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SPY: WINNING

Guten-tag! Technically that should be ni hao – but Spy’s plane has gone technical and thus, an evening is being spent in the delightful environs of Frankfurt Airport. The law of large numbers demands this happens at least once a season. Hopefully this will be the only one. We’ll be arriving in Jiading a couple of hours before heading to the track for the first time, so expect Spy to be as playful as a bundle of kittens on Thursday.

…all of which doesn’t really fit in with the mood. FOM have decreed this is the 1000th F1 Grand Prix*, and have demanded a party atmosphere. There was talk of perhaps fudging the calendar so that the 1000th race took place at Silverstone, the venue for the first – then someone probably pointed out that we’ve had a grand prix at Silverstone in April before – and it didn’t turn out well. Also, it’s difficult to think of anywhere less likely to have a party vibe than Silverstone in what still felt like winter when Spy left this morning to go to China Germany.

That said, it is a big moment. 1000 grands prix is an awfully big number, though the chief response for most people is figuring out how many races they’ve done, whistling through their teeth and realising just how much of their lives they’ve spent in the pitlane. There are the eager young scamps who still insist on celebrating their 50th grand prix or their 100th. After that, unless prompted, everyone tends to forget. Though Spy has a pretty vivid recollection of Red Bull Racing’s 75th grand prix, at this very track, ‘cos it was a bit of a big deal.

What Spy remembers about our first win was how awful the atmosphere in the garage was. Hope is a truly terrible thing. Everybody desperately wanted that victory, and perhaps to the outside it looked serene and inevitable, perhaps even with hindsight in the team, that's what it looked like – but at the time, in the moment, well, the thing no-one even mentions about sporting triumph and glory is that most of the time you’re so sick with worry you just want to barf.

Remember, it wasn’t a smooth weekend. First of all, Seb had a damaged driveshaft. In qualifying he was restricted to single runs in each session to look after it. In the race, everyone was just willing it to not explode, which, given it was basically held together with chewing gum and cable ties was not an unreasonable expectation. Then, it was wet. And not just wet, but proper animals-going-in-two-by-two wet. You could see one chance of Seb winning it and about a thousand ways it could go wrong. Which is why, when he took the flag, the garage exploded. There will never be another moment like it: not titles, trophies, or records. It was beautiful and terrible. But mostly terrible. By the time the circuit put up the wrong flag on the podium and played the wrong national anthem** we were all laughing like drains. That was hysterical relief, not joy. Joy came later. 

The pressure-release valve in that race – and everyone forgets this – was Mark Webber. Mark had a terrific scrap with Jenson Button, proper wheel-to-wheel stuff in the pouring rain. Brave, mighty stuff. Turning the first win into a 1-2 is often described as the icing on the cake, but it was a bit more than that. Mark drove a brilliant, ballsy race and having the cars cross the line first and second gave us a lot of confidence that no, this wasn’t a streaky victory. We really had the car to get the job done.

It is not entirely unreasonable to say that a great deal has happened to this team since that first win, here in Shanghai, ten long years ago. Without wishing to be a screaming drama queen about it, that victory fundamentally changed us. Not all of us – but a lot. Red Bull had recruited senior management from teams used to winning stuff, but there weren’t a great many further down the food chain with much experience of it. It took a while for the penny to drop. Because obviously the team had made noises about becoming a championship-winning force – of course they did, every team does – but how were we to know they actually meant it?

We took five more wins that year, which was a pretty gentle introduction to the big leagues. Talk to Adrian and he’ll still spit nails about being denied a title, and argue that the double-diffuser drove the proverbial coach and horses through the regulations, and that it would never have been allowed to remain had it been a McLaren or a Renault winning races with it, rather than the fairytale, phoenix-from-the-flames Brawn. Spy prefers to think of it as our training season: we became accustomed to winning without ever really being in contention – but when 2010 came around, everybody had enough experience to not bottle it when it came down to the crunch. The crew today has plenty of veterans of China 2009 in it, a bit more wrinkly, perhaps, but all people who know how to win. So if another opportunity presents itself, chances are we'll take it – but without wanting to run out of the garage and throw-up. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Spy spies the traditional Chinese evening meal of beer, knödel and Jägerschnitzel coming out of the kitchen. Happy 1000th F1 race everyone!

* other interpretations are available.

** though you could understand the confusion.