SPY: Dire Straights

Top of the morning one and all, Spy here, dragged off the couch and shoved in front of a laptop to sate your never-ending need for F1 tittle-tattle. How’s it going? Did three weekends of non-stop F1 do it for you?

Given that Spy finds double-headers something of a trial, three in a row really slid the cheese off my cracker. It’s normal at the second half of a double-header to wander around in a daze on Friday saying ‘surely it can’t only be Friday?’ At Silverstone people were doing ‘surely it can’t only be July’. Some in the paddock liked this brave new world. They are heavily outnumbered. 

But while that little thunderhead was hovering directly over the paddock, everyone else inside Silverstone – and that’s a lot of people – seemed to be having a great time. The sun was out, the sky was blue and, unless a pesky motor race intervened, there was cold beer and football to watch on the giant screens. 

We don’t have the cold beer, it being considered counter-productive to the meticulous preparation of high-performance racing cars – but it’s surprising how many monitors in and around the garage, accidentally seemed to be tuned to a TV channel this weekend instead of, say, the vital piece of telemetry they’re usually showing.

F1 is an international sport, filled with talented people from every corner of the globe* but a good percentage of the paddock hails from the Southern part of this green (actually parched and unusually brown this year) and pleasant (when the circuit portaloos have been emptied) land. This is why Lance Stroll is currently the face pinned to every dartboard in the paddock. The one weekend you need qualifying to finish on time and he brings out the red flags on his out-lap.

Still, at least young Lance’s travails weren’t of his own making. The same cannot be said for the Silver Arrows. Hastily retracted comments of the week are a tie between Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton, both of whom immediately after the race seemed to be keen to indulge in an unusually rhetorical argument about whether Ferraris keep hitting Mercedes by accident or by design.

The correct answer, as Lewis later clarified, is ‘accident’. Silver cars are faster over one lap and qualifying in front of red cars, but red cars are better at a standing start – thus you have the unusual situation of the faster cars starting directly behind the slower cars and both trying to occupy the same tiny piece of real estate in a braking zone. That’s what causes accidents. Kimi locked a wheel and slid. It happens. He may come off as a mumbling misanthrope who’d rather be at home jet-washing the patio than driving a racing car – but he’s also spent the last 16 seasons being just about the cleanest driver in F1. Anybody who suggests otherwise is talking bo… ahem, in Spy’s opinion, their argument lacks validity.

Crime and punishment is a bit of a talking point though, with Ferrari seemingly doing pretty well of late out of their errors. It has plenty of people, inside and outside the swipe gate quite het-up. Who do I blame? I blame you. Or rather, as I’m one of you, I blame us. A couple of years ago, fans were unhappy at the vicious penalties imposed on drivers prepared to get their elbows out. This led to a change of tack, and an officially-endorsed philosophy of ‘let them race’. Rubbing would indeed be racing and penalties for the occasional nudge would be smaller or non-existent to encourage drivers to go for it. We can’t have that and complain when the diminished penalties seem a touch anaemic.

Though Spy would have loved to have cars in a position to bang wheels at the front. Sadly, Silverstone, like Paul Ricard, exposed our basic weakness. While it is pretty awesome watching a car scream through Copse flat-chat, what that means is the run from Luffield to Maggotts is basically one long straight. Add in the Hangar Straight, the Pit Straight and the Wellington Straight, and suddenly Silverstone has a lot of straights and not very many corners. We build a nice car down here in Milton Keynes but it’s not being propelled by quite enough horses. Following in the footsteps of history’s great orators, Max summed up our lack of straight-line speed perfectly after the race, telling Dutch TV: “It’s a real bummer.”**

That said, we’re having too many DNFs as well. Max’s retirement at Silverstone was the second in two weeks. Our MO for victories at the moment is being on hand to profit when others have a bad day. Can’t do that from back in the garage.

But that’s a matter for another day, can’t sit here griping all morning. We’ve got to get these cars ready for Germany and Hungary. Just a double-header followed by a test next time out. That’ll be a doddle.

*And Welshmen

**Yes, obviously in Dutch. You think we don’t translate everything Max says to the media? Are you off your meds?