Remember that last day of term feeling? Maybe it was different in your school, but in the child-storage facility where Spy ate his porridge,* the last day before the holidays was better than the holidays. You could bring in games and wear trainers and generally just muck about. There certainly wasn’t any suggestion of doing anything that could be considered work. It isn’t like that at the factory today – except for the trainers.
The summer shutdown is possibly the nicest thing F1 has ever done for Spy, which puts Spy firmly in the camp that believes it was a mistake they couldn’t take back. It’s certainly an inconvenience for the sport, which seems hellbent on cramming more races into an ever-more congested calendar. For the moment, however, it abides, and Spy is very much looking forward to a couple of weeks of not swiping into anywhere.
Do we need a break? F1 tends to be tough mentally and physically, but let’s be honest, it’s not like we’re mining coal or directing air traffic, and everyone is well aware of that. The teams work hard to look after the crews. They can’t create extra hours in the day, so they do the time-honoured next best thing which is spend more money: compared to other branches of motorsport, we’re downright pampered; the crews eat well and stay in decent hotels; there are fitness regimes and physiotherapists. It definitely helps stave off the ‘finger trouble’, which sees a high-tech multi-million dollar race car from the very pinnacle of motorsport grind to a halt because someone’s forgotten to tighten a jubilee clip.**
But there are limits. And that’s the real value of having a summer shutdown. The longer the season gets, the less people are inclined to do it. It puts a toll on the body and when the younger crew members decide that working on the race team is basically incompatible with family life, that triggers warning bells.
The shutdown definitely helps – because it’s a rigid fortnight off for anyone associated with the car. The doors are locked, the servers switched off, the autoclaves… do whatever it is autoclaves do when they’re not autoclaving. The half-done drawing will remain undisturbed until the pencil is picked up again on the other side. It will be as if these two weeks haven’t happened – apart from the mould in the tea mug that you really should have washed before downing tools.
The hope is that everyone goes away and forgets about F1 for two weeks, to return recharged and eager. Nobody ever really forgets about it, of course, and particularly not in this team at the moment. Two wins and a near-miss in the last few weeks have an electric effect. There’s a sense that, just maybe, we’re getting there. Everyone will be flat-out until the very last minute today. In the last few seasons we’ve gone into the break thinking perhaps there’s a victory on the other side of it. Roll on Spa because this year we’re thinking: how many?
* Like the School of Hard Knocks, but rougher
** Other hose connectors are available