Spy: Welcome to the Metronome…

Afternoon All, Spy here, flying home on the big metal bird, leaving testing to those too slow or too large to hide under the tool bench when the roster was being drawn up. Bye-bye Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya be seeing you in… well, that’s the big question, isn’t it?

In the big, wide world, there’s an assumption that F1 holds collective opinions; that the sport, or at least the individual teams, will have a shared estimation – but asking for the paddock’s view on the nebulous fate of the Spanish Grand Prix is a non-starter because the paddock doesn’t agree on anything. Fresh-faced optimism and a spirit of adventure brush up against a desire to not fix things that aren’t broken.  

We had a good afternoon at what might be the last Spanish Grand Prix for a while. It was, in fact, very much like 2016, except the two dominant Mercedes didn’t have the decency to clatter into each other on the first lap and let Max win. He came home a comfortable third for his, and our, second pot of the year (though it looks more like a medieval torture device than a trophy). Sometimes third can make Max very unhappy, but not yesterday. After a run of three fourth places, this was definitely a step in the right direction. Max hates fourth. A lot. It’s right up there with second on his list of frustrations. Second and fourth both hint at what might have been. Third, behind a pair of dominant Mercedes, well, that’s the best that was on, wasn’t it?

Back at the start of March, if you’d told Max he’d be finishing ahead of both Ferraris in a straight fight at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, he’d have bitten your hand off.* He wouldn’t have assumed that would mean third. No-one would. That Mercedes are streaking away with it is a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t supposed to be this way in 2019. There’s a whole paddock of people who understand the effect of track temperature on tyres, and the nature of an upgrade process – but even here it’s a little bit difficult to equate the position nine weeks ago after testing, when 2019 was going to be a dogfight with Ferrari having a very slight advantage to this point where Merc are being all shiny and clinical and turning the engines down to cruise over the line, with the drivers sucking a mint and humming a little bit of Wagner as they do it. The old motorsport lag in Spy admires it; the inner ten-year old Scalextric-obsessed Keke Rosberg fan is stamping his tiny foot in frustration and willing everyone else to catch up and make things a bit more interesting.

Well, everyone else is definitely giving it a good go; you only had to look at the frightening array of new carbon composite bits on display to see how hard everyone is pushing – but winning is a habit that’s difficult to shake. 

The races are arriving thick and fast now** and the next couple of months tend to define the season. We’re closing the gap on the teams ahead, and, in theory, we should be able to iterate a little faster than them because, having exercised a little caution with seating our new power unit in the car this year, there’s still a little bit of slack to take in around the installation. Given how well that’s been working, it won’t be long until we have the RB15 turned up to 11.

For the moment, however, the drivers are getting the job done with what they have. Max, in particular is wringing its neck every weekend. After the race in Spain, Christian congratulated him on driving ‘like a metronome’. Leaving aside the possibility Max hasn’t got a clue what that is,*** that’s pretty much been the story of his season. He’s up to third in the Championship simply because he’s pretty much nailed every lap so far. That bodes well for Monaco.

* Not literally, ‘cos calories.

** Traits Spy also ascribes to most of the great racing drivers.

*** it’s one of those pottery dudes with the rosy cheeks, colourful hats and fishing rods. But in an urban setting.