I loved the Spanish Grand Prix. Every lap of it.
I jest not. I loved. Every. Single Lap.
You may ask why, with the world at large seemingly set on berating another race in which tyre strategy played too large a role. I hope I can go some way to explaining myself.
Earlier in the weekend I had a fabulous conversation with a driver in the paddock. I didn’t record it as it was just two friends chewing the fat, and he probably wouldn’t want me to quote him anyway. So please forgive the paraphrasing.
“Mate, everyone is complaining about the tyres. But the guy who wins… does he complain? No. You should ask them why they don’t complain when they do well, when the day before they were saying it was the end of the world. The only one who understands it is Kimi. He says it’s the same for everyone. If you don’t like it, fuck off, do something else. He’s right. If you make the tyres more durable and you only have three stops in a race everyone will still try to make only two stops. It’s the same now as it was with Bridgestone. You always try to do one less stop. By complaining you only damage the sport. It’s the same for everyone. Get on with it and race.”
I loved the opinion. I loved the candor.
There’s nothing more depressing than standing in the pen at the end of the race and asking a driver how his day went, and how happy he must be with his result, only to get an answer that racing to a delta is boring and gone are the days of pushing during a race.
So ask yourself. What did Ferrari do on Sunday?
Did they drive to a delta? Did they try and make one fewer stop than their rivals? Did they hell. They went out and they pushed. Every. Single. Lap.
Fernando Alonso’s opening stint was mesmerising. He was running quali laps on full fuel. It was an absolute joy to behold. And while he might not have been putting in quali laps all day, he certainly wasn’t hanging around.
What Ferrari did in Spain was to completely flip the script. Rather than going into the race and telling their drivers to hold back, they told them to push with everything they had. Four stops was always their intention and it caught everyone else off guard.
Red Bull realised what was going on too late and switched from three stops to four, but by then the race had already been won.
Formula 1 loves a villain and this year Pirelli has been cast into this pantomime role. But, as I explained at the end of the Spanish Grand Prix in my final thought on the NBC Sports Network, the job of a Formula 1 team is to design a car around the variables which are unchangeable. Hermann Tilke used to get the blame for ruining the show for his apparently dreadful circuit design. But is it not the job of the teams to design a car for the circuits on which the championship races? Of course it is. Just as it is the job of the teams to design a car that maximizes the tyres on which it runs.
The problem we’ve had of late is this unfortunate trend towards the creation of a formula based upon the misheld belief that preservation is a better mode of attack than consumption.
What Ferrari showed in Barcelona was that yes you may have to make more pitstops than we’ve seen in the past, but that it is possible to push from the moment the lights go out to the moment that the flag falls. That so much of the press is decrying the race shows, I believe, a disappointing cynicism. Pirelli has become too easy a target.
But should we blame Pirelli for simply doing what they’ve been asked to do and make the tyres less durable? Or should we blame the teams who have seemingly got themselves into the rut of a blame culture that hides the true fact that some have not designed a car capable of maximizing one of the unchangeable variables that has defined the history of the sport?
Because this is nothing new.
I remember with great fondness an interview I conducted with Sir Stirling Moss about a decade ago about his greatest races. And the one that always sticks in my mind is his explanation of how he won the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix. He lined up in a privately entered Cooper and against the might of Ferrari he won, taking the first F1 victory for a mid-engined car in the process. How he did it holds as much relevance today as it did back then.
The tyres were only good for 30 laps. 40 tops. The race was 80 laps long. You couldn’t finish without stopping for new tyres. The Cooper’s tyres were fixed with studs, rather than the quick hammer release nuts on the Ferraris. Moss couldn’t win with such a long pitstop delta to change a studded wheel.
He pulled into the lead but nobody paid it any attention. He’d have to stop and all would be lost. But he didn’t stop. He carried on. And by the time Ferrari figured out he wasn’t going to stop, it was too late. The pack gave chase, but Moss won… by 2.7 seconds from Luigi Musso. His tyres were down to the canvas. He’d been driving on the grass for the last few laps to try and cool them down.
“Was I brave that day or stupid?” Moss confided in me. “To this day I don’t know as the two were very closely related. I did everything you shouldn’t normally do to win that race.”
In a way, and although actually completely the opposite of Moss’ fabulous Argentine win in that Ferrari made more stops than expected, that’s precisely what the Scuderia did on Sunday. Because they did everything that, apparently, you shouldn’t normally do on Pirelli tyres to win the race.
They actually raced.
As the Moss story highlights, trying to make fewer pitstops has always been a part of F1. It is nothing even vaguely new.
But, for me, the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix was a game changer. Ferrari’s victory was the perfect riposte to those who claimed that Pirelli’s tyres could not be raced on. Does anybody now have the excuse of saying that it is impossible to push in a race on these tyres, when Ferrari showed that for 66 laps you could… and that by doing so you could win?
With the exception of Lotus the other teams have every reason to feel frustrated after the Grand Prix, as do their fans. Ferrari showed what was possible. It is now up to everyone else to react. For while it might not be achievable for everyone at every race to do what Ferrari did today, what they proved is that Formula 1’s greatest misconception is that doing so at all was impossible.
That’s why I loved the Spanish Grand Prix.
Think about it for a minute.
It’s why you should have loved it too.