Well, here we are, the start of the European leg of the F1 World Tour; the sticky, jammy centre in the Formula One donut to which the sugary, fried bits on the periphery cling.
The European season is both better and worse than the rest of the year. Because Spy has a sunny disposition, let’s look at the positives first: the plane journeys are short; the crowds are enormous; the logistics are easy; we have the trucks and the Energy Station. Now, let’s look at the negatives: the plane journeys are short; the crowds are enormous; the logistics are easy; we have the trucks and the Energy Station.
It depends on whether you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty kinda Spy. Long plane trips are dull* – but you get to sleep; short plane journeys just mean you can go directly from the airport to the factory/track and begin work. The trucks are filled with all of your kit – which means you can spend long, dark hours fixing lots of minor snags rather than employing a practical flyaway solution involving cable ties, tank tape and a 4lb adjuster. Huge crowds generate a wonderful atmosphere** – but avoiding that traffic means turning up when it’s still dark – and even that isn’t early enough when [insert name of local favourite] is on pole at [insert name of European track].
Basically, it’s the same but different.
Not that anyone can even agree on what constitutes a European race. Things used to be clear cut: the trucks go to Europe; the sea-freight goes to the other races – but then you got the weird ones like Turkey which had the trucks go as sea-freight, or Russia, where the trucks don’t go at all. Everyone’s pretty certain Azerbaijan isn’t a European race, despite recently hosting the European Grand Prix, but will cheerfully accept Montreal as being vaguely European on the grounds everyone speaks French, the pastries are excellent and the waiters incredibly rude. We could work on the basis that anywhere with a Eurovision Song Contest entry counts as a European race – but that would mean the European season begins in Albert Park!***
The one thing that properly unites the European season is that the circuits are very, very old.**** Silverstone, Monaco, Spa and Monza all appeared on the first calendar in 1950. This weekend the Circuit de Catalunya represents the European season at its most youthful – and it’s been on the calendar for 28 consecutive years.
Does that make a difference? Spy thinks it does. F1 is an enormous, snarling Tyrannosaurus of a sport, and it trades on its history. New races bring plenty of sparkle (and, incidentally, go Miami!) but it’s the old places that have the most resonance. It’s comforting for Spy going to a race track, knowing that he’s following in the footsteps of countless other work-shy slackers that have gone before.
It’s also nicer for teams. It’s not strictly a European race trait but at the older venues there’s a definitely a sense that the people in the grandstands are there to support teams, rather than individual drivers. If you’re in a team, that’s nice. It’s probably not so nice if you’re a driver – but they’re big boys and they’ll get over it. Probably.
So, jumping on the plane to Spain this morning, Spy’s happy to be back home, and filled with enthusiasm for the European season ahead. Doubtless the weight of humanity in Monaco, the casual brutality of the first triple header in France, Austria and Great Britain, the goat-frying heat of Germany and Hungary and the sheer craziness of Spa and Monza will neatly delete that enthusiasm and make Spy break down in tears of joy when boarding the plane for Singapore – but right now, this is pretty exciting.
*or, at least, they’re dull after you binge watch all the good films on the way out to Australia and are left with 12 hours to Shanghai and only The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants for company.
**and, once we get to the higher latitudes, a surprising amount of double denim.
***if you don’t understand this point, don’t worry, an explanation wouldn’t make it any clearer.
****unfortunately, the plumbing is too.