Melbourne F1

Funny how insomnia, for those who live with it, doesn’t mean you don’t sleep, as is popularly believed, but really means you don’t conform to the supposedly standard pattern of 8 hours blissful oblivion per night. No idea when I last saw, or rather didn’t see that, but only a few night/morning ago was happily watching the UK TV networks wake up around 6 am local time, and assumed that I’d see the F1 season start with qualifying and the race live around that time.

Of course, I didn’t, and was fast asleep while these took place and had to catch up later.

I’m sure if I dug around in the past of this blog I’d find old comments where I moaned about the organisers getting things all wrong in their attempts to make the format more interesting to its critics, and that they should have been removing the aerodynamic aids, and increasing mechanical grip. I’m interested, but not a fanatical follower, so I’m pleased to see that 2009 rues mean smaller and less effective wings, and an end to the silly grooved tyres, with slicks back on the cars. There’s also an adjustable front wing, under the driver’s control, which I think is great, having always thought it was a pity that wings had to be set at a fixed angle, compromising either straight-line or cornering.

My proper car is fitted with low-profile Z-rated rubber. They’re virtually solid, hardly flex, and don’t provide any surprises under stress at the speeds that can be achieved on the public road.

By comparison, my little runaround was due a new set of tyres recently, and could easily have killed me at much lower speeds thanks to the deep tread low speed tyres carry. Unlike Z-rated rubber, which comes with very little tread depth compared to their lesser brethren, ordinary tyres seem to be very soft, allowing the tread blocks to flex and squirm under braking and cornering. The runaround was absolutely fine before the tyres were replaced, and could be drifted around bends at speed with no problems – I don’t mean sideways, just that nice point where you feel the grip ready to break, and hold off from actually reaching.

With the new (cheap)  tyres fitted, I set the mental odometer to clock up a minimum of 300 miles slow driving to make sure they were cleaned of any compounds left from manufacturing, and to give them a chance to cure properly. After this I could ramp up speed and cornering from the self-imposed 50 mph limit. Or rather… I couldn’t. Bearing in mind I had been driving the same car without a worry (other than the approaching illegality of less than 3 mm tread depth), the car was now ready to spit me off the same roads I had been driving along with little concern about speed, leaving the handling to limit things.

Now, corners had become a nightmare around 50 mph. After this, instead of increasing cornering force, what was happening was a sudden step, or lurch, to the outside of the curve. The first time it happened I collected a load of gravel from the side of the road – I dread to think what might have happened to an unskilled driver. The sensation was weird, and could be reproduced repeatedly later. Things were fine until a critical cornering speed was reached, at which point the car seems to drop slightly and begin to  breakaway and slide to the outside – all with no warning until it happened. A slight lift of power combined with the natural loss of speed in the bend/corner negated the effect, but I don’t like to think what panic braking, or just freezing on the throttle might have done.

Having examined the tyres, which had tread blocks that could easily be pushed over with only fingers, I suspect the problem was simply the treads flexing as the critical speed was reached, destroying grip. After seeing this, I thought of the description the F1 drivers had made about the introduction of grooved tyres, describing their breakaway as more vicious than plain slicks, which are legendary for the snap breakaway when they lose grip.

I had wondered if the rubber would cure and get harder, or if the problem would lessen as the tyres wore. I never got ans answer to the question, as that particular runaround was sold on, completes with its wobbly tyres, not long afterwards. Hope the new owners was a slow driver, or also just wanted a runabout.

As for the Melbourne F1, there’s really little to say about the first few races, and with the new rules, things will take time to settle before anything meaningful can be predicted.

Qualifying went well, with protests lodged about rule infringements and flexible wings.

I do understand the rules, but throwing drivers to the back of the grid when an engine change is needed  – as opposed to wanted – still seems overkill, and unfair.

As for the new Brawn GP and their walking away with the honours of the first race straight out of the box with little experience or testing?

I’m reminded of the “Road Wars” type programmes that follow police pursuits of car thieves, and the occasions where the “trained police driver” is thoroughly outpaced by the criminal, and it turns out that the bandit car was being driven by a 12-14 year old. Ok, we all know he will eventually crash, but by not following the established rules, he leaves the established “expert” way behind until he does.

Now that they have one real race under their belts, the next is only a week away, and will be more interesting as we see what happens in Malaysia as they dial in whatever they learned in Melbourne.

Oh, and the most important change this year?

The return of F1 coverage to the BBC, no more ad breaks and the end of the farcical joke that was ITV’s coverage.

They couldn’t have made much more of a joke of their effort to televise F1 if they had tried. From the start, where they squandered tens of thousand of £££s fattening some pathetic celebrity composers bank account with a piece of frankly irritating an unnecessary theme music, through the ad breaks that were tagged with irritating and repetitive sponsor videos and tunes, and inept attempts to predict what was going to happen in the race, meaning we had long stretches with no ads, then they had to cram them all in at the end, with the result being they nearly always missed the action at the end too.

The start was little better, as the commentator had to walk the track before the race began, and get some gratuitous celebrity fo0tage on camera, sometimes forgetting to look at any of the cars or drivers.

ITV F1 – the benchmark for poor F1 coverage – let’s hope we never see it’s like again.

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