Bob McMurray: Irreplaceable leader of sport
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I spent last weekend in Melbourne visiting family.
Not blood family but a family in the Formula 1 paddock.
This old village of mine in Albert Park was always a happy and friendly environment as the family, a diverse, multinational, multi-ethnic population once again came together after the winter break to gossip and greet on the equivalent of street corners in this tiny enclave of the privileged few.
As a past resident I was looking forward to showing the place off to my Radio Sport Driven Hour co-host D’Arcy Waldegrave.
Unfortunately a dark cloud descended on that village when the death was announced of the unelected “mayor” Charlie Whiting, somebody I met more than 40 years ago and the irreplaceable leader of the sport in his role of race director.
Then came the news of the horror in Christchurch and that dark cloud grew more intense.
The weekend immediately became one no one would forget.
I felt a huge, vicarious pride that my village, hurting from its own loss of Charlie, took on a mantle of compassion and empathy by doing simple things to mark the death of a friend and the atrocity in New Zealand.
A one-minute silence on the F1 grid, flags at half-staff and the silver fern on a black background seen in many places in the F1 paddock, as well as on the Supercars of Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin.
As always sporting life, the life of business, goes on and the weekend progressed, albeit with that dark cloud hovering in everybody’s thoughts, and the grand prix was run.
Some questions were answered, some predictions confirmed but more questions appeared and some predictions blown away.
The Williams cars were as bad, perhaps worse, than expected but McLaren, at least in the form of 2016 Toyota Racing Series Champion and F1 rookie Lando Norris, exceeded expectations.
Ferrari served to confuse, once again, with an unexpectedly lacklustre performance although the Scuderia’s new boy, Charles Leclerc, looks like he will be the thorn in Sebastian Vettel’s side all season long.
Mercedes defied the testing predictions and came good with an amazing display of speed while Valtteri Bottas simply owned the race.
Daniel Ricciardo must be looking a tad wistfully over the fence to Red Bull and thinking of the “frying pan and fire” quote while Max Verstappen seems happy with his Honda situation.
The newly named Rich Energy Haas F1 Team still cannot get the wheels on properly in a pitstop. And Kimi Raikkonen still has what it takes.
The new Toro Rosso pairing of Daniil Kvyat and rookie Alexander Albon proved that Brendon Hartley was a lot better than Red Bull gave him credit for and fellow F1 rookie George Russell, driving the recalcitrant Williams, is in for a character-building year.
Fellow Williams driver Robert Kubica leaves the first GP of the 2019 season still with a big question mark hanging over him.
As for the rest, all was about as expected for the first race I think.
Melbourne, and especially the Formula 1 Grand Prix is special, and should be on everybody’s to-do list.
Hopefully the 2020 event will be remembered for the racing, without a dark cloud hanging
● Bob McMurray was a guest of Visit Victoria in conjunction with NZME Radio Sport.