Bob McMurray: A turn-up worth turning up for
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The occasional Formula 1 race can, I freely admit, turn into something of a tedious procession.
Just occasionally, of course.
Like reading a book that, after the first two chapters, you realise you have read before but still persevere with in the hope you may have missed something and, — surprise — you find that something.
It rarely happens, but the expectation is always there.
So it is with Formula 1.
This 2018 season had the look, after the testing sessions, that it might follow a similar path to the reasonably well-scripted previous four or five.
Mercedes with Hamilton was very fast, the Ferraris were getting better, the Red Bull team was quite despondent about winning anything and the rest were, well, still the rest.
At the Australian Grand Prix, the Albert Park circuit threw up its usual fare of unpredictability with (shock horror in Stuttgart) a win for Sebastian Vettel and the Mercedes team looking a bit off its normal pace.
As the weekend progressed through qualifying, Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme, confirming the pre-season suspicions of “just another year” — and in the race he was looking assured of the win when, lo and behold, there did come a safety car period (caused by the Haas team which just happens to be a Ferrari “B” team) and fortunes changed to favour Sebastian Vettel who went on to win after a Mercedes strategy error, compounded by an apparent software glitch.
Come Bahrain and surely the anomaly of Australia would be ironed out and Mercedes would once again be back at the top of the pile.
Normal service would surely be resumed, with Mercedes having grabbed pole position in five of the past six years at that track.
Ferrari certainly had something to say about that fact with Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen locking out the front row and Mercedes left scratching their heads in wonder — and now looking to be much on the back foot.
The race was taken by Vettel from Valtteri Bottas and a pretty dispirited Hamilton. So were the cracks in the mighty Mercedes team beginning to show?
The third race of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix, proved to be one of the most exciting races of the past couple of seasons, with five possible winners as the race progressed.
Once again the race revolved around a “B” team causing a safety car that ultimately benefited the senior team — in this case the cars of Toro Rosso clashing, and Red Bull profiting.
With perfect timing almost belying a sixth sense, the Red Bull cars dashed into the pits, in formation for the second time in the race, to receive masterful service from the crew.
Daniel Ricciardo then went on to perform a master class of driving and overtaking and become, yet again, one of the most popular winners on the circuit.
He had the advantage of newly fitted tyres of course — and 19 other cars on the track had that same opportunity.
Ferrari and Mercedes were wrongfooted and did not, or could not, seize the opportunity the Red Bull team pounced on.
Some say Red Bull / Ricciardo were “lucky” to win.
For the millionth time of saying, it is a team sport. The huge team effort to change his car’s power unit enabled Ricciardo first to take part in qualifying and then, by dint of perfect strategy calls and even more perfect pit work by the mechanics, to be competitive, and give the team the luxury of a changing strategy to fit the conditions.