by Stuart Sykes
Sport will briefly take a back seat at Albert Park today when the world of Formula One pays tribute to the victims of natural disaster in Japan with a minute’s silence before the start of the 2011 Qantas Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
The 24 drivers in the 2011 field will join dignitaries including the Acting Consul-General of Japan, Mr Yasufumi Kotake, and Victorian Premier Mr Ted Baillieu to observe a minute’s silence for the thousands who perished, went missing or were left destitute by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan only a few weeks ago.
Popular Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi is the lone Japanese in the field but every driver in the other teams has set aside sporting rivalries this week to show solidarity with their friend.
When they return to their cockpits, the stage is set for a thrilling start to the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship year.
The order on the starting-grid may not exactly reflect local fans’ hopes and expectations but there is still everything to play for when the lights on the gantry go out.
Aussie F1 followers would probably have preferred to see Mark Webber’s name on the number one starting slot, but a young German by the name of Vettel and a former World Champion called Hamilton conspired to keep Webber back in third.
“I didn’t put myself into the best position today,” the 34-year-old Red Bull racer admitted yesterday. “But I’ve had tough Saturdays before, and Sunday? It’s a long, long day…”
As World Champion Sebastian Vettel said from the other side of the Red Bull garage, pole position – especially one that peeled four-tenths of a second off the fastest lap ever seen at Albert Park – is all well and good, but nobody has any points on the board yet and there are 58 unpredictable laps ahead.
The two key questions are: how will Pirelli’s tyres cope with the Albert Park challenge in race conditions, especially if the weather stays iffy, and who will get through the notorious Turn 1 on the opening lap with their cars and chances undamaged?
Vettel is a charger, Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren will be taking no prisoners, and with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari right behind him on the grid, Webber knows the dash to the first corner could have huge consequences for the rest of his race.
Before the F1 cars come out there is action aplenty for an Albert Park crowd expected to surpass six figures today.
There’s the second race of the F5000 Tasman Cup Revival, the third encounter of the Carrera Cup Porsches, the second clash of the Lexus Celebrity Challenge stars and of course the final episode of the V8 Supercars Albert Park 400.
Add in the Shannons Historic Demonstration, Alan Moffat in his glorious Boss Mustang and a tribute to our two great World Champions, Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones, and you have all the ingredients of a special day in which sport will bow its head before putting on a show for the watching world.