By Neil Haste
I’m a fan of Formula 1. I have followed F1 for what feels like, on occasions, a very long time, and being a fan from the 80s, it would lead most to correctly conclude that I follow Williams. So why do I also follow the Silver Arrows?
Let’s not beat around any bushes here, F1 on the whole can produce very boring races and seasons, especially now that reliability is as good as it is. But that’s not why I follow F1. I can take a montage from any year, add a track or two of some sick music of the times, the unmistakable, utterly enthusiastic voice of Murray Walker, and make it look like the best thing since sliced bread. But that’s not why I follow it.
Ever since someone bolted a wing on a rear engined car, rules have been changed, some for the better, some not so much. But I didn’t care, I was watching the racing. My parents and friends didn’t understand why, and I couldn’t explain it. But in 1993, 6 years into what turned out to be 27 years in the Royal Navy as a Weapons Engineering Mechanic, this changed. Williams tested and proved the CVT transmission under race conditions, and F1 promptly banned it saying, in F1 parlance, that they did it to preserve competitive balance.
What? Why? That’s not fair (and that is an article on it’s own)! There was no internet back then, but even I knew (from car magazines, Top Gear, and F1) what active suspension was, what ABS, traction control and ground effect were, as well as the importance of tyres, aerodynamics and the driver. Williams was on a roll, pushing boundaries and the speed, taking technology to new heights and then everything changed. So much was banned, ‘The driver should be the focus of the Championships, mano a mano’, they said.
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And what did the teams do, where did it all go wrong, where did it go so right? My time in the Navy was developing, a greater understanding of standards, leadership and team work was growing as I grew. And so did the teams. Don’t get me wrong, standards in F1 have always been high, but it all needed to go to another level. The change was slow, it didn’t happen overnight. Ferrari rebuilt itself from the ground up around the ever improving Michael Schumacher and rewrote the history books. Other teams were slow to react, as team orders and standings within the team did help set the records.
Innovation was still there and sometimes still banned. Rules were changed, the number of rules increased and all of it seemed to try and keep things level. But there are always exceptions to the rule(s). Along came Red Bull and, eventually, along with Adrian Newey and Sebastian Vettel raised the bar again. Strategy and pit stops took on greater importance and the teams evolved. It was no longer just about a driver in a machine.
Don’t get me wrong, teamwork has always been there, and been important, but it has also been evolving. I still follow Williams, although some would say that they hardly notice that, as I rave about the Silver Arrows. But here’s the rub, just because you have the fastest car with the fastest driver, doesn’t mean you are going to win everything. The ethos of ‘keep winning’ has been rewritten, just as technology and innovation, driver skills and work ethics have rewritten the rulebook, and the definition of a team.
Just as I was reaching the final years of my service and perfected the running of a small section of a big team, my love of perfection that was displayed by Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 grew. Mistakes were made, but the lessons were always learned. Every aspect is analysed, the good and the bad, everything is shared and taught, and no one was made to feel like it was their fault, even when it was. The show of unity, apart from Hamilton vs Rosberg in 2016, showed strength and a desire to win matched only by the signs of good teamwork.
I have found it wholly absorbing, taking my love of F1 to another level. The attention to detail, the drive to win, the drive for perfection, everything counts, no stone is left unturned, every ounce of every dollar spent is maximised – race after race, season after season. For eight wonderful years nothing was left on the table. Can it continue? Can all the individuals in any team maintain the unity, the desire to be perfect, to win? There’s only one way to find out. Buckle up, sit down, hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, go, go, go!
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