Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the Box: Even with six billion pounds in cash there's no change for F1

By Billy Weir

The new pound coin is now with us, a 12-sided abomination to eventually take over from the jolly little round fellow that we all know so well now. A stick in the mud I hear you cry, a Philistine, someone clinging on to the past, or is it just a simple matter that I just can't cope with change? Sorry about that.

Change is good we are told, and it was certainly the buzz word as a new era for Formula One kicked off in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, where six billion shiny pounds, round or a large bag of dodecagon-shaped ones, meant the handing over of the rights from Bernie Ecclestone to Liberty Media.

It was meant to herald a leap forward and it did, by an hour, as the clocks sprung ahead with the time change meaning that at 5.00am, or 4.00am if you hankered for the memories of the winter, it was time for Sky to kick things off with Pit Lane Live.

At that time of the morning I am barely alive and I was in no mood for presenter Simon Lazenby's beaming smile, telling us that for the first time "we're available in Ultra HD" which I hoped meant 'heavy duvet' and not what I feared, 'hopelessly dull'.

More worrying is that Lazenby looks more and more like David Moyes with every passing lap but I was soon distracted by the pumping tunes of a passing flag-waving marching band.

Had the Loyal Sons of Melbourne Flute Band set off on an early march to perform a medley of Kylie hits? I should be so lucky, but for fear of being accused of racial stereotyping they cranked Waltzing Matilda right up to 11.

"I think this band needs to go hybrid, it's noisier than the cars," moaned Martin Brundle, before he was even more rudely interrupted by a magnificent man in a flying machine overhead.

"I've been up in one of those with the G-Trousers," he explained as we sought a further explanation to figure out what he was on about.

"When you put the G-Trousers on you better have your bits and pieces in the right place," he explained further and we discreetly pulled a G-veil over the subject.

A common complaint, even worse than errant bits and pieces, is the gripe that Formula One is the motorsport equivalent of Mastermind where passing is frowned upon.

It was with that in mind, perhaps, that the new owners are fronted by a man, and this is not a joke, called Chase Carey, who, it would be fair to say, thought things were great as he spoke to reporter Rachel Brookes.

"It's great to be here. We want great racing, we want a great live experience, a great television experience, we want to make it a great business for all our partners, great for the teams, great for the promoters but ultimately make it great for the fans," he said. Great stuff, he just edged out Tony the Tiger for the job.

"Bigger, wider, heavier," commentator David Croft began - I think he was talking about the cars and not my shape since the pound coin was first introduced - but there was "still the same need for speed and the desire to succeed". Indeed.

With new American owners there were fears that F1 would be dumbed down, but Brundle was quick to allay any fears.

"There's no bad cars out there, there's no muppets behind the steering wheels," he clarified as Croft insisted that "everyone is on the edge of their seats, or their beds, depending on whether they got out of bed or not" and I may have been dreaming but I'm sure a Sauber was being driven by Fozzie Bear.

And then we were off and that was that really, Mercedes messed up a tyre change that meant Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel passed Lewis Hamilton and everybody went round and round and nothing much happened.

"Ferrari on top Down Under and there was no golden touch for the silver arrows today," added Croft, although he was rudely interrupted as hordes of Aussie fans burst onto the track while the cars were still on it and clearly didn't give a **** about health and safety.

"Gina, that's what Sebastian Vettel has named his car this season, and if he likes it just a little bit, it should be called Gina G," he added, but it was time for Damon Hill to throw a spanner in the works.

"It doesn't bode well for the sport if the drivers already at this stage are saying 'we can't consider racing the car in front,'" he said as Sky chiefs threw their hands in the air that one race in and those people who had bothered to get up were long since back below their Nigel Mansell Ultra Heavy Duvet.

So, a new era then, and a lot of pounds spent for very little return I would suggest.

If I was Chase, I'd be looking for some change.

The good, the bad and the ugly

THE GOOD: There’s just no stopping Northern Ireland but Gerry Arconada-Armstrong may have cast some light on just how comfortable Sunday’s World Cup qualifying win over Norway was. “Norway are playing a 3-2 formation, with four up front at the minute,” said Sky’s visionary pundit as we wondered where the other two nomadic Norwegians had strayed to.

THE BAD: Sometimes it’s hard to shake off an image, even one you created for yourself, as the self-styled Guv’nor Paul Ince showed on ITV4’s coverage of France v Spain on Tuesday evening, where video assistant referees were being tried out, and very successfully too. Presenter Jacqui Oatley was making some salient points about its merits but Ince was having none of it. He argued: “We’ll have another chat (about video technology) in five years’ time, darling.” At least he didn’t add “now go and pop the kettle on”.


 Some man-love on Sky’s Fantasy Football as Danny Murphy revealed the secret of Thierry Henry’s success. “Physically and technically, the all-round package. I walked past him and he even smelt nice. He’s not just a good player, he smells lovely,” said the smitten Murphy

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