The Ben Evans column: A race worth getting up early for

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F1 2008 started with a bang in Australia – and as a weekend did more to vindicate the views the armchair enthusiast (you and I) have held about F1 for a long time.

Before the action even kicked off, I thought that Bernie Ecclestone’s comments demanding that Australia move to a night time race to accommodate European TV viewers veered between the stupid and idiotic. The Australian organisers quite rightly told him where to go.

My question to Bernie is this: if the European TV audiences are so important – why do you keep moving races out of Europe?

After all it is hardly as if the European fans will stick around if they have to travel to Bahrain to watch their heroes in action. This must have come as a particularly bitter pill to British fans who for years have been threatened with losing their race, only to now be told that races on the other side of the world should be rescheduled for their viewing pleasure. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

After all, as every F1 fanatic knows the excitement of the first race of the year is amplified by its dawn start.

And what a start it was, I was crying into my coffee as the traction control ban reaped its first victim after half a corner. Ok so the race for the lead never quite materialised – but what a race it would have been had Raikkonen managed to pass Koivalinen and keep the car on the road. But behind the leading trio, what a race we had.


Three-car Formula Ford-esque dices with Raikkonen, Alonso and Kovalainen, this was great stuff. To actually see F1 cars overtaking around Albert Park was almost enough to make me cry with joy. Seeing David Coulthard have a sizeable shunt actually did.

For the past few seasons Coulthard has been amongst the most aggressive defenders in F1 frequently shutting the door later than is really safe. Unfortunately on Sunday when he went to shut the gap he found that half a Ferrari was holding it open. That Coulthard was so gracious after the event (doling out a four-letter rant live on ITV) only amplified my happiness.

The best element of the TC-free cars was that for the first time in years the punishment was fitting the crime. For several seasons now drivers have become accustomed to hurling their cars into the corners and letting the electronics bail them out. Now that is no longer the case and it claimed several scalps.

For example in 2007 there is no way Timo Glock would have had the shunt he did. Sunday in Malaysia will be fascinating as there are a number of very fast corners which put a lot of strain on the car’s traction and stability.

The new breed of cars will see a number of new stars emerging. While the likes of Felipe Massa have been flattered by traction control, others such as Jenson Button have been muffled by it. Button’s extremely smooth driving style will flourish this year and I expect many will be surprised by his results.

Lewis Hamilton drove a stellar race showing, as in Canada last year, that his greatest strength is his ability to keep a calm head when those around him lose theirs. I can almost image him discussing the football results during the safety car periods.

Elsewhere Sebastien Bourdais had a top class drive, benefiting from Vettel’s early retirement, to establish his F1 credentials. Certainly his Champ Car experience came to the fore in the closing stages as he kept an aggressive Alonso at bay in an ill handling car.

For the first time since, well, ever, the Albert Park Grand Prix was thoroughly enjoyable. If even half the races in 2008 are this good, then we’re in for a vintage season.

More about the 2008 Australian Grand Prix

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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19 comments on “The Ben Evans column: A race worth getting up early for”

  1. I agree entirely

  2. Rocco Siffredi
    18th March 2008, 11:52

    Nothing to add, really!
    An awesome race, an action-packed season opener and a brewing tension ahead!
    We’re in for one helluva season:)

  3. AmericanTifosi
    18th March 2008, 11:56

    Fantastic race, I too was thrilled to see DC crash out but not so happy that he had to take Massa with him. What time did you guys in the UK have to get up to see the race. I live in the US and was up at midnight.

  4. AmericanTifosi – it was an 0430 start here in the UK. Ironically I thought moving it 90 minutes forward was actually a hindrance.  A 0300 start is ok if you want to stay up for it, that extra 90 minutes puts the race into a kind of no-mans land that it’s far too early to get up for and a bit too late to stay up for (not that it stopped me anyway) :-D

  5. I agree except by one single item: I’m not sure the smoothest driver has the advantage. IMHO I think the wilder the car the fastest the reaction is needed. Last year was almost imposible to follow one car due to the heavy turbulence, but this year we saw the train Bourdais-Alonso-Kovalainen on a gap less than 1 second…. And Alonso was pursuing Kubica with his front nose just behind the rear wing of the BMW. I saw that for Alonso hard reactions were demanded on the fast chicane due to the loss of aerodynamics, but he was succesful on controlling the car.

    But, on the other side, his onboard footage didn’t show that violent driving of 2004-2006….

  6. Couldn’t be better. Maybe a bit slow on the front positions, but lots of fighting, and the BMW right up there, Nico, Alonso showing he’s just waiting for the others to screw up so he can get as many points as he can… We’re in for the best season in many many years.

  7. I agree with all but this "For example in 2007 there is no way Timo Glock would have had the shunt he did". In my view Timo just got it wrong and ran wide – surely this would have happen even with TC? Running wide has little to do with TC or engine braking its just muppet driving.

    In my view the only shunt caused by the lack of TC was Massa’s.

  8. I was in the same boat as AmericanTifosi- the timing for me was almost perfect, as I was able to enjoy the race late on Saturday evening into Sunday morning. A great intro to F1 for me, and i’m looking forward to many more great shows as we go along.

  9. One race in and I am already enthralled with the new season. By the end of 2007 I was suffering F1 fatigue, as the action on the track was not good enough to make up for the irritation / disgust at the politics.

    With us suddenly having much more action to watch, and, touch wood, less politics, my F1 obsession is back in full flow.

    On Sunday I even remembered what I used to like about Fernando Alonso!

  10. Timing was perfect here on the west coast of the US, I had a nice day and came home to watch the race at 9:30 PM. I kind of miss waking up at 5 AM to watch the races, but I’ll have plenty of chances for that later in the year.

  11. why oh why oh why… did they ever bring in traction control? Apparently it was because the use of electronic aids was difficult to police, but my god, just think of all the great racing, thrills and spills we have missed out on over the last few years. This season is going to be facinating

  12. Just goes to show that whatever Max thinks he is doing to improve the sport, he has somehow accidentally stumbled upon the right way to do it. Leave the other stuff alone, Mosley.

    Living on the west coast of Canada meant a 9:30 start which meant no early rise for us, but there was some red wine involved……..

  13. East coast US, midnight start. Next week will be a bear, with a 2:00 a.m. start. But I’ll be there! Thankfully speedtv gives us replays Sunday afternoon if i should nod off.

    I don’t expect half the action from Sepang as we saw in Albert Park. Different track, higher temps.

  14. I still half expect to find that Melbourne was the traditional one freak dry race a year that F1 has, and that normal service will be resuming in Malaysia on Sunday. I think, in reality, it will be halfway between the processional and the complete bonkers.

    There was a strangely high amount of unreliability in Melbourne, and the cars seem much more fragile as well for reasons I don’t quite understand. But there’s fewer walls to connect with in Malaysia! But we should still hopefully see plenty of driver error and passing.

    I’ve heard forecasts of rain, which would be fascinating  (I think any significant rain will result in a complete lottery of a GP this year and anyone could win), though it’s probably far too early in the week for any forecast to be accurate.

  15. Not sure why everyone keeps saying KL is going to be cooler. It was pushing 40 degrees C in Melbourne on Sunday and KL is always about 30 degrees. Forecast 29 for Sunday. Sure it will be very humid, but probably no direct sunlight either.

  16. Agreed – the humidity will be worse, but if it’s hotter it won’t be by much.

    Looking at the long-range weather forecasts there are some thunder showers around but they tend to be grouped in the evenings and it’s too early to say if they might affect the race.

  17. This was an awesome race. Not only the race itself, but the event itself seemed more ‘alive’ this year. I was there for 5 days (sitting at turn 16, my favourite corner) and had an absolute blast. Ah well, gotta enjoy it while it lasts, hey :(

  18. Great article Ben.

    Although AGP 2003 was an absolute Rip Snorter.

  19. yeah Bernie makes a lot of comments and predictions and hes more than often wrong… hes a money man, sure and good at it, especially good at filling his own bank account…  i remember him predicting after th 05 aussie GP that fisicella was gonna blow everyone away!

    i dont think he cares at all about the real fans, and  i tend to think that F1 has a large proportion of hard-core fans, hes not getting it…  yeah the weather in australia is unreal this time of year, its a showcase event for sure, im an aussie and ive lived in melbourne and a large reason why people go to these kind of events is because they love to get out in the great weather on  a sunday.  aussies are lazy and complacent and i doubt youd get the same crowd at night, and you just wont get the same awesome colour as you do during the day, its very clear Bernie, wakey wakey, hands off snakey!

    as for the greenie element, well actually i agree with them to a point, theres lots of issues with F1 relative to the planetary emergency of resources and pollution, though again if people like bernie get their hand off it for a second and realise that we dont really want to live in a dying capo world, he could showcase some good movements toward green and make the sport a world leader… other wise again he risks the world losing interest…  surely he realises this, it wont take too many more disasters before something life f1 turns into a shame case for the intelligent world.  good on Honda for leading the way, i hope its successful for them.

    so whats bernies vision then?  promoting a dying industry in obscure places with no passion for the sport but a capitalistic blank cheque… come on BErnie your way too old, get out of the way and invite someone in with some vision and perspective.  good job, but old generation, its getting tired mate!!

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