The saying is around Melbourne if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Thursday it seemed like the fans at the opening day of the Qantas Australian Grand Prix got all four seasons rolled up into one. The weather couldn’t make up its mind – to rain or not to rain, sunny or not, etc. But the fans were fortunate. The huge thunder and lightning rain storm came a couple of hours after the gates closed. It bucketed.

Red Bull Car
Photo by Ron Searle

Despite the weather, there was much to see and do Thursday at Albert Park in Melbourne. The Formula One teams stepped up their preparations for the 2012 season starting Friday with two ninety-minute practice sessions.

The Aussies really know how to pack it in for a really full day of racing and other activities. For the CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sports) volunteer race marshals, it’s a long ten hour day.

The support races included Shannons Historic Demonstration, Shannons Group A/C Touring Cars, Porsche Carrera Cup, Formula Fords, and Australia’s most popular form of motorsport – V8 Supercars. Additionally there were the Swisse Two Seater F1 Demonstration Laps, Formula SAE Demonstration Laps, Red Bull Race Off, The Ultimate Speed Comparison Demonstration – and these were on the ground. High above the fans were treated to air displays from the RAAF Roulettes.

Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher Photo by Lynne Huntting

I spent a nice sunny mid-afternoon at the WAMS conference – Women of Australian Motor Sports. The guest was MICHAEL SCHUMACHER/Mercedes AMG Petronas. He said he “deeply enjoyed all kinds of racing during his ‘retirement’, so much that he decided to get back into it and get paid for it.” Ross called him.( ROSS BRAWN is the team principal for Mercedes AMG Petronas.)

Schumacher said, when asked, he didn’t expect to be contending for the championship. “Every time we go out there, we get closer, from where we were last year.” But the championship – “No. Impossible.It won’t happen.”

Schumacher’s advice to young drivers – “You have to love what you do.”

For those with keen eyes and powers of observation, and those who had a better view of the track activity as seen from the Pit Lane, the pit lane debris fencing had changed its appearance. No longer is it chain link fencing. Rather, it now is solid panels of clear plastic acrylic. There are no holes, so no track debris can get through. AGPC President, RON WALKER, had seen similar fences in Abu Dhabi, although theirs were shorter. Such fences have also been installed at other F1 tracks such as Imola, Magny Cours and Suzuka.

Panel Barrier

Panel Barrier

Barrier photos by Michael Shaw.

The raison d’ĂȘtre for the clear panels was better presentation and visibility for the corporate guests in and above the pit lane. ANDREW WESTCOTT, AGPC CEO, said this was one more step to making AGP the best race in the world.

ASHLEY DAVIES, AGPC General Manager-Operations, said the installation costs were similar to those of chain link fences. The panels should also resolve one problem at AGP – Track Invasion. I call it the Law of Unintended Consequences, and mean it in a good way. The solid panels will make it impossible for the intruders to climb the panels to invade Pit Lane.

Davies wouldn’t comment on the costs of the panels, but did say they are reusable and will be carefully packed away with cotton wool and stored indoors until next year.

For those who want details, the panels are 4.7 meters tall, two and a half centimeters deep and survived a destructive 5.4 ton test over a ten centimeter patch.

Now, aren’t you glad you asked.

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