Friday at the Australian Grand Prix

Formula One had to wait a couple of more weeks than anticipated, but the first day of running at the Australian Grand Prix for 2011 went in some way to clear up a lot of unanswered questions from the off season.
One of the unusual scenarios from the Australian weekend, nay Formula One paddock, so far has been the perennial mystery team that is HRT. Sacrificing one day of testing to undertake a filming day with Pirelli (with such footage yet to surface), dampers mysteriously stuck in European customs, announcing their second driver barely weeks out of the Grand Prix. Their mere existence alone is a mystery as no amount of PR spin, or enthusiasm from Dr. Kolles will hide their lack of backing. Searching for such companies as ‘Your Name Here’ and ‘This is a cool spot’ have yielded minimal results.

HRT used one, out of a possible four, get out of jail free cards for the now compulsory curfew for race mechanics. There is little known as to why the team required the entire night to treat their cars, but even this hampered the team’s running from FP1 and the majority of FP2. Tonio Liuzzi took the inauspicious honour of turning over the pioneering first laps of the F111. It completed one installation lap.
The pace of McLaren-Mercedes and Mercedes GP throughout off-season testing was largely questionable. By the admission of both teams, many immediately wrote off the championship chances of both teams as they publicly stated their cars were not up to scratch. Mercedes made a last minute impression in Barcelona testing, but past efforts have proven that testing results must be taken with a grain of salt. Much like Bernie Ecclestone’s suggestions to improve racing by installing water sprinklers.
If anything the pace of McLaren and Mercedes look like the most likely contenders to chase the class of the field, Red Bull Racing. A third consecutive year of extremely high-level performance may have appeared unlikely given the aggressive rate at which Red Bull developed the RB6. Their testing pace looked good, their pace in practice was incredibly encouraging. The acrimonious relationship between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel is still on the minds of many fans and pundits, but the drivers and team have spent much of the European winter putting out the media spot fire. On the surface, both drivers are playing nice in the sandbox but it’s hard to ignore Webber and Vettel trading tit-for-tat in lap times. It’s only practice, but setting the fastest time in FP1 would have been a mental win for Webber early in the weekend.
The youngsters came out to play today, and much to their credit, they did themselves no discredit in their performance. Pastor Maldonado is still a little bit bonkers but Sir Frank, Patrick Head, et al would have been most pleased the car arrived in one piece – save for a couple of off-track excursions. Sergio Perez, despite his incredible resemblance to Box Of Neutrals’ own Michael Lamonato (see home page), his driving abilities should not be confused with Lamonato’s racing prowess. The jury is still out on the rookies at this stage of the weekend, but it would be fantastic to reminisce in a few years time and remember their debut race weekends.
Surprisingly, Renault were nothing special. For all their boasting, sidepod exhaust systems, retro livery and bullyboy tactics of other teams, it didn’t really translate into outright pace in either session. The absence of Kubica will have destabilised their season aspirations, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t have flirted with the times set further up the grid.
If one quote summed up the off-season “I don’t know” would be the line placed on a wacky hipster t-shirt. Tomorrow, the teams won’t reveal all of their aces and neither will the Pirelli-KERS-DRS combo. It doesn’t really matter though, Formula One’s back and it’s shaping up for another great yearlong story. I wonder what music they’ll put into this year’s FIA review.
Editor’s Note: We’d like to point out that Box Of Neutrals, representing SYN Media, is the only show/media outlet representing community radio. Keepin’ it real…as real as we can in a very commercial sport. 


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