Ho-ho-ho! Spy here, sneaking down your broadband pipe one last time for 2018. ‘Tis the time of year for over-eating, under-exercising and being bored to tears as some old duffer tells the same story he always tells ‘round about now.
Ahem… moving swiftly on.
So, what’s your favourite festive film? It’s Die Hard, isn’t it? Spy feels safe in suggesting that because, frankly, if you didn’t like huge explosions and shouty Germans, you’d probably be fans of another sport. Here at Red Bull Towers, we’re more likely to cuddle up with the classics: particularly The Muppets Christmas Carol – though the first hour seems more like one of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries than a work of fiction. Except for the musical numbers, obviously.
Yes, this is a busy time of year. We are, of course, well into the off-season now – but it’s only the off-season for the race crew. For the seven-tenths of the Team who don’t spend March-November fluffing up their travel pillows, it’s very much the on-season. The RB15 is due to launch shortly, the deadline isn’t really negotiable, and that tends to concentrate everyone’s minds. Like every other team, the design of the launch car is long-since completed, and work on the first major update is well underway – but there’s a world of difference between finished-on-paper and ready-to-be-rolled out of the garage. New F1 cars tend to come with quite the snag-list, and so everyone is flat-out and trying very hard to not look at the calendar. It’s not that everything doesn’t fit together perfectly – frequently it does – more that something that fits together perfectly in the race bays when you’ve got an hour, an installation diagram, tea, a chocolate hobnob and half a hectare of space, isn’t always the way you would like it to go together when you’re working in a humid shoebox against the clock.
We are, of course, aware of the approach of the holidays. The staff at the sandwich bar in Building Three have deployed the turkey, stuffing and cranberry mega-calorie baguette for its annual demo run, which rather gives the game away. The marketing department also tried to convince the lads in the model shop to wear festive red hats and elf ears, or hum a little tune as they tap-tap-tap away with their little hammers whenever a tour party goes past – but they were told where to stick that candy cane. Not really imbued with the festive spirit down in the model shop.
In fairness, all the little elves in the factory are up against it, as much, if not more so than the design office. There’s a constant stream of brightly-painted and/or shiny parts steadily making their way across Bradbourne Drive from the workshops to the race bays where they’re being built into new toys. In the race bays themselves, things are a little quieter. There’s plenty of work to do – but it’s amazing how much more downtime there is when nothing’s been rammed into a tecpro barrier for weeks.
In the off-season, the slower pace of things for the race team is… good. Sort of good. A bit good. Definitely not bad. It does get a bit weird though. There’s a great deal of pleasure in getting the season over and spending some quality time with your loved electronics… but after a while there’s a growing desire to get back out there. Not for testing – no-one in their right minds actively wants to go testing – but the thought of Albert Park in March, that holds a certain appeal. Granted, the crossover point is a variable. Spy finds it comes later every year. When Spy was a young, eager pup, he’d be thinking wistfully about racing while putting up the festive lights, now, after a 21-race calendar, the thought of airport check-in still induces a cold sweat well into January.
In theory, everyone from the race team should get at least three weeks of holiday between the end of the season and the start of testing to ensure they come back well rested and eager. It doesn’t quite compensate for working 21 weekends of the year – but if you didn’t want to work weekends, motorsport probably wasn’t the career choice for you, was it? Truth be told, motivation is never a problem when the new season rolls around: F1 is too damn exciting.
But before then, there’s a sort-of festive break. Spy will be at home hoping the turkey is the only thing to be worked on in the near future. It’s not the summer shutdown or anything like that, but there are a couple of days when Bradbourne Drive might not be quite the thriving hive it is at all other times of the year. There are people who like to pop in and set some sims running on Christmas morning, and the autoclaves stop for no-one – but for the most part, while never silent, peace does at least attempt to descend upon the factory – which is as it should be. So, have a wonderful festive break, if that is your thing, and a happy and prosperous new year to one and all. See you in 2019.