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SPY: DONE

Brilliant! 2018 done and dusted. Spy here, sitting on the beach, drinking something with a little umbrella in the top, contemplating three months of idle relaxation. Perhaps a couple of weeks of this, then maybe a bit of golf, some skiing, catch up with friends, long walks across misty countryside with big jumpers and a borrowed Labrador.

Then mid-February, JW will send out a missive, possibly accompanied by an amusing gif of a kitten doing something cute, suggesting we pop into the factory at the start of March for a bit of light pitstop practice with the new car. The RB15 will be waiting for us. As usual, the designers will have aced it first time and everything will fit together perfectly. They’ll also have fully grasped the realities of working within the tight confines of a race garage against a ticking clock and ensured it can be taken apart rapidly and put together again equally quickly and without undue risk to life, limb or the LED panelling of the garage walls. In fact, just thinking about it makes me all eager to get to Australia and set-up in Albert Pa… 

Blerghhh… Oh. Mornin’ All. Well, that was a nice dream while it lasted.  Today is the start of 2019 testing. We’re still at Yas Marina, going around in circles. There’s a metaphor if ever you needed one.

On the subject of metaphors, the result at the weekend told you pretty much everything you need to know about F1 in 2018. Mercedes were a bit quicker than everyone else, Ferrari were breathing down their neck but just not quite good enough, and we were like greased lightning through the corners but going backwards on the straights. Third and fourth is frustrating – but at least we go home with a trophy. In fact, we’ve been on the podium at each of the last five races, which is something no other team can claim. Good momentum or clutching at straws? You be the judge.

The weekend at Yas Marina was… nice. Most of the paddock was in a pretty good mood. Yas lends itself to a relaxing grand prix, with the harbour and the rooftop terraces and the warm evening temperatures.* When there’s a championship at stake, and everyone’s properly bricking it, you generally don’t notice things like that, but with the season already decided, it all tends to be a bit more comfortable.

On Saturday we  said ‘Au revoir’ to our French engine suppliers. After 12 years, eight titles, and a butt-load of trophies we parted company with Renault. Senior management in both blue and yellow had warm words to say about our collective triumphs over the years. All of the embraces seemed genuine – possibly because they’d all be frisked for weapons at the door.

Daniel stood through that with a fixed grin on his face; like the bridegroom desperately hoping his Best Man and his father-in-law hadn’t been hitting the bottle before the speeches. It was a shame he couldn’t end the year with a podium, and the strategy he ran made us think at one point that he might be in with a shot of a spectacular season-ending charge, but it wasn’t to be.

Daniel’s now got more free time to look forward to than he’s had since he was a teenager. To say this makes Daniel happy would be an understatement. His plan, as outlined at length over the last few weeks, involves dirt bikes, junk food, loud music and perhaps the occasional libation. Happy travels Dan, we’ll miss you – it's going to be weird when you rock up next year in the garage next door, dressed like an angry bumblebee.

As for the rest of us, well, as usual it’s a case of off-season? What off-season? Back at base, the factory is flat-out designing and building the RB15**. Around that, the loading bays are going to be busy as all the freight makes its way back from Singapore, Japan, Texas, Mexico, Brazil and – at some point after Christmas – this very garage module in which Spy is currently skiving. By the time that gets back, 50-or-so-tonnes of freight for Australia will long since have been loaded and dispatched in the general direction of Melbourne, which makes for a hectic few weeks back at the factory, with all of the garage kit being stripped, repaired, tested and, in many cases, redesigned for the year ahead.

Even with that looming in the near-future, there is a sense of achievement at finishing the racing season and heading into something new. A change isn’t, in any sense, as good as a rest but, apart from a couple of noted headcases, for most of the team it’s going to be good to get away from the race track for a couple of months. The vast majority of people here have a deep and abiding passion for motorsport – but 21 races tends to knock the stuffing out of even the most enthusiastic bobble-hat. But that’s the beauty of working for an F1 team: you’re happy when the season ends and, come the end of February, you’re absolutely gagging to get back and do it all over again.

<Spy mimes mike drop>

* Plus, it has an Ikea, for those of us who like a crafty test-drive in the bed section.

** Unless they’re already working on the RB16. Seriously, that begins about now.