Bob McMurray has a whiff of confidence about the new Formula 1 season
In response to a question as to whether Formula 1 was lacking direction, or in fact broken, world champion Lewis Hamilton said he would agree. Double F1 champion Fernando Alonso was quoted as saying “I am sad for the sport.”
The supreme commander of F1, Bernie Ecclestone, has also been quoted as saying “F1 is the worst it has ever been. I wouldn’t spend my money to take my family to watch a race. No way.”
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
A lot is wrong with the sport from a fan’s point of view and now being a member of that great band of loyal devotees, I am quick to criticise the sport — and do so often — for the ridiculous situations, political and sporting, it seems to enjoy wallowing in.
Its view of the world’s horizon seems to end at the paddock gates, and there’s a seeming contemptuous and condescending disdain for my fellow fans and devoted supporters.
There is a real world outside the F1 paddock. Inside, the rarefied and cloistered atmosphere makes even the humblest of its regular inhabitants feel as if they are a breed apart and that a real outside world hardly exists.
I know, I felt it for decades.
The comments from three of the most influential and important people in the paddock are worrying and leave me incredulous that, after making such utterances, they then expect people to follow the sport with an unabated desire and enthusiasm, especially as we approach the first event of a long season at the wonderful Albert Park track, Melbourne, next weekend.
Ecclestone expects TV companies to bid ever higher for the rights to televise or broadcast and sponsors to pay increasingly exorbitant amounts to join the circus.
Not to mention the circuit owners who are expected to haemorrhage money for the glory of having a Grand Prix on their turf.
The ultimate boss of the Mercedes racing operation and Daimler’s chief executive, Dieter Zetsche, not a man to comment often on the F1 scene, observed: “At the Geneva Motor Show I was not going on stage to say I would never drive a Mercedes and customers should better not do it. I don’t understand how someone who is not only the CEO but partial owner of that product talks that way about his product.”
From the head of a company like Daimler, that is sharp censure.
So, let’s buck the trend a little as I can find considerable optimism for a good season.
Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya was home to almost all the F1 teams for pre-season tests.
They tested the new cars, new drivers, new engine/chassis combinations, new everything.
What has come out of that is that it looks like the Ferrari team have made considerable inroads into the Mercedes speed dominance.
Their drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, finished the two-week test with consistently fast times, albeit using soft tyres, and that has to be encouraging.
Although Mercedes showed amazing reliability and were hugely impressive, the outright speed was perhaps not as evident as in past years.
The Williams-Mercedes team think they can better Ferrari on track but that looks unlikely to me and Renault say their engine (whether it be called a Renault or, in the case of the Red Bull team, a Tag-Heuer) is improving all the time.
Midfield runner Torro Rosso, and their young drivers Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz jnr, have a new Ferrari engine and look competitive, and the Force India-Mercedes team are oozing confidence.
The Renault team seem to be still in some disarray and lacking confidence.
Of the rest, McLaren-Honda look to be still struggling for lap speed but look better than last year, Sauber are as unknown as they are every year and the minnows’ battle will be hard fought between Manor-Mercedes and new kids on the block, Haas-Ferrari. My money is on Manor.
The continuing antipathy between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the increased ban on radio messages to drivers, last year’s rookies now more experienced, more energy from the power units, improved sound and speed and hopefully some decent real racing: the prospect of all that and more excites me.
Despite all the negativity from those who should be talking up the circus, I have a whiff of confidence about the coming season and am looking forward to it.
Mind you, I have had that confidence and pre-season eager anticipation each and every year for best part of 50 years now.