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SPY: Off and Running

Konnichi-wa race fans. Spy here, thawed out from yesterday’s fun day out at Silverstone. The RB15 is up and running. Everything worked, certain muscles unclenched and everyone allowed themselves a pat on the back and a few anxiety-free moments before getting back down to worrying about next week’s first test.

Back in the day, when the purpose of the marketing department was to invent new and interesting ways of burning money as swiftly as possible, the car launch tended to be something of a big deal. Teams whisked themselves, their drivers, and the media off to somewhere incongruously elegant to whip off the sheet. Why show off your new machine in the race bays when you can take it to an opera house, or a museum, or the moon? And, of course, if you have the venue, you have to add in a bit of razzamatazz too, thus launches were often accompanied by circus acts, dancing elephants, plus all manner of hoopla and mayhem. One year a very famous team even let their two drivers finish assembling the car – which may not have had quite the same appeal as a high wire act for the intended audience, but certainly had the nearby team of mechanics both transfixed and terrified.

In these more straightened times, it’s not the done thing. Launches tend to be more workmanlike: car unveiled at or near the factory, or simply plonked on the apron outside the garage for photographs at the first test. Or, in our case yesterday, appearing on-line with a one-off livery during a filming day conducted at Silverstone, a venue that, on a cold winter’s day, is the very antidote to glamour. 

Cold as it was, Merc followed us to Silverstone although we did each have our own circuits to play on. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed they were there, were it not for their fancy dan, lah-di-dah helicopter trying to recreate Apocalypse Now every ten minutes.

The rules of a filming day are rigid. There’s a very limited amount of mileage on offer, and Pirelli supply special demonstration tyres. They’re special because they’re harder than our chief accountant and just as difficult to warm up. Given the coating of frost on the tarmac, this was going to make Copse an interesting proposition and Max and Pierre’s ice-karting adventure last week in Holland suddenly looked like ideal preparation. Max – who had the honour of giving the RB15 its debut – was given suitable instruction to take it easy. In the end he did 38 uneventful laps spread over six runs. Nothing got bent, nothing fell off, nothing melted. Mission accomplished.

In fact, so successful was the day’s running, it was almost an anti-climax. The old salts in the garage can remember when the first test of a new car was something to get the nerves jangling. You didn’t know what you were going to get: could be a dud; could be the moment a racing dynasty is launched. That doesn't happen so much in the modern era: the dark arts of simulation produce numbers and hopefully the on-track performance replicates that. There’s still good and bad, but the margins between the two are smaller and mostly come down to fine tuning. It’s less exciting for the people who find an excuse to be there for the first run (surprisingly few of whom are actually supposed to be there) but it’s better for the sport: F1’s a bit dull when someone’s brilliant idea makes the new car three seconds quicker than everybody else.