RACER’S EDGE

F1 Racing (UK) - - NEWS - PETER WIND­SOR

Mclaren pit­wall ad­vised Ayr­ton to slow down. Ayr­ton tried to oblige.

At this point, I don’t be­lieve he be­gan to think about the vic­tory gala at the Sport­ing Club or hang­ing with his friends in Por­tu­gal; I think his mind was still on the job. Prob­lem was, it wasn’t the job he was best at: Ayr­ton was born to drive on the limit, not at what he would have called “seven tenths”. He was still think­ing about ev­ery gear change, ev­ery clutch move­ment, ev­ery brake pedal ap­pli­ca­tion, ev­ery throt­tle tease. But he was think­ing also that he needed to be gen­tle, that he had to leave mar­gin.

He was in for­eign ter­ri­tory, in other words – in a strange sort of twi­light zone, driv­ing quickly but slowly, un­sure of the bal­ance be­tween the two. And thus he made his bone-jar­ring mis­take.

All this came into fo­cus when Jor­dan Spi­eth re­cently backed out of golf’s US Masters. Pres­sure lifted, thanks to a string of birdies on the front nine, Jor­dan be­gan his fi­nal, tri­umphant holes in con­ser­va­tive mode: in Senna late-monaco GP mode, in other words, when not mak­ing er­rors was sud­denly just as im­por­tant as dom­i­nat­ing the day. Plop­ping two balls into the wa­ter on a par-three when you’re about to win the Masters is, yes, about the same as clout­ing the Portier apex guard-rail; and, as Spi­eth said af­ter­wards: “I went into that back nine sort of half-swing­ing at the ball and fell right out of my zone.”

So yawn not at what Mercedes as a team are do­ing this year, for the par­al­lels are un­de­ni­able. They’ve main­tained their ad­van­tage de­spite the par­a­digm shift that comes from be­ing ex­pected to win when there’s a huge amount to lose. It was in that twi­light zone that John Cooper and Colin Chap­man found them­selves af­ter the good years – as did Wil­liams, and as have Fer­rari, Mclaren and Red Bull in re­cent times.

You ask your­self when a team stops win­ning: ‘Why did it end? What metaphor­i­cal guardrail did they hit?’ And you point to an en­gine com­pany pulling out, or the reg­u­la­tions chang­ing or the top driver or en­gi­neer switch­ing teams or re­tir­ing. But in giv­ing your­self those an­swers you are, in re­al­ity, tap­ping into the hu­man na­ture of things as we like to pi­geon-hole them into boxes in F1.

To me, it’s as­ton­ish­ing that Fer­rari, Re­nault and Honda haven’t by now drawn level with Mercedes (in terms of power-unit de­sign and build). I can’t re­mem­ber an­other pe­riod of F1 his­tory when one en­gine was so con­tex­tu­ally su­pe­rior. Sure, the Coven­try Cli­max fours and V8s had bril­liant lives – but the BRM of those times was just about as quick, if not quicker

“Ayr­ton was born to drive on the limit, not at what he would have called ‘seven tenths’”

Stay fo­cused – there’s al­ways a bar­rier to hit

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