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SPY: The Air Up There

Morning everyone, Spy here, gasping for breath like a fish washed up on on a river bank. Oxygen: you don’t miss it ‘til it’s gone. Well, that was an interesting weekend in Austin, wasn’t it? A DNF for Daniel, who really isn’t getting the rub this year, and a storming performance from Max.

Glass half-empty, or glass half-full? Difficult one, isn’t it? There’s a pretty solid strategy argument that says we may have been on for a double-podium in Austin, so that’s disappointing – but it’s really difficult to have a driver go from 18th on the grid to second and call the weekend anything but successful. So, Spy’s going with glass half-full.

That’s not going to be any consolation for Daniel, whose displeasure at retiring is doubtless going to land him with a bill from circuit services. Max’s performance, however… that’s something to savour. He nailed the start, was inch-perfect in overtaking, and was able to push the pace without melting the tyres. His lap out of the pits was masterful, giving him enough to make the undercut work and get ahead of Valtteri, and his defence on old tyres was precise when holding off a charging Lewis at the end.

It’s his first podium at COTA, which is good timing, because before now he wouldn’t have been able to drink the champagne. Max turned 21 a couple of weeks ago – but this was a very mature drive. We like Spectacular Max and Thrilling Max but it’s clinical Max that’s really going to frighten his rivals.

But anyway, that’s last weekend’s news, the whole bunch of crazy that is the Mexican Grand Prix awaits. The vibe in Mexico is like Brazil turned up to 11. Mostly that’s because in Brazil the crowd is spread around the circuit: in Mexico everybody’s clustered around the pitlane. The crowd easily drowns out the sound of the engines – and not just because they’re quiet. You’d struggle to hear a V10 at 21,000rpm above the din that's bouncing off the grandstands. It’s pretty raucous at the start of the day – but as the day goes on it only gets louder. This may have something to do with the amount of lubrication available in the grandstands. This is the only grand prix that features a tray-shaped hat designed for efficiently delivering beer to the bleachers. Who says modern F1 stifles innovation?

The cauldron might be a little bit daunting were the garages filled with shy, shrinking violets – but for the walking egos that tend to work in F1, it’s a wonderful experience. Everyone in the pit lane basks in an atmosphere you could chop into chunks and sell as loft insulation. People get a bit of a strut on – if they can afford to waste the Oxygen.

At least, they will if they turn up on time. There’s going to come a day soon when at least one of the teams simply doesn’t arrive. 2018 is the year of the mental timetable. It used to be– with a few, well-understood exceptions – that the timetable was fixed in local time. There have been more and more exceptions in the last few years but this year the wheels have well-and-truly come off, and the modern preference is to monkey around with the timetable every week. This plays merry hell with the nerves. For a working environment, it’s nice to have a weekend schedule you can rely on: as fixed and immobile as Bernie’s attitude towards the Internet. Now, everyone’s checking the timetable every ten minutes because they’re not sure if it’s time to use the fuel bowser or the tea urn. Is qualifying at 1pm or 4pm or 9pm? Will the race be on at the same time as FP2 or FP3? Is it time to go to bed or have cornflakes? It doesn’t help that we’ve been changing time zones more often than one of the pitcrew changes his lucky race underpants, and that this weekend the clocks go back on Sunday morning except in countries where they don’t. Spy needs a lie down.