x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The sounds before the fury: Enough talk, F1 drivers want to get racing

Drivers are tired of answering questions and cannot wait to find those answers when the green flag drops to start the 2012 season.

The flip side of Formula One racing for the drivers is the waiting between races. With the season finally about to start Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix, Red Bull's Mark Webber is having fun with it as photographers snap away.
The flip side of Formula One racing for the drivers is the waiting between races. With the season finally about to start Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix, Red Bull's Mark Webber is having fun with it as photographers snap away.

As an over-marketed Mark Webber answered a fresh round of worn-out questions and the ever enigmatic Kimi Raikkonen shrugged and said as little as possible once again, there was little doubt left among the Formula One paddock: the time for talking is most definitely over.

The engines are ready to roar.

For the past three months, everything connected to F1's famous travelling circus has been building up to this weekend's Australian Grand Prix, so if the questions are growing stale - and Webber's expression as he was asked about how he is feeling going into his home race suggests they are - then the answers are surely developing a fungal mould.

The 24 drivers who will compete in Sunday's season-opening race appeared on Thursday to have exhausted all possible ways of explaining they genuinely have no idea what to expect in the coming days; they are as much in the dark as everybody else.

"It's unknown at this stage what is going to happen," said Sebastian Vettel, the defending world champion.

"I think it's hard to know where we are," said Daniel Ricciardo, the Toro Rosso debutant.

"I'm not expecting anything. I really, really don't know," said Lewis Hamilton, one of six champions who will contest the 2012 drivers' title.

As ever, it was left to Webber, Red Bull Racing's eloquent and honest Australian, to speak for his fellow drivers.

"I think we're all just looking forward to getting our helmets on and getting on with it now," he said.

"Obviously, we've been talking about it for nine weeks now, about who's doing what, and we're just sick of talking about it and want to get out there and get on with it."

That opportunity arrives on Friday as the first two of three practice sessions take place at the street circuit in Albert Park.

While pre-season testing merely proved little can be gleaned when teams undertake their own specific programmes, there is arguably a pool of four or five marques who could fight for victory in the season-opening race.

Webber and Vettel's Red Bull remain the favourites, while Hamilton and teammate Jenson Button at McLaren-Mercedes have had a rare positive pre-season and are expected to close the gap on their rivals.

Button, who finished second in the drivers' championship last season, said he appreciates "it's important to get points on the board at the start of the year".

Ross Brawn, the team principal at Mercedes GP, said winning races is "a bit too optimistic" at this moment.

However his team's pioneering rear-wing concept was last night deemed legal by the sport's governing body and is expected to be replicated by their rivals as soon as possible.

Ferrari, meanwhile, are either embroiled in crisis or extravagantly bluffing, depending on who is to be believed.

Fernando Alonso, the Italian manufacturers' ever-impressive Spaniard, conceded targets had not been met during pre-season, but said he remains confident: "I believe in this team, I trust this team completely, it will be a long championship and Ferrari will always be there."

His teammate, Felipe Massa, added:"Now we are going to stop talking and we'll see on track the real results."

On track performances have, so far, been dominated by Lotus.

The marque, formerly known as Renault and who finished a season-high third in Melbourne last year, seem to have taken a major step with Eric Boullier's team topping the testing time sheets more than any other of the runners.

With the former world champion Raikkonen back in the monocoque, Lotus could be a surprise package this weekend.

The 2007 champion said he "could probably have gone a bit faster if we wanted" during the final test in Barcelona, but that it means nothing due to other teams' fuel levels remaining unknown.

"I have no idea where we are going to be," Raikkonen said.

"We had a good winter; it could have been better, but hopefully we are fast. Are we going to be in the front? I don't know. We hope we are going to be, but let's wait and see."

The wait is almost over.

Friday's two practice sessions are followed by a final practice and qualifying on Saturday.

The lights go out to mark the start of a new season on 10am, Sunday, UAE time.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae