SPY: Maximum Effort

Hark! What’s that Spy hears? It’s the sound of… nobody complaining that F1 is boring. Granted, there’s a few people complaining it’s inconsistent and a bit sketchy, but c’mon admit it, you enjoyed that one. Go back to griping next week – enjoy the moment. I know we are. Not only do we still build race winning F1 cars, we also build exciting F1 circuits, so eat my (leather) shorts naysayers!

Woohooo! That’s the way to end a gruelling two weeks on the road. Victory, double-shotted with adrenaline at the Red Bull Ring. Even pack-down feels good after that – though lord only knows what state everything’s going to be in when it gets back to MK. Half the garage is probably packed upside down, and the rest will smell of champagne, which, for the teetotallers out there, isn’t as pleasant a smell as you might expect. Not that we’ll be complaining: victory renders all problems insignificant, including the problem of having a garage that smells like a cat has done a big wee in it.  

Didn’t Max do well? Last year, he won the Austrian Grand Prix from fourth on the grid. Obviously that was too easy, so this year he bogged down on the grid, fell back to eighth and still managed to win. Next year he’s going to race with one hand tied behind his back and a live goose strapped to his helmet*. I’d still bet on him. That sort of form is manifest destiny. Well done to our mates at Honda as well. We won on a power circuit; so that’s all about them too. 

So, how do you win a grand prix? There’s many ways to do it. At one end of the scale, there’s building a better, faster car; at the other there’s sheer dumb luck. We’ve done it both of those ways over the years. The former is more satisfying; the latter is deeply hilarious. In between the extremes, however, there’s a lot of wiggle room. You can do it with a driver who has the X factor; you can do it if your race preparation and strategy are perfect and the competition isn’t; or you can balls it out, apply pressure and see if the opposition cracks first.

In Spy’s opinion, Sunday combined elements of all of those. Max definitely has the X factor – the Y and the Z factor too. The strategists and the tyre engineers interpreted the tea leaves correctly, and the team collectively managed to apply pressure in a manner that forced faster teams into doing things they didn’t particularly want to do. It’s not a long-term strategy for success but basically, we won because we know how to win and occasionally that’s going to be enough to send 40,000 Dutchmen home happy.

Were we a bit worried about the scrutiny the stewards were paying to Max’s overtaking move. Initially, Spy wasn’t. You watch enough of them, and you get a feel for what’s right and what isn’t. Max’s move looked fine to Spy: classic slipstream, dived for the inside, got to the apex first, didn't lose control, got on the power first, came out ahead. That’s what overtaking is. Obviously the longer the stewards look at a thing, the more likely it is they’ve seen something they don’t like – Sunday they were just being thorough, or wanted to wind the press up, and so were making them stay late while having a couple of rounds of Mario Kart 8 in Battle Mode to pass the time. 

Maybe that just added to the excitement. Not that we needed more. There tends to be a little bit of a bubble around F1, particular in the middle of the season when everyone’s bouncing between back-to-back races. It was, however, impossible to avoid the general tone of the conversation after a fairly humdrum race in France. Spectators are entitled to moan if the race is dull – but I think perhaps claiming the sport was dead may have been a little bit over the top. There are going to be static grands prix, just like sometimes Barcelona and Man City are going to grind out a 0-0 draw. 

It’s important to have a little bit of perspective. We all went to Austria with the same cars, the same tyres and pretty much the same weather. The elements that made Ricard a procession are the same elements that made the Red Bull Ring a thriller. Softer tyres and easier overtaking may have made the French Grand Prix more exciting – and most likely turned the Austrian Grand Prix into a fairly mundane two-stopper. 

Honestly, this has always been the way in F1. It’s the nature of a sport that takes the same cars to very different circuits every week. Let us race in Ricard 21 times a year and we’ll come up with a way to make every race a snorter; if we have to go to other venues, there’s going to be a few variables.

just your average Friday night in Northampton.