Formula 1 racing may be the best show in motorsports that nobody knows about. It seems that way in the U.S., anyway, where the media coverage is NASCAR NASCAR NASCAR IndyCar NASCAR NASCAR. But give me a choice between oval racing and road racing, and I’ll take the twists and turns of a road course any day.
Today’s race was the Australian Grand Prix. That race always seems to be exciting, with its narrow, twisty course and high attrition. Rain always livens things up, and there was some of that, too.
Going into the race, like in the season opener at Bahrain two weeks ago, it looked like the Red Bull drivers — Sebastien Vettel and Mark Weber — had the speed advantage over the other teams. Vettel grabbed the pole position Saturday, even though he had gone off-track briefly on his qualifying lap. Vettel got the pole in Bahrain, too, but his race there fell apart with a spark plug problem and he finished fourth. In Australia today, more tough luck: a wheel nut failed while he had a huge lead on the field, and he ended up stuck in a gravel trap and out of the race.
That left it to Jenson Button, the current world champion who this season moved over to the McLaren team. He made a daring move early and was the first to switch from rain tires to dry-weather tires, and it paid off for him, as he was able to build up a lead and hold on to it to win the race. But the real excitement was behind him, where his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, was fighting with about five other drivers for a spot on the podium. Two weeks ago the Ferraris were the fastest, winding up 1-2 in Bahrain. But today, McLaren seemed to have the speed, but Hamilton couldn’t get past the Ferraris on the narrow course, although he was trying mightily. With a handful of laps to go, it looked like he was ready to try another move, when Weber got too close behind him and they tangled, both ending up off-course. Both were able to stay in the race, and Hamilton finished in sixth, but he definitely had a shot to do a lot better than that.
But that’s the way F1 goes — the drivers are constantly racing on the edge, and sometimes they have to take extreme chances to get ahead. And with their highly engineered cars and strategy choices that play out in hundredths of seconds, it makes for quite a show.
Hamilton’s my man. He came into F1 and nearly won the championship the first year I could get Speed Network on my television, and I’ve been a fan ever since. He didn’t get on the podium today, but there are still 18 races to go, and he’ll be up there a lot between now and Abu Dhabi in November.