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SPY: On An Island

Bonjour, hi, Spy here, bidding au revoir to Montreal. As usual, it’s been a pleasure, thank you for all the cheese.

What interests Spy most from the last two races is how there’s a real three-way battle developing at the front. We won in Monaco, followed by Ferrari; Ferrari won in Canada, followed by Mercedes. It’s entirely possible Mercedes will win in France followed by us. Things haven’t been this close at any point in the hybrid era – and that’s very interesting for everyone at the sharp end of the pitlane – in the sleepless nights and furrowed brow sense of the word ‘interesting’. Of course, this only happens when we start talking about changing the technical regulations… 

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is an awful race track, which perversely – but very much in the grand F1 tradition – makes it a very good race track. It’s almost entirely lacking in mod-cons, including a paddock in which you’d be embarrassed to hold a village fete – but it all works. So what if the paddock is cramped? That just means there’s nowhere to hide; and OK, the circuit could really be a bit less bumpy – but Montreal hits 40°C in the summer and -40°C in the winter, so really, what are you going to do? The benefits of Montreal more than make up for that: it gives us 100,000 excited fans and a city that uses the grand prix to let its hair down and have a big party. Honestly, what’s not to like?

Well, actually, being at work and having to ignore the party and attempt to get some sleep is a bit of a bummer, but if Spy went racing for fun, definitely a venue at the top of the list. 

– though we can make our own fun, and did this year with Saturday night’s raft race. In many ways, the raft race exemplifies all that’s best in F1: unbridled competitive instinct, dramatic reversals of fortune and copious amounts of tank tape and cable ties. Also, treading the fine-line between ingeniously technical solutions and outright cheating. Everyone showed up – except Ferrari, who think it’s beneath them, and Force India, who had some laundry to do – which left us with eight teams, plus crews* from FOM, the FIA, the media and fans. Charlie Whiting kindly acted as starter, steward and chief scroot, the Montreal fire brigade were on hand to ensure everyone got wet but nobody drowned, Erok supplied the tunes and Heineken the liquid inspiration.

Our own valiant efforts were somewhere down towards the bottom end of brilliant. Without naming names** that was perhaps the most shameful performance in the team’s history since the day we had to murder Henry the Hoover to build a working exhaust system for the launch car. Spy’s calling it a victory though, because the raft didn’t sink. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because sport truly was the winner. Also Williams.

Of course, the tale grew in the retelling and judging by the hand-gestures and animation on Sunday morning, the raft race appeared to be a tactical confrontation to rival the Battle of the Nile. It wasn’t until after breakfast anyone remembered there was a proper race to win.

We had a so-so race. Montreal’s never been our circuit, having altogether too many straights and not nearly enough corners – but we acquitted ourselves well. Max bought a pot home, which always makes the weekend worthwhile. Daniel had a hell of a good race too. He made a place off the start line and then put in a truly mighty lap to snatch fourth in the pitstops. He even took fastest lap at the end of the race. Except he didn’t. Much to Daniel’s mighty annoyance, that particular bounty was awarded to Max, because officially the race ended two laps early. Why? Because the chequered flag was waved a lap early. Little known fact about Max: he has a truly angelic smile when it turns out he’s robbing you blind.

So, what’s this all about? You’d think race control could count to 70, and indeed they can – but the thing about race control is that they’re in race control, not on the finish line, so the task is delegated. This isn’t an isolated incident, and when it happens it tends to be caused by people not understanding that when the counter says ‘one lap to go’, it really means ‘one after this one’. No blame should be attached to the people on the gantry –people far more experienced in the ways of F1 have been caught out by that. We need a messaging system that’s a bit smarter. Still, could be worse, Pele forgot to wave the flag entirely – and he’s awesome.

Of course, F1 could have simply pretended it didn’t happen, global TV audience notwithstanding – but the first rule of any motor race is do what the flag marshal tells you to do. And there isn’t a caveat that says unless you’re an F1 driver. And thus, once the chequered flag is waved, that particular die is cast. One short turns into two short in this instance because it’s treated as a red flag, and the leaderboard is rolled back to the order on the previous lap. Clear? No, didn’t think so. Don’t worry, there’s people in the paddock still convinced Kimi Räikkönen should have won the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix.

All in all, Canada wasn’t a thriller, and in Spy’s esteemed opinion (for what that’s worth) it wasn’t because of anything wrong but because everything went right. The biggest problem F1 has isn’t aerodynamics or tyres or power units, it’s very professional teams, and very skilful drivers. The cars lined-up on the grid in the order they should line up on the grid, no-one got anything wrong, and so everyone stayed where they were. Sometimes it just happens that way. If you want random results, upsets and general ineptitude, definitely watch the raft race highlights.

*using the word ‘crew’ in its widest and most generous context
**except those of John, Chris, Adam, Hadyn, Olaf and Nathan, obviously.