THE RACER’S EDGE

WHY AN F1 CAR IS MORE THAN JUST A MA­CHINE

F1 Racing (UK) - - INSIDER - PETER WIND­SOR @F1rac­ing_­mag face­book.com/ f1rac­ing­mag

Rac­ing cars have souls; of course they do. Just ask Lewis Hamil­ton. He’ll talk to his baby in the clos­ing laps of any given race, urg­ing her on, ex­hort­ing her not to break and pat­ting her on the nose after­wards in parc fermé. Or ask Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. He names his cars as you or I would name a Labrador. He has feel­ings for them and they, I sus­pect, have feel­ings for him.

So let’s have none of that stuff about ob­jects or an­i­mals be­ing soul-less be­cause they feel no sense of right or wrong. Some­how we’re all con­nected. Min­eral-an­i­mal-hu­man. The growth of the soul is an on­ward-go­ing thing in both this life and the next. That’s the pur­pose of ex­is­tence. Which brings me back to For­mula 1 cars. Just look at them: they’re liv­ing, sweat­ing, smok­ing, scream­ing, groan­ing per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of the peo­ple who build them. Some are fast; oth­ers are faster still. And it isn’t just by chance.

To wit, take the cur­rent Fer­rari SF70H, a car born of a re­grouped team of en­gi­neers ea­ger to prove that a har­mo­nious, joint ef­fort is more than equal to the pres­ence of an over­seas star de­signer. el­e­ment anal­y­sis and data-driven devel­op­ment are the hard­ware; the true soft­ware is the peo­ple who use these tools, and the peo­ple who or­gan­ise the peo­ple. This is Binotto: he may or may not be an en­gi­neer­ing ge­nius. What we do know is that he is a real per­son who lis­tens, recog­nises his weak­nesses and isn’t afraid to del­e­gate. Thus the SF70H. The Mercedes W08, by con­trast, is a bit edgy, which is no sur­prise be­cause Paddy Lowe was re­placed last au­tumn, for no rea­son, by James Al­li­son. Paddy is a sort of English Binotto: a qui­etly spo­ken racer who likes to en­cour­age the right peo­ple to focus on the right job at the right time. The con­sis­tent speed and suc­cess of the Mercedes W05/06/07, and its en­gine, told us all we needed to know about Paddy’s sys­tem. Now that the tech­ni­cal team has been changed fun­da­men­tally, how­ever, the car is more of a ‘diva’, as Toto Wolff re­cently de­scribed her. Should we be sur­prised? Swap­ping Paddy for James Al­li­son is a bit like buy­ing a Cartier when you al­ready own a Rolex. It’s one thing to need some­thing; it’s an­other to want some­thing merely be­cause it’s new, or dif­fer­ent, or bet­ter for the ego. If some­thing or some­one is do­ing their duty, then re­plac­ing it or them for no rea­son is con­trary to nat­u­ral or­der. It doesn’t mat­ter if James is the equal of – or is su­pe­rior to – Paddy Lowe. It was the act that was the prob­lem, not the peo­ple it in­volved.

Red Bull. Here’s an in­ter­est­ing one. You’d think that a plan­et­ful of money spent by a drinks mag­nate would prob­a­bly be bad for karma. So let’s clear up that point: this isn’t about karma or any of that happy-clappy stuff. This is about the nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion and or­der of things, about rights and du­ties, about dis­ci­pline. Red Bull are a tightly run race team fi­nanced by one man with a pas­sion and that can only be a good thing. Di­et­rich Mateschitz’s own­er­ship also em­braces longterm, undy­ing com­mit­ment, which is an­other hugely im­por­tant el­e­ment. Thus the Red Bull chas­sis, year-in, year-out, is quick and driv­able: it’s only the en­gines that in re­cent times have been a prob­lem.

Sim­i­larly, su­per­fi­cial crit­i­cism could be made of Vi­jay Mallya, but the same re­sponses apply. Sa­hara Force In­dia are a mini-red Bull, and it shows in the char­ac­ter of the Mat­tia Binotto wasn’t ex­actly head­line news when he was run­ning the en­gine department in Maranello, and many were the doom­say­ers when he was ap­pointed as tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor for the Scud­e­ria’s 2017 project and be­yond.

Clearly, though, some­one high up at Fer­rari – and I sus­pect it was prob­a­bly Maurizio Ar­riv­abene – was fol­low­ing their gut in­stincts when they gave pro­mo­tion to a man who, by the usual stan­dards of For­mula 1, runs a low ego com­bined with a sur­pris­ing propen­sity to lis­ten to oth­ers. The re­sult is the SF70H: prob­a­bly the year’s best F1 car, given the ob­vi­ous su­pe­ri­or­ity of the Mercedes en­gine in terms of out­right power.

Within an F1 world coloured by in­stant re­sults, ri­val tech­ni­cal de­part­ments, a bay­ing me­dia and re­lent­less sched­ules, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to re­main hu­man, let alone con­struc­tive, within a huge group of peo­ple pres­sured into cre­at­ing next year’s winning car. Com­puter Aided De­sign, fi­nite

F1 CARS ARE LIV­ING, SWEAT­ING, SMOK­ING, SCREAM­ING, GROAN­ING PER­SON­I­FI­CA­TIONS OF THE PEO­PLE WHO BUILD THEM. SOME ARE FAST; OTH­ERS ARE FASTER STILL

car. Every­thing in that team hap­pens for the right, log­i­cal rea­son; ev­ery­one pushes in the same di­rec­tion. The car is a gem, within the con­fines of the bud­get within which the team op­er­ates, and they silently ac­cept the pow­er­train pack­age from Mercedes. There is no need for worry about PUS. The soul of the team is fine.

Wil­liams, by con­trast, are a team punch­ing and push­ing in about five dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. Paddy Lowe is there now, which means that the long-term fu­ture should be bright, pro­vided he is given a rea­son­able amount of space, but in the short term the sit­u­a­tion is com­plex. Just like the car. Wil­liams in their cham­pi­onship years were as sim­ple as Frank and Pa­trick. Noth­ing more, noth­ing less. The soul of the team then was lit in neon; now, un­der lay­ers of dis­trac­tions, egos and fears, that same soul lies dor­mant, await­ing re­birth.

Then we have Mclaren, a team who have tried to de­sign a su­per-soul with money and su­per­fi­cial struc­ture but for­got that true progress is ac­tu­ally cre­ated by peo­ple. In­stead of the big lake by the boule­vard, for ex­am­ple, Mclaren should have built a bet­ter wind­tun­nel and cre­ated an en­gine fa­cil­ity for Honda. Nor should they have let go of en­gi­neers such as Paddy Lowe and Phil Prew. Mclaren’s fu­ture path won’t be de­fined only by new en­gine deals with Re­nault or per­haps Cos­worth. It will be de­fined by the new man­age­ment team’s abil­ity to make up for what was lost.

It goes on. Haas are an off-the-peg team tweaked by a de­cent tai­lor. The soul of the team is young and lacks vi­tal in­gre­di­ents: the car flashes pace, then takes two steps back­wards. Sauber, po­ten­tially a Swiss Wil­liams, changed for­ever when Peter Sauber cashed in at BMW. As Saubers re­born, the cars have never been the same (al­though I sus­pect Frédéric Vasseur will change all of that). De­spite the uni-di­rec­tional com­mit­ment of Franz Tost, Toro Rosso have been a team with­out a real cause, and it has shown in their cars, which are beau­ti­fully de­signed but cu­ri­ously in­ef­fec­tive. Honda, though, will give them some di­rec­tion.

Re­nault, the an­tithe­sis of Mclaren, are mak­ing progress thanks to many of the peo­ple who have re­mained loyal over the years and are do­ing so with­out spend­ing Mercedes money. The cars, as a re­sult, are prov­ing to be in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive.

It’s be­cause they have souls, you see. Real souls.

Lewis Hamil­ton pats his trusty steed in parc fermé in Shang­hai. He un­der­stands that cars have souls

Ar­riv­abene put his faith in Binotto, a man skilled at pulling a team to­gether, and the har­mo­nious re­sult is the Fer­rari SF70H, the best car of 2017

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