Sound and fury
Friday morning 07.30 in South East Melbourne and all is quiet. Kookaburra birds chirp in the trees while trams glide effortlessly from station to station. A peaceful city suburb stirs. CRACK. The quiet is shattered. An awful din roars into life. V10 engine technology from a bygone era splits the air, its caterwaul bark destroying the calm.
A dinosaur has been let loose in some Jurassic city-centre theme park.
In an unbelievably ignorant and insensitive move the Australian Grand Prix organisers have - in their infinite wisdom – employed scruffy and 'local' ex-F1 boss Paul Stoddart to thrash his cut-and-shut two-seater 'F1' cars around the Albert Park race track at such an ungodly hour.
Sounding to knowledgeable souls like a relic from the past, and to uninterested and livid residents like hell boiling over, Stoddart's early morning 'F1 rides' initiative always was an ill-advised idea. Loud and disrespectful – in any era – what this arrogant affair so perfectly illustrates is just how far the sport has progressed in such a short time.
Thankfully gone for good are the rattling old Vs to be replaced by powertrains of the here and now.
F1 is in so many ways a very staid and predictable sport. Conservative in nature and desperately in need of new and more adventurous minds and attitudes. Sure it's a fact that many in the paddock have reached the pinnacle of their chosen career path, but it's equally the case that outside the high octane confines of the technical and engineering offices and garage areas things need to change.
I'm not one to harp on about the past and have no desire to return to simpler times - pipe dreams of returning the sport to some misty-eyed, wildly romantic vision of the past hold no interest for me - rather I prefer focusing on the here and now and where Formula 1 is headed. In this respect there is a plethora of subjects the world’s richest sport needs to address - happily engine/powertrain issues can be ticked off the list.
I'm loving photographing, drivers are relishing racing and – most importantly – knowledgeable fans are avidly watching gorgeous thoroughbred race cars with – at last – more in common with the cars leading the way in the automotive world. Those bemoaning F1's brave new world would no doubt be happy to see racers powered by ancient engines rattle around tracks for endless years too come, but quickly and inevitably they wouldn't have a ‘sport’ to enjoy.
FIA President Jean Todt’s desire to have engine/power plant consistency across all premier racing disciplines is entirely to be applauded. The lobbying against his plans by F1's commercial rights holder and ignorant non-specialist journalists who do down the sport at every opportunity is both disappointing and short-sighted in the extreme.
The slate-wiping revolution that’s swept through F1 has reminded everyone of just why our sport is so special. Just think of what the teams have achieved in such an incredibly short time. Brazil 2013 marked the end of a prehistoric age for the sport, the ancient 'technology' employed to propel the cars finally being consigned to the trash. Five short months later completely new engines, ERS, electrics, turbos, braking, aero et al practiced, qualified and raced hard around Melbourne's Albert Park circuit.
Endless pre-season prophesying by paddock 'experts' of a farcical race with finishers numbering in single figures proved - like so many of 'their' predictions – to be so wide of the mark as to be embarrassing. Perhaps a little more confidence might have been invested in the brilliant minds up and down the pit lane who've worked endless hours to get to grips with what amounted to a technical revolution for the sport. F1 has literally hyperspaced into the 21st century. Rather than do down, moan about and decry this achievement, just imagine - outside the world of F1- how long getting this right would have taken. Many company bosses in the wider automobile world would pay billions for such expertise, rigour and results.
Sure I’m a fortunate guy to be able to stand so close to the speeding cars (though at Albert Park the crowd are just as near to the track as any photographer) enjoying – in F1’s brave new world – hearing tyres squealing, brakes gripping, turbos spinning. The whole experience of watching the cars ‘live’ is immeasurably improved from what went before. The fact that one is aware of so much more of what is happening with the car obviously increases the appreciation of just how hard the drivers are having to work.
Perhaps when everything and everyone is settled into the way ahead, some tinkering with exhaust note tuning would be a good idea. A little more noise would only be a positive thing.
Of course I – and so many in the sport – are aware that change is so often resisted in all walks of life, but it really was about time that Formula 1 woke up to the realities of the modern world. Those tweeting, texting, blogging, commentating and newspaper-writing endless negative sentiment can continue to bury their heads in the sand; that’s their choice.
The rest of us will be happy that in one area at least, the world’s premier motorsport category is finally leading from the front.
It’s about time…