It’s rare for any human to approach Luton Airport with joy in their hearts, but after four races in five weeks, there’s a certain grim satisfaction in landing at the place used by Dante as the template for his later-discarded tenth circle of Hell. It’s nice to get home for a week – even if it is going to be a busy week.
The Sochi Autodrom and its environs are definitely growing on Spy. When F1 first went to Sochi in 2014, the race was a distinctly underwhelming experience: complicated travel; obstructive bureaucracy; terrible food and a dull-as-ditch-water track. These days it’s all pretty good. It’s still difficult to get to, but the infrastructure around the circuit is growing rapidly, the race is impeccably well run, and the track’s weathered-in to provide a decent challenge. It’s turning into a pain-free event – which no doubt is why rumours are circulating that Sochi will lose the Russian Grand Prix after next year and the race will move to St Petersburg.
That sort of rumour is an ethereal mainstay around the paddock. Every race is always under threat and going somewhere else. The rumours with rather more substance were those swirling around the 2021 regulations and the final negotiations going on to finally nail that particular jelly to the wall. The drivers recently got a bit humpy about not being consulted, and so got to have their meeting in Sochi. This is rather like when the kids demand to be consulted on the shopping list: they can have as much consultation as they like – but they’re still going to have to eat their greens and can’t have Sugar Puffs three times a day. We should get something concrete in the next few weeks. At garage level, no-one’s massively interested in the technical revamp, but the rumours of a changing format are interesting for everyone.*
Anyhoo, Sochi. Leaving a race without a trophy is rarely a glass-half-full event but this weekend in Sochi, fourth and fifth were a pretty good result. Max made his way up from ninth on the grid, and Alex had another mightily impressive performance, scrapping his way from the pit lane up to fifth. Fourth is Max’s least favourite finishing position, and Alex is desperate for that first F1 trophy – but they’ll both come away from Russia thinking they’ve put in a good shift.
There is an argument that says if the top three teams are going to finish at the front, irrespective of where they start, then F1 probably needs a gentle nudge in a more egalitarian direction. Spy can see the logic of that – but it doesn’t take anything away from Alex, who placed the car where he needed to place it, made good decisions and decisive overtaking manoeuvres.
He’s fitting in very well. He has a good racing head on young shoulders. This is his second fifth place from the back of the field in four races – driving smoothly and with the minimum of fuss. He’s also taken to defacing his autograph cards in the style of Zorro, complete with hat, mask and twirling moustache. Spy’s eye’s watered at the rest of the penmanship until a colleague pointed out that it’s actually a sword jutting out jauntily from his belt.
*Interesting in the sense of ‘how is F1 going to find a new way to hurt me?’