamilton’s mum was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying the race “so boring”.

The car-to-pit dialogue, never riveting to be sure, now centres on tyre management and fuel consumption. Wake me when it’s all over.

So, this weekend, will Melbourne deliver the spectacle Bahrain failed so dismally to do? F1 had better hope so.

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