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Motor Racing

Matt Butler: They talked the torque but forgot to tell us this was going to be fun

View From The Sofa: Melbourne Grand Prix, Sky Sports F1

There were 10 minutes of Sunday morning’s build-up to the Melbourne Grand Prix when all but the most avid Formula One fan’s eyes would have glazed over.

Reporter Ted Kravitz wandered around an empty warehouse throwing out acronyms and numbers like a physics lecturer, while computer graphic representations of car components popped up around him.

He was attempting to summarise the technological changes from last year and, although he tried manfully to run through them without boring the pants off himself, let alone the viewers, when he got to comparing torque, downforce, brake horsepower and fuel levels, he lost us.

It was barely 5am – far too early to be talking the torque.

The changes were far better summed up by the drivers, past and present. First Alan Jones, the Australian 1980 world champion, scoffed at Johnny Herbert’s question about how he likes the new machines: “I don’t like the noise – or lack of it.” Spoken like a true petrolhead. Lewis Hamilton was similarly illuminating as he spoke with Martin Brundle in front of one of those enormous outdoor interactive TVs so beloved of Sky. After a couple of unintelligible nuggets of oversteer and braking tactics, when Brundle asked him what the car is actually like, Hamilton’s eyes lit up: “It looks cool, the front wing we have – it is fun to drive.” Finally, something we could understand.

And, as we saw once the race started, he was right on the money – this season looks like it will be fun. In the opening few laps we’d had a crash, umpteen cars overtaking each other and the world champion, Sebastian Vettel, fuming over his radio that his car wasn’t working. Not to mention Hamilton himself bowing out, along with seven others, with a dodgy motor.

Nobody had told us in the hour-long build-up that this grand prix would be as action-packed as Wacky Races. Instead we’d had Simon Lazenby, the host, and Anthony Davidson, the analyst, chin-stroking on the grid as they watched the cars exit their garages. “A lot of the torque management... how much is done by the onboard computer and how much is done by the driver?” Lazenby asked.

Who knows? And frankly, who cares? In the pre-race build-up we want to hear surly drivers and roaring cars, not talk about Newton metres and software issues. We’d lost the roar of the engines, as Jones had said, and later Brundle, on his familiar grid walk, discovered a lack of drivers – apparently they’d all had trouble getting round the warm-up lap for the start of the race.

But all was not lost. “Ooh, I can spy Danny...” he said excitedly. Danny? The Australian Red Bull tyro Danny Ricciardo, who later powered his way to second place (only to be disqualified), by any chance? Nope. Huffing and puffing through a forest of technicians, Brundle continued towards his quarry. “Here she is, it’s Dannii Minogue!”

Cue a few seconds of false “Hiii, lovely to see you, welcome to Melbourne” platitudes and an overwrought “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi,” and we were done. They had both wrapped up the pre-race problems in a nutshell: torque – sorry, talk – is cheap.