MAURICE HAMILTON

Is testing worth talking about?


The sound of sweet music returns in Spain as F1 testing begins after a mute couple of months following the last Grand Prix of 2011. With the urgent revs of a V8 comes the annual flow of nonsense as the watching media desperately tries to drum up stories from not very much at all. The cars are going round and round. End of story.

But not if you watch the posse of press men and women, pens poised, microphones ready, asking drivers how they feel and what their hopes are for the latest technical masterpieces put at their disposal.

I mean, a driver is unlikely to look at his 2012 car - the focus of the technical department's every waking hour for several months; the harbinger of hope for corporate partners who have handed over millions of dollars to help make it all happen and pay for the private planes parked at Jerez airport - and then say this car the biggest heap of crap he's ever driven.

He may think that because a driver intuitively knows almost from the first few laps whether the car is basically good or bad; just as Jenson Button realised within a few heartbreaking miles that the 2008 Honda was a total dog in the same way that, a year later, he stepped from the Brawn and quietly told John Button it might be a good idea to place a couple of quid on his boy winning the championship. But any driver with drummed-in PR responsibilities will never voice criticism in public any more than he will air the view that we must be a bunch of idiots for believing the sound bite in the first place.

The closest F1 people have come to voicing negative remarks at this stage of pre-season optimism is to admit that the new cars may be unattractive; an easy statement to make in the light of the wide-spread comment generated by the 2012 noses.

Personally, I think the noses are bloody ugly but, as Richard Williams, that astute observer of all sport, noted in 'The Guardian' newspaper, the noses look normal after a couple of hours' running. Bizarrely, says Williams in his piece from Jerez, the MP4-27 presented by McLaren (the one team to have skilfully avoided the step nose) became the only car that looked out of place and 'almost like a museum piece when compared to the brutal contours of its new rivals'.

Are McLaren right or wrong? Assuming the nose of the MP4-27 remains unchanged, we will not begin to touch on the truth until Melbourne in five weeks' time. It's the way forward (no pun intended!) for McLaren and I cracked up when one television website solemnly reported on Tuesday morning that: 'McLaren are confident the lower nose concept is the right way for them to go.'

Really? You do surprise me. I mean, they're hardly likely to look at Red Bull and the rest of the opposition with their stepped noses and immediately load MP4-27 back onto the truck, say "F*** this for a game of soldiers" and head for the drawing board.

The one good thing I noted about the Ferrari nose in particular is the use of the step as a location for the car's number. I daresay someone will spot this as a handy location for a sponsor logo worth considerably more than actually helping casual television viewers and spectators understand just which driver they are looking at.

Never mind the nose, the front shot of the F2012 (I'm generalising rather than picking on Ferrari) reminds me that the cars, per se, are not attractive. The nose wings are ludicrously wide and complex to the tune of £30,000 each and the narrow rear wing adds to the acute sense of disproportion. But, as Richard Williams points out, we've become accustomed to them.

If you're ever fortunate enough to visit the McLaren Technology Centre, reacquaint yourself with Lewis Hamilton's championship-winning MP4-23 with its flips, flaps, horns, bridges and barge boards. Some people love that look; to me, it's so horrible I'm amazed I got used to it. The reason for that was because I was focussed on the racing rather than the downforce. That's what this is really all about.

So, we have to wait until 18 March. In the meantime, I'll have a read of today's 'The Sun' newspaper for the latest motor sport news. Here's the headline above a video grab:

'Are Nicole and Lewis back on? Clip shows pair holding hands in LA.'

Now we're talking!

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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