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The green light’s on and the bunny’s away in the 2023 F1 World Championship here at the Bahrain Grand Prix in the heart of the Sakhir desert and Mad Max Verstappen is best away in his Red Bull, Chucky Leclerc’s Ferrari is not too far away and Lou Hamilton (Sir Lou to you) is up there with the leaders.

While Chuck’s Feezer looks faster on the straight, I’ll bet London to a brick that Maxie’s car is quicker on the twisty bits. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have been porpoising again, leading to Georgie Russell talking to Bill and Bert on the big white telephone on turn one with more force than Regan’s projectile vomit at Father Karras in The Exorcist.

Of course, the big test is not who wins on Sunday or whether Lando Norris will say he’s sorry for taking $140m to drive a dud car at McLaren for four years, or whether Red Bull will really close down AlphaTauri, but whether the Hamster will speak out about human rights abuses in the Kingdom.

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights has asked Lou and the other drivers to front up.

Hamo passed the letter onto me saying: “Johnny, with a global audience of 20 readers including your younger reader adviser, JP, and the old bloke who was recently given a royal warrant of appointment by King Chuck (no relation to Chuck Leclerc) as official supplier of nude portraits of the royal family (except three) I want you to give this plea from this mob huge publicity.”

What can I say?

Basically, the good folk, men, women and others at the ECDHR are pretty cranky that award-winning human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been in a Bahrain slammer for 12 years where things aren’t as good as, say, the Sofitel over the road from the track that boasts the only Thalassa Sea and Spa in the hood. “Since his arrest’’, the ECDHR writes, “Mr Al-Khawaja has been subject to various forms of abuse, including torture, beatings, verbal abuse, threats of sexual assault and long periods of solitary confinement.’’

The letter suggests the Bahrainis have been using sportswashing to cover up their poor human rights record and maintain its international prestige, and raises grave concerns over the fact that they will exploit the approaching grand prix in the same manner.

And the good folks at the ECDHR aren’t too fond of the FIA, either.

“Reality is, FIA’s principle of neutrality itself is nothing but neutral. The organisation of international events like the grand prix in countries with menacing human rights records is by itself an indirect avenue for those very countries to hide their atrocities.”

The other big question is whether we should read anything into the fact that most of the F1 cars this season are black? Of course, the Ferraris are red but the best-looking cars in the desert now are the black Mercs with a touch of fluoro.

Talking of big events, nothing is bigger than this weekend’s NSW production series, which of course is being held at Winton in Victoria (thank you readers like Jeff Parker who have sent in helpful hints for me like “turn seven at Winton can be a good passing spot”, but Jeff it’s hard to pass from seven lengths back in the field), but the inaugural Noosa Concours will be held at South Yarra by the sea from the July 14-16. Special guest will be Sandra Button, chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance since 2002. Sandy was its executive director for about a thousand years and she and husband Martin have a serious collection of metal ranging from a 1904 Oldsmobile to a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTC/4. Martin is the boss of Cosdel International Transportation, which ships classic cars from 18 countries to Pebble Beach for its Concours.

Noosa has a mystical charm about it for people from the south (well, not as far south as Tassie but as far south as Melbourne), which is why the town has morphed from a beautiful uncrowded Queensland surfing spot to a bustling, upscale Melbourne suburb with more apartments and frock shops than Nico Hulkenberg had losses last year. As the sun begins to set, don’t miss the tradies’ champagne, caviar, and canapes night in Locale Noosa’s beer garden.

And talking of hillclimbs, John Bowe will be driving one of the three 1965 Shelby Cobra Slalom Snakes ever built at the inaugural Rob Roy Revival hill climb festival at Smith’s Gully on March 18 and 19. Organisers are asking spectators to dress in the period style of 1950s and ’60s motorsport.

Good to see the Chesty Bond singlet making a comeback in Victoria. As Dr Lorinda Cramer explains: “Donned first as underwear, then for sport and later as the uniform of Australia’s working man, woman and other, this simple garment has accrued complex cultural meanings over time. How you wear your singlet is a marker of class. White-collar workers wear singlets as often as their blue-collar counterparts, though theirs often remain, under business shirts and suits.”

Hamo’s stylist, Law Roach, tells me that, under a special sponsorship deal with Chesty himself, the Hamster will be wearing the blue people beater singlet whenever he speaks up on major global issues.

Talking of style, you still have time to bid on the 1987 Kremer Porsche 962C at Dave Gooding’s Amelia Island auction on Saturday. The Porsche 962 and 956 are among the most important models in the history of endurance racing. Their success is unrivalled. Between 1982 and 1987, the Porsche 956 and 962 won Le Mans six times, finishing 1-2-3 every year except 1987, when they were a mere 1-2. For the 1987 24 Hours of Le Mans, this privately owned 962C came fourth overall. In 1988, eighth overall. A good buy under $1.4m. Being Florida, Dave has 15 Feezers up for sale. Easy choice for South Yarra residents is the 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider at close to $30m, or the cost of a soy latte at Locale Noosa.



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