It’s quite reassuring that a sport – which measures itself in thousandths of a second and billions of dollars – can survive politics and even alleged war zones, but has to succumb to Mother Nature.
The wet weather that hit on the Saturday of the Australian Grand Prix was incredible, and reminded me of when I presented the BBC coverage in Japan in 2010. The difference between the two being that no cars went out on track that Saturday three years ago and that the Sunday in Japan turned out to be lovely weather. Australia went from factor 30 to ski jackets in a matter of hours on Saturday. In the morning it had been very hot and although rain had been predicted, no one imagined it would get as cold or stormy and cause as much chaos. Ultimately Q2 and Q3 had to be postponed until Sunday morning such was the volume of water that fell on Albert Park on Saturday afternoon. With the rain battering against my window throughout Saturday night I wasn’t even convinced that Sunday would go ahead as planned.
It did go as planned, although there was a twist that made journalists and fans breathe a collective sigh of relief… Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel didn’t win. The idea that panic can set in after just three practice sessions and qualifying might seem a little over the top, but that was the mood in the paddock up until the race.
As an interviewer there are certain questions and topics that have cropped up far too early over the last few seasons. One being Vettel’s title chances – “Sebastian, are you convinced/concerned about retaining your title after three days of the season?” Another one I hate is: “Felipe Massa, I know you’ve not driven a race this season yet, but are you worried about losing your Ferrari seat this year?” At least Felipe looks stronger this season even if Alonso did finish in front of him in the race thanks to some Ferrari ‘magic’. The result will no doubt keep the Ferrari bosses happy.
I am lucky to have a good relationship with most of the drivers and I worked with many of them as we all fought our way into F1, albeit doing very different jobs. I will never shy away from asking questions, although sometimes it doesn’t make you feel too good if you have to constantly ask someone about crashing or losing their drive. Or, for that matter, reminding Mark Webber that he’s never been on the podium at his home Grand Prix or asking Jenson just how bad the McLaren is.
On the Sunday morning after qualifying I stomped back to my boss saying that my days of interviewing Kimi Räikkönen were over. I am up for someone being quirky and different, and I have actually always enjoyed interviewing the monosyllabic Finn, but at the end of last season it was becoming ridiculous, pre-season testing wasn’t any better and after qualifying I honestly couldn’t hear or make one word out of what he was saying. He could have announced his retirement and I would have said, “OK, thanks Kimi, good luck in the race”. I think I got to lap 38 when I went onto BBC talkback, the system that we use to communicate with our bosses in the TV gallery, and retracted my earlier statement. Was it a great winning driver interview? It wasn’t the best, although Kimi did speak legibly, answered every question well and even had a little laugh although I’m not sure why, which is slightly worrying! I’d better watch it back in case I did miss something.
When the top three drivers came in to be interviewed by me it struck me as a big moment, not a unique one, as Abu Dhabi 2012 was the same, but I feel the Australian GP podium is one that featured the men we will focus on most this year. They have six World Championships between them and they were the top three drivers in the 2012 World Championship. All of them could realistically add to their collection in eight months time.
Last week everything was possible, now it’s time to get realistic and already after one race some drivers will be feeling disillusioned, even if they are determined to solve problems and get back to winning races or scoring points. The season is starting to take shape, a story is beginning to emerge and in five days time the picture will start to reveal itself a little more.