Romance of grand prix dead and gone . . . it’s with Fangio in the grave
Sometimes it is hard to see beyond a fashion show for car manufacturers
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix at the Hungaroring circuit in Mogyorod, near Budapest, yesterday. Photograph: Reuters
Somewhere along the winding F1 road, motor racing became less a test of fast driving around a twisty track and more a carefully managed exhibition of machinery.
The vroom was taken from the drivers and handed to the tekkies. People like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, they were plugged into computers, dressed in space-age lab coats and became button punchers, lever pullers, gauge watchers and mistake eliminators.
Yesterday’s spin in Budapest was a master class from winner Hamilton, who made two or three overtaking manoeuvres, kept his engine from overheating, prevented his tyres from shredding, conserved his fuel and won the race. We saw much of it from a camera mounted behind his head. But this was no Fangio experience, clad in leather hat and goggles blazing around the San Remo Grand Prix in a Maserati.
‘We can do it anywhere’
“I think you could tell I was hungry today . . . Today I wasn’t having it,” said Hamilton, still immersed in instruction-taking mode after the race and sounding a lot less thrilled than the Sky commentary team. “If we can come here and make our tyres last we can do it anywhere.”
The scientists, inventors and innovators have always been in charge and yesterday’s parade of high-end tackle around the Hungaroring had the feel of a giant laboratory experiment, an orgy of data, logarithms and metrics, all patiently explained by people like Martin Brundle, a former driver who can tell and understand what the speed of a lap actually means.
“If you knock off half a second a lap, that makes a huge difference to oil, water and engine temperatures,” he said as it hit 35 degrees at the venue.
But it’s a strange kind of beauty F1 – easy to admire, difficult to love; the aerodynamics of the new Lotus mirror or the middle stint pace on the Prime tyre at McLaren. You sweat up to that and you’re a bona fide geek.
High tech and high hemlines, it does, inevitably, in the end fall to women in short skirts to provide the continuum of unimaginable glamour. They are rewarded with a custard pie in the face or the F1 equivalent, sprayed by the winner with a magnum of champagne. It knows a woman’s place does F1.
To support it, to be one of those Ferrari, or Lotus flag-waving fans running down the track at the end of the race with their knapsacks and odd hats, is to embrace cold logic, warm to data, become engaged in the pure knowledge the sport demands, the nuanced difference between soft and hard compounds, the pit lane strategies. And there’s also counter-espionage in the coded language between the team and driver.
“Fail, 22. Fail,” Vettel was told as the commentary fell into a tailspin trying to decipher the instruction.
“Oh Rosberg. Out of the race,” shouted Brundle. “Was that a result of overheating? There’s one Mercedes leading and there’s one Mercedes out.”
And as the Mercedes that was out caught fire, the cameras cut to the race. It’s not good for business to see a licked car in flames but crikey, surely it’s more watchable than the back of Hamilton’s helmet as he led the race by a massive 12 seconds.
Work of art
You know that peering under the bonnet or at the gearing system is like looking at the perfect engineering of a Hublot chronograph or AK47 – a work of art, in its own chilling way.
It’s also motor sport without the grease, mechanics without the grubby hands, no faces streaked with oil. There is no romance and while there is danger it is packaged, invisible.
Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond a catwalk, a fashion show for car manufacturers.