So Nico Rosberg, what a way to mark your 10th Anniversary in Formula 1.
It was also the 10th Anniversary for Toro Rosso at the weekend too and they celebrated their first ever points in Bahrain when Max Verstappen came home 6th.
On a much lesser scale, Bahrain 2006 was my Formula 1 commentary debut. It’s one of the reasons I quite like returning to the Kingdom, it’s always nice to head back to the place where my F1 career began.
And to be fair it’s also a great Grand Prix to work at, the organisers go out of their way to help the media do their jobs and the facilities really are first class. As you can see, our Sky F1 commentary box has a great view of the pit lane and we’ve got plenty of room to work in. I can see Ted Kravitz marching up and down all afternoon from this vantage point.
Meanwhile in the public areas, there’s so much to do for the fans too. In fact, such are the distractions away from the track you often see spectators remaining there and paying little attention to the race itself. Not sure what you can do about that, the Grand Prix is a sell out, but often there are plenty of empty seats in the stands. Fingers crossed that if we continue to get races like we had this year, those distractions won’t keep people away from the main event, which in 2016 was part F1, part ‘Demolition Derby’, in the words of Martin Brundle.
And boy did we need a really good race this weekend. The dark clouds of negativity had been circling over the Paddock, joining the dark clouds that deposited some unseasonal rain onto the track on Thursday. Blown in on a social media breeze as fans and pundits all expressed their dismay that a qualifying system that didn’t work out in Australia, was still with us two weeks later.
The media pack sought answers from FIA President Jean Todt at a Press Conference on the Saturday morning. In his defence, he tried to put up the best defence he could, but I was left feeling that really there was no defence to the situation the sport had got itself in.
Now my view is no more important than anyone else, but on the subject of how the sport should run it’s qualifying session, my main concern ever since the new format was announced was why it needed to be rushed in so quickly? I’m not a man that objects to change for the sake of it but I can’t think of any other major regulation change in world sport that hasn’t been trialed and practiced beforehand? Why did Formula 1 think it didn’t need to follow suit.
In football for instance, goal-line technology is now used in the Premier League but that was trialed elsewhere first to make sure it worked and didn’t disrupt the flow of the game. It was not unleashed onto the world stage without evidence that it was being brought in for the better.
But here we had an idea that was conceived and presented to the teams just a matter of weeks before the season started, with no time to properly evaluate. I asked the FIA President about it and he replied that it wasn’t possible to organise a trial at the pre-season tests. I put it to him that he could have waited until Silverstone and the mid-season test then to have a thorough evaluation, but no, the promoters he said wanted a change and it wasn’t possible to wait.
And sadly, as one leading team technical director told me, the teams didn’t have the chance to put forward any proof that the format was flawed, because they weren’t given time before the initial vote. A week later, they had the evidence, which was sadly ignored, and the warnings were then proved right.
I don’t believe that sporting teams should set the regulations of any sport, nor do I believe that sportsmen and women should set their own rules either. But it does seem foolhardy not to listen to those that have a huge amount of expertise and experience. Take into account their comments and then, as a governing body, find the best solution. And that seems to be the crux of F1’s issues at the moment, are we finding the best solution to guide this great sport into calmer waters where we can enjoy the racing, wheel to wheel, the way we love it?
On the Thursday night in Bahrain, a few of us gathered at the Mercedes hospitality unit to raise a glass of red to our old friend, Alan Henry, who sadly, passed away recently. Alan was the former F1 correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, editor of Motoring News, grand-prix editor of Autocar, editor of Autocourse and editor-at-large of F1 Racing, who took this photo of us all. More importantly, he was also very much one of the best F1 journalists ever to walk the length and breadth of the paddock.
When I first started in the sport, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Alan. He and my co-commentator on Radio 5-Live, Maurice Hamilton, were best friends. Evenings were spent listening to his many stories and views on the sport he loved. He was one of the kindest, most jolly, interesting and honest men you could wish to call your friend. As a journalist he was never afraid to get to the heart of a story and write the truth, but always in a fair manner.
He earned the respect of all who he reported on and who he worked alongside and we loved him dearly. Farewell Alan, and thank you.