Paddock Postcard from Melbourne 27 Mar 2011
After the longer-than-expected winter break, the paddock was in excitable - and impatient - mood as it reconvened in Australia. And Melbourne yet again welcomed the Formula One fraternity to Albert Park with its usual grace and panache.
In the build-up to the on-track action, Red Bull sent their race drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber off to carry out some typically Australian activities to delight the media. Defending world champion Vettel seemed to pick the short straw, and found himself attempting to shear a sheep at a cattle farm on the outskirts of Melbourne.
Whether Vettel or the sheep was the more nervous participant was matter for some debate. But the German gamely declared himself determined to get the job done, and he did, even though it took half an hour to complete a task that for an experienced hand takes a matter of minutes. He admitted he needed a little more practice...
Webber, meanwhile, cooked up a storm alongside Red Bull/Toro Rosso reserve driver - and fellow Australian - Daniel Ricciardo on the beach, with more than 50 members of the media tucking into the duos expertly prepared barbecue breakfast. Delicious.
McLaren were also enjoying being back 'down under' and singled out Australias racing heritage as they ramped up their Grand Prix preparations. On Tuesday Jenson Button became the first driver to tackle the countrys iconic Mount Panorama circuit in a Formula One race car, unofficially breaking the lap record. He completed five tours of the legendary Bathurst track at the wheel of an MP4-23 before handing the car over to five-time Bathurst champion Craig Lowndes. Button also had the chance to experience the circuit in a V8 Supercar.
Sadly, the popular Grand Prix Ball was not held, but there was a wonderful photocall in the paddock on Saturday when Webber and Ricciardo were joined by fellow Aussie F1 stars, world champions Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones, together with Tim Schenken, Vern Schuppan, Larry Perkins, Dave Walker and 91 year-old Tony Gaze. Warwick Brown was also in the paddock, but missed the call.
Other sports stars included motorcycle legend Mick Doohan, world champion surfer Layne Beachley (with her husband, INXS singer Kirk Pengilly), fellow world champion surfer Mick Fanning, Olympic pole vaulter Steve Hooker and motorbike stunt rider Robbie Maddison.
On the entertainment celebrity side, singer Dannii Minogue took a break from the X Factor to visit home with her husband, model Kris Smith, and Leo Sayer made an appearance together with fellow singer Brian McFadden. Last years Grand Prix ambassador Pia Fanning was also around, with her successors, model sisters Ashley and Jessica Hart. English actor Ed Westwick, from the hit TV show Gossip Girl, also visited the paddock, as did the respective girlfriends of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, singer Nicole Scherzinger and model Jessica Michibata.
Besides the usual plethora of mouth-watering cars making exhibition appearances, the famed V8s were joined for racing by a field of bellowing Formula 5000s.
And amidst all the excitement, Formula One didnt forget its followers in Japan. All the teams are running in Melbourne with bespoke stickers as a mark of respect to the casualties of the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Asian country. A minutes silence will also be held on the grid on Sunday before the race start.
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