I Was There – Australia 2013

Chris Daley describes his experience at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.

I started typing out a report of the GP in a day by day, hour by hour style. Frankly by Friday afternoon I was bored. I realised that there was no point in going into minute detail when this was going to be read by people who didn’t need nor want to know the finer points.  So instead, I want to tell you about the things I experienced as a spectator, not a motorsport enthusiast.

I spent four days at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, some of it was wet, some was scorching, but all was enjoyed. Thursday was a quiet (as quiet as motorsport is) day at the track with practice and qualifying sessions for the support categories and some demonstration laps from classic and historic race cars.  My Thursday was spent walking the track looking at the different car club displays, watching cars that I raced on my Scalextric set as a child, race out on the track and watching some of the off-track entertainment.

Each year a host of off-track acts are invited to appear, last year the feature act was the Crusty Demons and this year we had Nitro Circus. There were also a host of other things to watch, including a high wire motorcycle act over the center of Albert Park Lake, various stunt shows and musical acts. They also have a mini airshow each day with displays by the Royal Australian Air Force with their Roulette’s display team and F/A-18A Hornet jet fighters. It is truly a four-day festival centered around the Formula 1 circus.

Friday morning started well. Especially when I checked Twitter on my arrival at the track and I saw that The Australian Grand Prix Corporation, through their Twitter feed @ausgrandprix, was running a competition for a tour through the Williams F1 garage. I managed to run towards the pit paddock, answer the question and keep updating Twitter to check to see if I had won. Amazingly I had won and got a message to call straight away to get my spot on the tour.

For someone who can generally only afford to get a General Admission ticket for the four days, the chance to go into the hallowed ground that is an F1 paddock is akin to winning the lotto. There was nothing that would have, or could have, stopped me from getting to that tour. Not even the blister that I had developed on my foot from running the half-length of the track to get to the paddock entrance.  While it may seem like I may be making a big deal about this, it’s because the F1 paddock is a different world that is unlike any other part of Australia. For the 45 minutes that I was in the paddock I was a part of something I had only ever seen through the worlds media, and I loved it!

It wasn’t the fact that I was rubbing shoulders with the luminaries of F1 though, it was the chance to spend a small part of my life in amongst the team that I have followed ever since Alan Jones became Australia’s last World Champion driving the FW-07 in 1980. They didn’t hide or cover up anything while we were in the garage, they were in fact preparing both cars for FP1 and had Valtteri Bottas’ car running while we were being shown the Engineers bunker. For someone who had never been that side of the fence I found the openness very surprising.

The fun continued though, as not long after leaving the paddock I won another @ausgrandprix Twitter competition for an upgrade into one of the Premium Zones for the day. While this would have cost me $50 ordinarily, I didn’t think this was that much of an advantage for watching the F1 practice sessions on Friday, but it was an extra bonus that wasn’t expected. Really I think AGPC should be applauded for the competitions they run over the four days and the prizes they give away. I don’t know if there is anything similar at other GP’s, but it certainly adds to the excitement of the event.

The sunshine and pleasant weather couldn’t last forever though. It seems to be a curse for major events like this in Australia that they will attract some form of bad weather and the 2013 GP was no different.  While Thursday and Friday had been sunshine and high 20’s, Saturday the whole city had been moved to the Antarctic coast. While the day started at the track with warm temperatures and sunny conditions, come time for the F1 qualifying the cars came out on the track on dry tyres but very quickly the clouds came over and the rain started falling. It made the first qualifying session interesting, but it also made the folks in race control a little bit anxious. Fortunately, they got through Q1 without too many issues.  Unfortunately, the constant delays for rain led to Q2 and Q3 being postponed to Sunday morning and everything else that was due on the track that afternoon was cancelled.

It was a little disappointing and hopefully not a sign of things to come that the best drivers in the world in some of the best cars in the world were held in their garages because of a little rain. Quite a change from drivers having to beg for a race to be stopped in the monsoonal rain that Adelaide used to get.  I can understand the concern, but they’re big boys now, a little play in the puddles is good for everyone.

Sunday dawned looking very uncertain, it was fair skies when I left home to catch the train into Melbourne. About 2/3 of the way in the skies had clouded over and rain was falling, not a good start for St Patrick’s Day celebrations and an even worse start to a race day when the guys with the buttons had already shown they were a bit gun-shy when it came to precipitation. By the time the train got to Flinders St Station (Melbourne’s central rail station) the rain had eased to a very light drizzle which made the walk to the track a lot easier.

Thankfully the light damp on the track wasn’t enough to stop the carsfrom coming out and Q2 got underway on green band intermediate tyres. I am a little sorry to say that I was focused more on taking photo’s then who was setting what time, but then again I have never been one for numbers.  Qualifying went through, photo’s were taken, people were amazed by the fast cars and Alan van der Merwe drove the wheels off the Medical car at every chance he got.

One of the highlights for me on Sunday was the Heritage Lap which drove the traditional anti-clockwise direction of the lake and included cars that raced in the first Australian GP to be held at Albert Park in 1953. At the lead of this parade lap were two Mercedes SLK Roadsters, one carrying Alan Jones MBE and the other carrying Sir Jack Brabham. These two men are personal hero’s of mine, indeed Alan Jones is the man responsible for my interest in Formula 1 and my 33 years of support of the Williams team.  It was fantastic to see Sir Jack make the trip down from his home in Queensland to visit the GP as ‘Black Jack’ has done more for the profile of motorsport in Australia over the years than just about anyone else short of the late Peter Brock.

Throughout the day the crowds kept building and building in the lead up to the start of the race. They were kept entertained by the V8 Supercars, Porsche Carrera Cup, Mazda 6 Celebrity Challenge and the International Sports Cars. Once the track had been cleared in preparation for the F1’s to be released the show took to the skies once again for a display by the RAAF Roulette’s, Hornet and a flyby by one of QANTAS’ new Airbus A330.

As the cars came around for their installation lap you could feel the excitement and tension build in the crowd, everyone was anticipating the start of what was hoped to be Mark Webbers race. You don’t need me to tell you again what happened over the next hour and a half, suffice to say that a slipping clutch put Webbers plans to bed early. The rest of the race was a bit of a blur as I moved around the track, catching up quickly when I went past one of the big screens dotted around.

By coincidence I ended up at turn 15 as the cars were pulling into the pits, so it was just a quick wait for the course car to come around and then a quick walk up to turn 16 and down the start finish straight to catch a quick glimpse of Kimi, Fernando and Sebastian on the podium being interviewed (Sorry to all the Fernando fans out there, the perspex on pit-lane makes him look a bit like Karl Pilkington). The crush on pit straight was amazing, but there was no-one upset about the result, everyone had just witnessed the first race of the year. It was very slow going getting through the crowd, but eventually I made it off the track to catch up with a friend.

They had already started pulling the fence down as I was leaving the track. I walked as much of the track as I could between turn 2 and turn 6, it was a strange feeling walking on the same spot that only and hour before had the pinnacle of modern motorsport technology blasting along. The sky was already getting dark and the street lights around the track were coming on, but you could hear the Nitro Circus doing their last show over the sound of forklifts stacking tyre bundles ready to be trucked away at the storage yard where they will live for the next year. In a couple of days time you wont even be able to tell that there had been a major event at Albert Park Lake, the stands will be gone and rubbish cleaned up.  But there will be 323,000 people who will be able to say they were there to see one of the worlds great sports.

For me it was made better because of the things I got to see for the first time and the people I got to spend time with. I was lucky enough to meet some people who I knew only from Twitter and I spent some time with some friends that I met last year.

I want to thank the Williams F1 team for taking the time to show people like myself through their garage in what was a stressful time, not only because of the preparations for their race weekend, but also because they were working so hard having just lost one of the teams greatest supporters and family member. All team members over the weekend were wearing black armbands and the cars had a special decal on their front wings in loving memory of Lady Virginia ‘Ginny’ Williams, who passed away the week previous.

The media would have you believe that the Grand Prix is unpopular here, that people would rather see the money spent elsewhere. The truth is that if it was as unpopular as they make out, it wouldn’t happen. If people didn’t want the money spent on it, the government would know it. Sure, it cost’s the state a lot of money to host this event and much of that money isn’t recovered from ticket sales. The Grand Prix generates a lot of money for the local economy, but that’s not the most important thing that it does. For four days, the Grand Prix brings together people from all walks of life, from around Australia and the world and gives them a chance to sit next to each other and enjoy an incredible spectacle and have a bit of fun. Shouldn’t all sporting events be like that?

The 2013 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, I was there.

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