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F1

30 Mar 2018

F1 2018: A spectator's eye view of the Australian Grand Prix

F1 2018: A spectator's eye view of the Australian Grand
Prix

The first race is over - but what's the F1 experience like for a fan Down Under? RealSport's Andreas Lutgen ventured into the Melbourne crowd to find the answers.

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 Autograph sessions

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    Free Practice day

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Rainy FP3 and exciting qualifying

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 Ra  ceday

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Summary

(Photo credit: Andreas Lutgen)

After working and travelling in New Zealand for the (European) winter, I planned to stop off in Melbourne to watch the first race of 2018 Formula One season and experience the race from a fan's perspective.

Armed with a general admission ticket, I arrived at the Melbourne airport late on Tuesday evening. The next day, I walked through the city centre and saw the first stands selling F1 merchandise near the Yarra river. The city offered free transport to the track all weekend, but I chose a hostel within walking distance of the action. 

Autograph sessions

Thursday was my first day at the track. Several local radio and TV channels were asking fans about their thoughts for the upcoming season. I was also asked questions – from my hopes for the race and season ahead to my thoughts on the change from Grid Girls to Grid Kids! 

I went though the gates and explored the ‘F1 Village’ which was packed with stands of merchandising, food and other kinds of entertainment. The park location and hot weather were perfect and there were already lots of fans there. I have no official numbers, but it felt like many people for a Thursday. Is this the Liberty Media effect kicking in already?

(Photo credit: Andreas Lutgen)

There was an official autograph session in the afternoon but fans had to sign up by 10:15 am to get wristband access to the four big teams (Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren). Before heading there, I walked to the entry of the paddock where more fans were waiting for the drivers to arrive. I joined them as Marcus Ericsson, Charles Leclerc, and Robert Kubica arrived and signed autographs. Even Christian Horner and Adrian Newey took their time to join in –  which was a nice touch. Following the official autograph session, which also featured Renault and Toro Rosso, I headed back to my hostel. 

Free Practice day

The next day, the paddock entry was even busier as fans clamoured to get close to the drivers. And the proximity of the driver's walkway to the paddock entry ensured that was the case. To keep the crowds informed, each driver was announced via loud speaker.

After nearly walking into Brendon Hartley, I followed my usual Friday routine, found a good spot and settled down to watch the practice. I positioned myself by Turn Two for the first session as the view from there was good. After a longer than expected wait, it was nice to see the new cars on track.

(Photo credit: Andreas Lutgen)

I met up with a friend at the F1 fan stage around lunchtime to watch a Q&A session hosted by David Coulthard and featuring Toto Wolff, Christian Horner and Maurizio Arrivabene. After the Q&A, Toto Wolff even took time to sign autographs on his way from the fan stage to the paddock.

I crossed the temporary bridge to the other side of the lake to watch FP2 from Turns 11 and 12. The wider view of the track, the lake and the city in the background was even better than my earlier spot in the first sector. FP2 was interrupted by a red flag caused by damage on the start-finish line that later resulted in a three-place grid penalty for local hero Daniel Ricciardo.

Rainy FP3 and exciting qualifying

As predicted, conditions were different on Saturday. It rained in the morning, making life more difficult for support races. As the rain eased off before FP3, I positioned myself next to the straight ahead of Turn Nine to watch the drivers approaching the corner on the still-wet track. I was rewarded with an exciting moment as Verstappen almost lost his car accelerating out of the corner.

As the track dried, the pace picked up, but despite the improving conditions, some teams decided not to do any more laps to avoid damaging their cars. The weather improved further in the afternoon, but there were still clouds in the air and some occasional drops of rain. In the meantime, I watched some support races until it was time for the qualifying at 5pm. The decisive final session began with Valtteri Bottas crashing at Turn Two and finished with Hamilton's stunning final lap.

(Photo credit: Andreas Lutgen)

Raceday

I arrived before 12pm to see Daniel Ricciardo interviewed by Rosanna Tennant. The Australian gave some clear and straight answers about the weekend, although he was clearly happy to be racing after weeks of repetitive media activity. He expressed with honesty his shock at Hamilton's Pole lap the day before and described his fear that Mercedes could run circles around everyone again this season.

(Photo credit: Andreas Lutgen)

After the interview, I made my way to cross the bridge to the outside of Turns Nine and Ten where I intended to watch the race. I discovered this area had been roundly conquered by orange-dressed fans from the Netherlands, there to cheer on Max Verstappen.

At the driver's parade later, Ricciardo stopped nearby to throw merchandise over the fence, much to the delight of the surrounding fans. Such was the furore that the other drivers passed almost unnoticed.

As the race started, there was a huge backing for Ferrari as Raikkonen tried to attack Hamilton in the first few corners. The next moment of drama came as when the first Haas stopped. Attention was turned towards to big screen as the crowd tried to make sense of what had happened. Then the second Haas (driven by Grosjean) stopped after Turn Two and it became clear the two problems may be related.

These incidents prompted the Virtual Safety Car at which point I was sure Vettel would pit, which he did,  the Ferrari coming out ahead of the Mercedes much to the delight of some of those Ferrari fans around me. 

(Photo credit: Andreas Lutgen)

But the race wasn't over yet. Hamilton was chasing the German, but failed to get close enough. He even went wide onto the grass in front of the crowd at Turn Ten much causing more excitement from the crowd. 

At the end of the race, many fans seemed happy. Some were supporting Vettel or Ferrari while others were just optimistic that the season could shape up to be a real battle. 

While the podium ceremony was being conducted, the crowd spilled onto the track and walked towards to main straight. It was too far for me, so I left and made my way back to my accommodation. I was told later that Hamilton had been booed on the podium.

Summary

Having experienced Melbourne from a fan's perspective,  I can see why it's a great location to kick off the season. First, the late summer weather is perfect for drawing out the crowds but also offers the possibility of rain during the weekend. Second, the park location is perfect, offering nice surroundings and a natural feel, despite being in a city.

The race attracts fans from all over the globe but also brings the locals out in force. And unlike Suzuka, but similar to Spa, there are plenty of big screens in the General Admission area so fans can follow the action.

Unfortunately, the main area where Melbourne is lacking is on the track. Like many fans on the day, I would have liked to have seen more head-to-head battles and overtaking manoeuvres but I guess that is a topic for another day.

Have you been to the Australian Grand Prix? How did you rate your experience? Let us know in the comments.