It was good to finally see a 2018 car in the flesh, not only because it’s been nearly three months of F1 silence but also thanks to new car launches these days being muted by the popular choice of on-line delivery.
Mercedes proved the exception on Thursday by literally rolling their fully working W09 in front of the media at Silverstone and getting just reward with more ink (on the British newspaper platforms at least) than all of the remaining teams put together. It’s true that the presence of Lewis Hamilton will have raised the interest level but having something tangible to both see and hear added to a sense of occasion absent elsewhere.
Actually running a new car is always a risk, as anyone from the Beatrice-Haas Lola team will recall. After much fanfare during the early part of 1985, the car was finally unveiled at Brands Hatch in August (it was acceptable at the time to start part way through a season if so desired). Alan Jones set off from the pits and headed out onto the grand prix extension. The next time we saw him was when marshals pushed the stricken and silent car into sight at Clearways. The 15-minute wait allowed plenty of time for the watching media to compose waspish headlines.
As it happens, the W09 did experience a minor glitch on start-up, but this actually added to rather than detracting from the sense of anticipation as the light show and countdown began. Mercedes had obviously learned from last year when the on-track launch was affected by inclement weather as Storm Doris tried to do everyone a favour by blowing The Wing into the next county. This time, Mercedes were able to use the building’s vast internal expanse to run the car from darkness and towards the waiting audience and cameras for live transmission on line.
Access was the key as photographers were able to shoot within reason and drivers and team members were available for interview. As a first for F1, and in a spirit of entente cordiale (or whatever the equivalent is in Italian), large screens laid on live coverage of the launch of what is likely to be the main rival to the reigning champions.
The pictures from Italy made an interesting comparison as the stage-managed presentation showed Ferrari’s drivers and Maurizio Arrivabene in immaculate matching ties and blazers, all three having clearly just come from the best hair stylist Maranello has to offer on a Thursday morning. We caught an occasional glimpse of the car.
But at least that was more than McLaren’s test of journalistic fortitude with a promised launch at 0700 on Friday morning. At 0701 there was nothing showing on the team’s media site, followed some time later by a notice of a technical fault, (suggesting, perhaps, that the Honda legacy remains in Woking despite the presence of a new power unit). The immediate and welcome first impression from photos of MCL33 on social media showed the return of papaya orange, although anyone unfamiliar with F1 would need to search hard to learn it is a Renault beneath the engine cover.
An improvement though the McLaren colour scheme may be (and notwithstanding the awaited final definition of Red Bull’s livery), it did little to demote Renault itself as favourite for the Best Looking Car award. But this, and all the optimism flooding a hungry media during the past few days, will become totally meaningless as soon as free practice begins in Melbourne in four weeks’ time.
For now, though, Mercedes is on pole position by a couple of seconds in the pre-season positioning and power play.