on the edge

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Greg Black

gjb at gbch dot net
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Sun, 06 Mar 2005

Australian F1 Grand Prix

Despite hopes for an interesting race resulting from the combination of the new regulations and the confusion caused by the wet qualifying that mixed up the grid, today’s event was boring and processional and gave us little to gauge the rest of the season by. The Renaults looked good in taking 1st and 3rd, but that was already known. The old Ferrari came through from 11th to 2nd, to nobody’s surprise. Michael Schumacher started from the back and tripped over somebody on the way through, which was completely predictable. The tyres had no problems lasting the distance, but it was cold in Melbourne and there was no real racing—so things might be different in the heat of Malaysia. And some teams parked their cars before the end to get free new engines for the next race, again as expected from the bizarre new rules.

So, although it was nice to see Fisichella take a real win at last, and to see a non-Schumacher podium, there was nothing much of note about this event. The crowd obviously wanted local boy Webber to do well and it must have been galling for him to finish behind McLaren discard Coulthard in Webber’s old clunker from last year, especially when that team’s chaos and drama are taken into account.

That leaves the broadcast, especially the commentary, as blog fodder. The vision was okay, given the lack of interest in the race, although I expect that people who were there might be able to point to gaps in the cover. But, once again, Ten chose to impose their own pathetic commentary team on us rather than use the British crew that I presume will bring us the rest of the season.

There are two classes of motorsport commentators—full-time TV people and ex-racers. Ten’s people, under the dismal leadership of Bill Woods, are unremittingly useless. The ex-racers vary. Neil Crompton is quite a good commentator and provides useful information for those who come to the broadcasts without any knowledge of the sport—although, in all the years I’ve been listening to him, Crompton has never told me anything I didn’t already know. The others, like Doohan and Beattie, are in the hopeless category. They’re quite nice blokes, but they’re just bike racers. In general, almost all elite sportsmen are pretty dumb, which is why they turn to sport in the first place. Bike racers, who have chosen a sport that only the dumb would contemplate, are close to the bottom of the pile in this regard, maybe just above the boxers.

As with all things human, there are exceptions. Some ex-racers make the transition to commentary quite well. Martin Brundle is one such case and his past experience as Michael Schumacher’s team mate, his recent experience in top level motorsport, his many contacts and his personality all make him good at this job. There are others, such as the late lamented Barry Sheene. Sadly, Ten don’t make good use of those with ability and give far too much space to the idiots. But it’s been like that for ever, so I suppose I should just shut up.

One final remark on the “dumb” categorisation might be apposite. One classic bit of stupidity, in the motorsport world, is the so-called expert commentator who remarks that your car speeds up when it goes off the track and hits the grass in wet conditions. I remember ex-F1 racer Alan Jones making this idiotic claim many times in the bad old days when he and the unspeakable Darryl Eastlake did support commentary on Nine. For those who haven’t experienced it, it does indeed feel as though you’ve gained speed when you hit the grass and are watching the wall coming up at speed. This is, of course, an illusion—caused by the sudden loss of the extreme braking effect that you had on the black stuff. But simple physics tells us that a car sliding across level ground with its wheels locked up cannot possibly accelerate. And top level drivers should really know enough about what is going on underneath them to be able to see past the illusion. After all, part of racing is ignoring the frantic signals that your body, designed for much more sedate speeds, is sending you. Oh well, like I said, these guys are as dumb as rocks.