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The Circus is Over!

The Australian Grand Prix was a corker, was it not? Channel 9 did their usual masterful job as host network and Australians can now resume the air of resignation foisted upon us by shoddy late night coverage.

Didn't Eddie Irvine spice things up nicely? We now had a spectacle on our hands as we realised Williams had once again fluffed it on strategy. Apart from the obvious (hiring Heinz-Harald Frentzen) they went for two stops instead of one, picked the wrong tyre and obviously picked the wrong brake disc. Back to the bad old days of 1995. I could just imagine Damon Hill popping his head out of the garage to give the Williams boys a smirk and a friendly wave. After all he wasn't expected to win like a Williams was.

The winners of the weekend? Let's see. Damon Hill won the hearts of us all as he battled to get the Arrows-Yamaha pig on the grid. He wrestled, he raunched, he put up a damn good fight and won the war. At least the throttle stuck off rather than on during the warm-up lap. Then again, the Yamaha sucks, so maybe it didn't matter either way. David Coulthard gave the field a lesson in staying cool, calm and collected with a Ferrari in the mirrors and made everyone smile at the finish. And Jacques Villeneuve - boy, can he hustle. Apart from playing the hard-man at the start and handing Eddie the chance to help Herr Schumacher to the front, he did nothing wrong and has Heinz-Harald packing death. This, however, does not mean I like him!

The losers? Frentzen, Frentzen and Frentzen. He lost the mind battle with Villeneuve, lost the driver battle when he simply refused to pull his finger out and get that Williams roaring. Nobody, feels particularly sorry for him (except him) because he hardly went out in a blaze of glory. He just sputtered to a stop and had the added ignominy of some fluid spraying him as the car lay stricken in the kitty-litter. And finally, Frentzen. Williams are picking up where they left off in 1995 and just might manage to lose the constructor's championship with a driver who is being bullied quite comprehensively by his team-mate. Frentzen is an easy target as he is psychologically fragile compared to the 1996-model Damon Hill.

Actually, Jean Alesi is a big loser. I don't quite know how much of a loser Jean Alesi is (I reckon Flavio Briatore is very aware) but he must be his own worst enemy. He claimed he lost radio contact (despite the fact we saw him sitting talking to his pits when he finally cruised to a halt) and felt silly. I bet he felt sillier after Flavio was finished with him. The very fact that he ignored his pit-board (you know, the large black thing they hang over the side telling him IN.) What must the pit-board have said? "Turn it up!" or "Why are you ignoring us you idiot?" The body language of the pit crew said it all, although he probably didn't recognise who they were when he plucked up the courage to come back to the pits. "Who are you again? Roger, is it?"

Could do better? Well, no-one really. The two new teams were poles
apart. Lola were abysmal (we won't say why, now, will we?) and Stewart highly impressive considering they had Ford works engines letting them down - where have we heard that before? Rubens Barrichello showed his usual early-season enthusiasm, but you know the old story. Once Jan gets up to speed (and he will), we'll see the sooky Rubens of old. Poor old Jos Verstappen (to quote Murray Walker) could always do better and Jordan-Peugeot are always first in line to receive the "could-do-better" talk. Never mind. Maybe one day.

All in all, a great start to the season for Formula One. Some teams and drivers are not so happy, but I'm damn sure the punters were reasonably satisfied. It was a race and a good one at that and the sport has got to be happy with itself. Hopefully, when Jacques clears off into the distance (discounting Eddie's start-line antics) we'll be treated to the racing behind the Williams pair.

What the papers said:

The Sydney Morning Herald had a big front page colour photo of an airborne Jos Verstappen as well as a three photo series of Villeneuve and Herbert spinning into oblivion. A fairly average race report in the sport section completely failed to give Jean Alesi the bollocking he deserved. Kennedy's report was given generous space and gave the reader a good feel for the type of day it was.

The Telegraph Mirror gave us a warm and fuzzy type report, the back page showing an elated Mika Hakkinen hoisting David Coulthard into the air. The report was average, again failing to hammer people who deserved it, barely even mentioning the disgrace that was TWR Arrows' performance, giving Damon Hill a completely dud car.

The Australian (national) followed the SMH, front page and all. Same old same old with regard to the reports. Altogether nothing very special from the print media.

TV made the usual balls-up. Stuffing up names, apportioning blame where it wasn't due, the whole bit. The usual cavalcade of glamorous, leggy and busty reporters who didn't know a lot, or tired old hacks staggering toward the end of their contract. Channel 10 was the usual saviour, both in the news bulletin and the nightly Sports Tonight program which had carried the passable Mika Hakkinen story in the lead-up to the race.

Peter Anderson :

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