Belfast Telegraph

Driving the night away Down Under with Leo and Lenny

It is a damning indictment of my increasingly rapid journey towards middle age that in the past, 4.30am on a Sunday morning would have been an acceptable time for thinking of calling it a night.

Now though as I career briskly towards middle age, I am no stranger to being up and about at this ungodly hour, although it usually entails a brief pit stop, and then back to my pit.

But not last weekend as the new Grand Prix season was upon us and Sky were there in Australia with tails more bushy than Skippy and eyes brighter than a floodlight on top of Rolf Harris.

“In 90 minutes time, with the world waiting with baited breath, many are saying it’s the greatest field ever assembled.” Self-praise is no praise, said presenter Simon Lazenby and when you say ‘90 minutes’ do you mean an hour and a half?

He did and it was.

“Melbourne, a place steeped in sporting history — home of the MCG, the Australian Open tennis, the Melbourne Cup, AFL, rugby and football.” Indeed, and still known by all people in this part of the world by two words — Ramsey Street.

And a bit like Neighbours, F1 has a new guardian in the shape of Sky, who attempt to give something ailing the welcome boost it needs, a bit like when Helen Daniels got her hip replacement.

And limping alongside in the shadows of the new boys, the Beeb are still there, still trying to persuade us that highlights are the new live, well until the third race of the season when they’re allowed to show it live and Jake Humphrey will conveniently gloss over that.

So, what else is new? Alongside Simon, who seems genuinely pleased to be here, they have returned Martin Brundle to what he does best, analyse and walk the grid, while in Damon Hill they have an affable chap with greying temples and strange facial hair. Think of a less camp Eddie Jordan in a slightly quieter shirt.

Ted Kravitz remains the man in the garage, and funnily enough he seemed to be spending quite a lot of time around the McLaren one, although the presence of a Pussycat Doll was pure coincidence. And Lenny Kravitz turning up in the grid was just weird. Next week, George Lazenby looms behind Simon.

The first racer the chaps got to speak to in the hour and a half was Venezuelan new-boy Pastor Maldonado. I think that is his first name and not his title although if he’d been from this part of the world he could well have been a ‘former community activist’ but he seems a cheery soul.

Whether he was just so cheery on the last lap after attempting to park his car on a wall at high speed after swerving to avoid a viciously clear stretch of track is another matter. Such a distressing sight involving a Williams hasn’t been witnessed in Melbourne since Venus turned up in that green dress.

And talking of sartorial elegance, the scene setter for the weekend was provided by Georgie Thompson in the F1 Show on Friday evening, or as I like to call it, the excuse for having Georgie Thompson involved.

It was a crushing blow, a bit like Pastor’s motor, to find that the typically unpredictable weather in Melbourne meant she turned up in black Mac and not a hint of leather catsuit in sight. Roll on the summer.

She has to do something to justify her trip over as she and Sky Pad partner Anthony Davidson had very little to do given not very much happens that merits a second, third and fourth look, but it’s early days and by race eight there could be an overtaking manoeuvre to look at.

I’m only joking. Maybe because it was the first day back at school, or maybe because of sleep deprivation, the race was actually quite interesting until the bane of the sport, the safety car, came out to ensure boredom levels returned to normal.

But a good deal of the new optimism may be down to commentator David Croft, a man who cut his teeth in F1 on the radio as Five Live’s man with the mic, and he slipped in seamlessly alongside Brundle.

It’s a bit early to say we’ve got the new Murray Walker and James Hunt but it’s certainly promising, although I could never imagine Hunt undertaking Brundle’s grid walk.

The recession has hit Australia too, the glamour a little less than usual, the undoubted highlight bumping into Leo Sayer who blurted out ‘welcome to my country’ and Brundle looking at him in a very confused fashion. Leo became a naturalised Aussie in 2009, apparently. It was crushing loss for Britannia.

But they ruled the track on Sunday, Jenson Button, winning the race and meaning many visits to the loo for daddy Button, John, who was cornered by Natalie Pinkham.

“We’re at the less salubrious spot of the bins, what are you doing here?” she asked.

“The toilets are out here,” came the reply from the man whose boy had dunny well. Sky certainly lived up to their promise of taking us closer to the action than ever before but there’s a long way to go yet; an awful long way, but I’m away back to bed now.

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