I do think that, of all the silly, irritating tomfoolishness by which we are plagued, this “weather-forecast” fraud is about the most aggravating. It “forecasts” precisely what happened yesterday or the day before, and precisely the opposite of what is going to happen today.
~Jerome K. Jerome – Three Men in a Boat~
It was on the Monday morning prior to the race that I first looked up the weather forecast for the following weekend. I had already ascertained that it was predicted to be delightfully sunny with a temperature of 27 degrees for practice on Friday – a splendid day for both the participants and the onlookers. However, on Monday morning the forecast for the following Sunday was abysmal – it was to be a bone chilling 19 degrees (at least for those of us who live near the equator in the Southern Hemisphere) and rain! And not just a little bit of rain. It was for teaming rain as well as high winds.
Rain is all very well and good later in the season when we need a bit of variety in the race winners and the welcome possibility of a mid field driver conquering the current leaders in the points table, but rain for the inaugural race filled me with dismay. I could only hope that Jerome K. Jerome would be correct and the weather would in fact be the complete opposite!
As predicted the storm did arrive, but earlier than expected, just in time to throw qualifying into chaos and upset the ultimate order on the grid. Race day dawned cloudy, but dry. The threat of precipitation still hung in the air but no one, not even the weatherman, could foretell what would eventually ensue.
I had arisen at the crack of dawn, too excited to sleep and we had departed for Albert Park bright and early, in time for the main straight walk. This was an opportunity to stand on the starting grid in the same position that just a few hours later the stunning machinery of the Formula One cars would be positioned. We could also gaze over the fence at the still sleepy garages, with only the Lotus stall showing any sign of life. They appeared to have been working desperately through the night in an attempt to enable their cars to be in working order for the race.
There were still seven lingering hours to fill in until the commencement of the race. With time to waste we wandered down to the lake situated in the interior of the track. The sun had come out from behind the clouds and was now sparkling on the water. The black swans paddled up to us and gathered at our feet, hoping we had brought some bread to feed them.
The remainder of the day dragged by, every minute seemed to take an hour. There were short periods of interest on the track. The V8 Supercars had their final race, which even involved a significant amount of passing, much to the delight of the spectators. However, most of the day was spent in fretful waiting.
During the middle of the afternoon it started to rain, pattering lightly on the covering above us. However, it was gone as quickly as it had come, blown away by the continuing brisk winds. We looked at the weather radar, trying to get some idea of how much precipitation could be expected during the race. It showed small scatterings of showers over the whole of the Melbourne area. There was no predicting what would be happening at race time.
The minor support races came and went. Time dragged by. The wind increased in force and we put on our raincoats in an attempt to keep warm. We drank coffee for its warming properties as well as to aid in the struggle to stay alert. Waiting, waiting…
After a delay that seemed like weeks, the cars we had been restlessly waiting for began emerging onto the track like bears after their winter’s hibernation, undecided if spring had unequivocally arrived. They materialised, did their sighting lap, then returned through the pits, to then appear again and do a further lap. Finally, all the cars were lined up on the grid, seemingly ready to start the race. The lights came on, and then started flashing blue. The second Marussia had stalled (the first had already refused to start on the parade lap). The cars were all sent around again on a further warm-up lap while it was removed from the grid. We waited in expectation. Would the race never start?
All things come eventually, and the race did at long last commence. We held our breath as the crush of cars went into the first corner. Two cars slid onto the gravel, Kobayashi unable to make the bend and taking Massa with him, but the rest made it through unscathed. As they came into sight for the first time Rosberg was in the lead. Quickly I scanned the cars as they came through, Magnussen had held his own among the older and more experienced drivers. Ricciardo was still there as was Kimi.
I didn’t realise at the time how close he had been to being taken out by Kobayashi. Gutierrez and Perez collided in front of us on Turn 3 and a marshall had to gingerly run across the gravel to collect the half of Gutierrez’s front wing that had been deposited on the track.
We watched enthralled as Bottas came expertly through the field from his fifteenth place on the grid. There was no evidence of the rear end twitchiness that had plagued him in practice and qualifying, though he did manage to hit the wall with his left rear tyre, causing it to disintegrate which resulted in a safety car being sent onto the track while the debris was cleared up.
After the safety car came in we had the pleasure of again watching Bottas, cleanly and quickly, making his way through the field with several magnificent passes directly in front of us. We saw him pass Kimi twice in our corner – Kimi obviously knew his Ferrari didn’t have the speed or handling to keep Botta’s Williams behind him as he didn’t appear to be fighting hard for position.
I was surprised to discover that watching a race at the track is nothing like watching it on TV. The speed of the cars was mind shattering, the subtle difficulties and differences with their handling more pronounced, the spectacle stunning. Even though ear protection was not needed, the sounds the engines made were magnificent. Never again will I be satisfied with the display that is visible on my television screen compared with the thrill of seeing the cars in the flesh.
In contrast to the first part of the day, the race went by as if on fast forward. It seemed like only a few minutes had passed and suddenly there were only three laps left. The first three drivers hadn’t changed position the whole race. Nico Rosberg had driven sensibly and carefully, his car probably capable of going 1-2 seconds a lap faster than the field. Daniel hadn’t been able to challenge him but had managed to hold off Kevin Magnussen, who for a time was closing in on him. We could finally believe that the Renault engine was going to survive and that Daniel would manage to get on the podium. The crowd cheered him enthusiastically every time he came past for the last few laps.
Then, on the last lap, when the cars were going around for the last time, the setting sun came out from behind the clouds and shone brightly on the track. It seemed like a miracle. Daniel had managed to come second in his first race with his struggling Renault engine. The crowd all stood and cheered Daniel as if he’d won the race. An Australian had never done so well on home soil.
As we hiked through the streets of Melbourne back to our apartment we were all euphoric. Unknown to us, the storm about Red Bull and their fuel usage was yet to come, but for that short-lived time it was a perfect weekend!