SPY: One More Time

Like a dad-rock band staggering through another sell-out stadium tour, F1 rolls out this weekend for its final obligatory encore. There won’t be any tricky new material, but the crowd is very lucky, it might bring the house down with a couple of old favourites.

Hello everyone, Spy here, giving the chafing team kit one last run-out before it mysteriously gets lost and finds its way onto eBay*. Abu Dhabi, you’re a welcome sight – but you’ll be an even more welcome one seen from the window seat of a departing 777 in the early hours of Monday morning. 

In truth, Yas Marina is the place Spy wants to be holding the final race of the season. It’s an easy, well-ran paddock in which to work and it’s a quiet grand prix. Were we in Brazil this week, there’d be all sorts of temptations to party hard and long, much the same as was the case when the season ended at Suzuka or (as the 25-year veterans like to recall with a wistful tear in the eye and twinge in the liver) Adelaide. That all seems a bit too much like hard work these days: fine at the end of a 16-race, seven-month season; not so jolly after 21 and nine. 

This is the first season to end in December during Spy’s time in F1 – though certain people in MK like to point out a Christmas/New Year grand prix in South Africa was a calendar regular in the 1960s. Teams, obviously, were made of sterner stuff back then. The only thing that’s getting Spy out of the armchair on December 28th is the uncomfortable sensation generated by an overindulgence in the leftover Brassicaceae.

That said, it’s not so long ago that we’d have been packing up in Abu Dhabi and preparing to go testing in Jerez. All the motorhome owners would string up fairy lights and we’d see out the year running the old cars into the ground, to the slightly disconcerting sound of a bunch of paddock caterers, after a day spent sampling the local product, launching into another chorus of Little Donkey.

Were one to count airline ticket stubs and stolen hotel stationary, there was probably just as much travel and track days involved a decade ago as there is now – it’s just rather more intense at a grand prix. Not just in terms of the limited opportunity to drink tea and scoff bacon sandwiches** but also in focus and mental effort. Racing takes a lot more out of a team, collectively and individually. 

As has become the norm, the paddock will be coughing, spluttering and occasionally limping its way through the final race of the season, very firmly focussed on the other side. However glamorous the location, it can’t match the exciting prospect of spending a couple of weeks sleeping in your own bed, watching a bit of telly and perhaps getting around to doing a bit of light DIY. That truly is living the dream. 

It’s not always the case, of course. When there’s something at stake, everyone screams into Abu Dhabi with the 1000-yard stare and deep sense of purpose. This year, with everything of note long since decided, it’s more of a lope, or possibly a sidle. The aim this weekend is to get everything right: finish the season off properly and get out again having done a job we can be proud of. Winning would be great, but it’s not one of those seasons when you want it so badly you can taste it on the air.

That said, our motivation this weekend is probably higher than most. Winning in Brazil was a real boost, as was breaking the pitstop world record and in doing so gaining an unassailable lead over the slick Willies in the 2019 fastest pit stop award. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps not the most important of F1 title races but one that matters in our own little ultra-competitive bubble. 

Can we do the same again this weekend? Well, why not? The pit stop certainly – but the race victory isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility either. It’s a difficult one to judge: Yas Marina shouldn’t be our track – but Interlagos wasn’t either and that went OK. We’ll be good here around the harbour. If we can gain more on the twisty bit than we’re going to lose on the straight bit***, this could be very interesting. 

* one careless owner, genuine sun fading, authentic gearbox oil stains from race-winning RB15, subtle aroma of cat wee actually champagne. 

** though this also.

*** technical terms used by motorsports professionals.