As dusk settled over Albert Park yesterday, Australians were celebrating. For the first time in 10 straight races, Sebastian Vettel hadn’t won.
More importantly, after almost 30 years of watching the Formula One Grand Prix go round and round and round Down Under, Daniel Ricciardo had become the first Aussie to make the podium.
“I’m tripping balls right now,” he told the crowd in that understated way Aussies have of marking big achievements. Then he punched the air, held aloft a second place trophy which looked suspiciously like a hubcap, sprayed champagne over the crowd and drank from the bottle. All pretty standard stuff.
But at 8.17pm, it all went to custard. A bloke called Jo Bauer issued a memo that catapulted him past the usual array of politicians and mining magnates into the hotly contested position of Most Reviled Person in Australia. That’s him pictured below if you’re looking to make your own dart board.
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In a nutshell, Jo said our Dan was under investigation for breaking the new fuel rules.
All hell broke loose. Premature media reports that Daniel had been disqualified ricocheted around Twitter. Others suggested Red Bull wasn’t the only offender. Hours went by. It wasn’t until a few minutes before midnight that a race spokesman confirmed, in a classic use of bland words to impart bad news, that Daniel had been ‘excluded from results’.
How did this happen, you ask? Believe it or not but we’re in this mess because Formula One decided to go environmentally friendly this season. Don’t laugh, that’s not a joke. Well, at least not in their eyes.
There were a stack of rule changes which I won’t go into because I don’t understand them. Basically there are as many rules in Formula One as there are provisions in the Tax Act. But in the one that matters most in this scenario, each driver was limited to 100 kilograms of fuel per race, 50 kilos less than last year. It equates to about 130 litres, apparently. Enough juice, in other words, to run my car for three months. In Formula One it lasts a couple of hours. But, you know, at least they’re trying.
Coming into Melbourne, there were concerns as to whether any car would have enough gas to finish the race. The prospect of a Steven Bradbury finish was not out of the question.
Red Bull had the worst of the pre-season testing, unable to complete more than 20 laps in 12 days. Sebastian Vettel didn’t do a whole let better in racing, retiring his car to the garage after five laps to the disappointment of absolutely no one. Here he is pictured below with all his friends.
But Daniel kept going. And around lap 20, he got word from his pit crew that he didn’t have to worry about saving fuel any more. He was free to floor it. And he did. In the post-race media conference, in words that no doubt haunt him this morning, he said: “I didn’t have to worry about fuel consumption.
For many, this latest mess simply confirms the view that Australian drivers should steer clear of Red Bull. It’s unlikely, for instance, that you’ll find the energy drink in Mark Webber’s fridge or that a vodka Red Bull is his tipple of choice on a night out.
So, we’re still waiting for an Aussie to make the podium at their home Grand Prix. In the meantime, Red Bull is appealing the disqualification. There’s a simple line of argument they should use if they’d like the benefit of my legal expertise. Daniel didn’t run out of petrol. He didn’t have to hitch a lift back to the pits. Therefore he can’t be in breach of the fuel flow rules. You’re welcome, Red Bull. This one’s on the house.