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The Spy Abides

Greetings race fans, Spy here, not so much an eager beaver as a lethargic squirrel, bunkered down in my nest, idly playing with my nu… well, let’s say passing the days in idle contemplation, waiting for warmer weather to come around. January eh! What’s that all about?

Anyone familiar with Spy’s oeuvre will recall that I’m never exactly unhappy when the season ends. While a change isn’t as good as a rest, the change is nonetheless welcome. And certainly, when getting off the plane home from Abu Dhabi, there’s plenty of stuff going on to keep any misplaced competition pangs well and truly at bay. There’s Christmas on the horizon and the novelty of sleeping in your own bed for enough consecutive nights to make it worth the hassle retuning the alarm clock to something other than Magic FM. Happy days indeed. 

That all seems a long time ago now, and with Blue Monday jostling for attention with Dry January, the tipping point has been reached. Spy’s pining for Albert Park. And some other stuff too…

Albert Park

Let’s get one thing perfectly straight. Anybody who says they like winter testing is off their box. It’s cold, it’s dark, it may snow, there will be fog and, good though the facilities at the Circuit de Catalyuna are, standing around for hours on end in a cold, dark, foggy, possibly snowy, usually damp pitlane is no fun… but Albert Park, that’s a different matter. When you’re double-beanied and warming your hands around a red-hot caliper, the thought of going to work under blue skies has a truly vast appeal. Even if the Albert Park garages are tiny, the hotel is above St Kilda’s noisiest and most ferocious pub, and every single café in Melbourne insists anything served before 11am features avocado.   

The French Grand Prix

Anyone from the paddock reading this is going to assume Spy’s had a few too many. The French Grand Prix of 2018 was une vraie douleur royale dans le cul. But that was mostly down to traffic management. Or lack of traffic management. When the 15-minute drive to work takes three hours, that’s annoying. When the 15-minute drive home from work takes three hours, that’s even more annoying. If you have a six-hour commute on top of an 18-hour day, well, you do the maths. BUT that was the only problem. Sort out the traffic, the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard could be brilliant this year – and not just because it isn’t part of a triple-header.

Tyres

…actually, the two things wrong with Ricard were the traffic and a pretty boring Grand Prix. And that was down to tyres. Last year’s tyres were… bad. Really bad. As bad, in fact, as 2017, which makes them a lot worse than 2017, because no-one knew what to expect in 2017, and unpredictable tyres are as much fun as good tyres. But bad tyres that are very, very predictable, well… not cool. Most of last year’s races were one-stoppers. Very nice if you’re leading races, not so nice if you’re keen on a strategy gamble to shake things loose, and thus, fairly dull if you’re watching at home. F1 works best with a two-stopper, preferably a two-stopper with the option of a punt on one or three. Hopefully Pirelli will have things dialled in a bit better (which is to say, worse) this year. Or made of blancmange so chaos ensues. ‘cos – and let’s not beat about the bush – that’s what you want, isn’t it? 

Mid-season

The F1 season definitely has a start, middle and an end – but it’s difficult to judge when those are*. If you asked the people in the design office who own a pocket protector and arrange their pens in chromatic order, they would insist a 21-race season, mid-season begins at Race 8, but no-one asks their opinion because we wouldn’t understand it anyway. Mid-season can’t be defined in numbers. It’s the point at which people stop moaning about new regulations and simply get on with racing. Last year mid-season started when everyone stopped banging on about the grid girls turning into Halos. This year, mid-season will begin when everybody gets over the way in which the new aerodynamic package doesn’t lead to NASCAR-style overtaking hi-jinx. Hopefully China – but Spy’s money is on Silverstone.

Dany and Bob

There’s promising rookies and tantalising promotions in the 2019 field – but the drivers Spy is most pleased to see in race seats are Dany Kvyat and Robert Kubica. Robert’s walked a hard road these last eight years; that he’s going to be back on the grid for an F1 race is proof this sport is about more than sterile number crunching. Determination, talent and spherical objects made of wurtzite boron nitride have their place too. As for Daniil Vyacheslavovich Kvyat esq. he’s just too good a driver to sit around playing Xbox for a living. The F1 grid is where he belongs. Nobody pushes harder or swears better. We’ve missed him. 

But first, the small matter of a car to build, a new engine to install and a lovely trip to Spain. Now, where did Spy leave those fingerless gloves…?

* The end of the season officially begins when the driver that’s running away with the title stops saying “it’s too early to talk about the title” and starts saying “it’s far from over.”