AUTOSPORT's Jonathan Noble brings you his regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Melbourne
• After a far from thrilling season opener in Bahrain, the Formula 1 circus headed out to Australia for what many felt was the "real" start to the year, with Albert Park almost always delivering spectacular stuff both on and off the track.
As well as being a tricky little circuit for the drivers, with medium downforce and lots of heavy braking, the Melbourne venue is one of the more social on the calendar, as teams wile away the hours sitting out on the grass at the back of the pits. But F1 in Melbourne is very much about a sport and a city embracing each other. The build-up to the weekend is like no other, as drivers sign up for a series of promotional events to get themselves in the spirit.
Jenson Button got to try his skills out in a V8 Supercar, while handing over a 2008 F1 McLaren to Jamie Whincup; while Paul di Resta found a photo shoot on St. Kilda beach interrupted by a shark.
The promotional push was why Sebastian Vettel found himself lobbing a few boomerangs around a playing field at Melbourne High School one morning – and causing much amusement for the assembled media when his first throw bounced off the hood of a nearby car, and a later effort rebounded straight into the head of one of Red Bull Racing's official photographers!
Mark Webber had a less incident-packed build-up, as he did his part for the locals when he and Red Bull's head of car engineering Paul Monaghan delivered a lecture to the Engineering Faculty at Melbourne University.
Their speech, which included the use of technology at RBR, how engineers work on racing rules, how Webber himself gets involved in the rules discussions and how important humans are in engineering aspects, went down a treat with the students who could not believe the local F1 hero had stopped by.
"Being here at Melbourne University is a little bit different for Red Bull in a way," said Webber. "But the talk we gave went down a storm – they loved it. Paul spoke to them, they had some really good questions – and it was fascinating. To them, when they grow up, F1 is just so far away, but people are so passionate about wanting to work in F1."
• Despite its popularity, not everyone in the Albert Park paddock is likely to have Australia at the top of their favorite places – especially Lewis Hamilton.
A year on from the lying scandal that resulted in him nearly quitting the sport completely, Hamilton found himself back in the center of another huge media storm – which was dominating the front page headlines back in his native Britain as well as in Melbourne.
Hamilton had pulled off a four-wheel drift as he exited the circuit roads onto the public highway on Friday night – lighting up the rear tires with behavior that countless grand prix winners before him, and no doubt after – share when let loose behind the wheel.
In years past, stories of Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi racing from Monaco to Maranello at breakneck speeds, or Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna banging doors with McLaren boss Ron Dennis in races through downtown Budapest, have gone down in F1 folklore.
But for Hamilton, his actions unfortunately took place right in front of a policeman and resulted in an unprecedented international incident. The Victorian State has launched a huge effort to stamp down on the number of young men killed in road accidents, so has introduced strict "anti-hooligan" legislation. And that is what Hamilton fell afoul of. He definitely did the right thing in forthrightly admitting he had been a bit silly and apologizing. Although Hamilton had stirred up a bit of a media storm with local hero Mark Webber by suggesting that the Red Bull Racing driver was set for retirement at the end of the year, even he came out in support of the 2008 title winner as he expressed frustration at the extent of the "nanny state."
"I think we've got to read an instruction book when we get out of bed – what we can do and what we can't do," blasted Webber. "It's certainly changed since I left here. It pisses me off coming back here, to be honest. It's a great country, but we've got to be responsible for our actions, and it's certainly a bloody nanny state when it comes to what we can do."
• There was quite a bit of feistyness shown by a lot of drivers over the Australian Grand Prix weekend, as they made a bid to lay down markers early on in the campaign.
Michael Schumacher gave a great response on Thursday morning when I asked him if he was disappointed with his performance in Bahrain, because it was quite rare that he had a teammate quicker than him in practice, qualifying and the race.
"Yeah, that's true, but it's pretty rare that I have taken a three-year break..." he said with a wry smile etched across his face.
But in terms of "feistiness" with the media, the award of the weekend had to go to Nico Rosberg – who went straight for the jugular with one of Britain's Fleet Street's writers who he had seen asking some pretty hard questions in the past.
"Ahhhh, the man with the aggressive questions sitting opposite me," smiled Rosberg as he sat down. "He loves it. He takes pleasure, inner pleasure by showing that he has the balls to do it. 'Nobody else does it, I will do it'...it warms him up. You can feel the adrenaline rush."
It was left to the hack to get the last laugh, however, when he responded with his first question: "So, are you enjoying the weather?"
• Formula 1 always does pretty well in attracting celebrities, and it certainly went A-list at the Australian Grand Prix when race sponsor Qantas flew in its ambassador John Travolta. The star caused plenty of excited chatter when word of his arrival starting filtering into the paddock, as it is pretty rare apart from Monaco to get such a Hollywood legend up close and personal with the grand prix field.
Although Travolta's experience of motor racing had previously been limited to a visit to the Indy 500 many moons ago, he was certainly impressed with the noise and spectacle of Sunday's events. When asked about his interest in F1 cars, he said: "You know, I have a small one in my backyard that I drive. I guess I am a dreamer – I have a baby F1 car. I went to the Indy 500 about 20 years ago, with the same type of cars. Pretty exciting. A little bit loud but exciting."
But the amazing thing is, Travolta will probably remember Melbourne best not for the racing or the car, but the fly past of the Qantas A380 before the start of the race on Sunday – because he loves airplanes. Travolta is an enthusiastic pilot and actually owns an old Boeing 707, which he purchased off Qantas several years ago.
"I have a 747 license, a 707 license, I was the first non-test pilot to fly the A380 and that is all because of Qantas," said Travolta.