From Monday July 29, Formula 1 takes its annual mid-season break and puts its collective feet up for a month.
It’s that rarest of times in our sport: when there’s a collective decision to ease off the throttle for a little while.
Indeed, for a group of such committed petrol-heads, who live their lives perpetually on fast-forward, the notion of the summer break has been surprisingly well received.
First pioneered by team principals over a decade ago, the break was created to provide team members with a structured break within which to reconnect with families and loved-ones during the ever-growing F1 season.
With the calendar now peaking at 20 races (and, despite assurances, still likely to grow further), the idea of a little respite has become increasingly important. So much so, in fact, that teams also chose to institute a voluntary and unilateral two-week factory shutdown, when tools are downed and the engineering halls stand empty.
On the face of it, this might seem a strange thing to do for a sport that cultivates an image of relentless, flat-on-the-throttle commitment to the fast lane. But the unyielding pressure on all its participants, whether factory-based or roaming the world with the racing team, means that the powers-that-be appreciate the need for a break during which the global workforce recharge their batteries.
After all, the grand prix calendar has morphed considerably over the past decade.
In the not too distant past, there was a time when arriving at Monza would be accompanied by a sort of end-of-term feeling. After all, the Italian Grand Prix has long been the last of the European races; and, less than a decade ago, it was followed only by a trip to Indianapolis for the United States Grand Prix and then, a fortnight later, by the final race in Suzuka.
Nowadays, however, while Monza still feels like the end of a chapter – and is our chance to bid farewell to the loyal Absolute Taste boys and girls who have looked after us so generously for the previous six months – it also heralds the start of a new one.
And you’d be forgiven for calling it an extra book rather than a mere chapter: from Monza, the circus travels to Singapore, stops over in Korea and Japan, goes on to India and Abu Dhabi, crosses the Atlantic to Austin, and then concludes in Brazil. There, we all end up frayed and exhausted after a truly knackering two-month stint on the road, fumbling with passports and luggage tags in endless queues around endless far-flung airport termini.
Factor in next year’s decision to allow the return of in-season testing (albeit in a more controlled, and limited, way) and you can understand why there’s a need to gently apply the handbrake every once in a while.
Asset management, you might call it. After all, successfully husbanding resources has been a matter of abiding concern ever since the official Formula 1 World Championship was inaugurated in the tentative and uncertain immediate post-war environment.
Back then, it was all a little more harum-scarum – a team would merely opt out of attending a grand prix if there were more abiding financial and practical concerns back home.
McLaren certainly realised that being at the track and winning was merely the tip of the iceberg, and that it all the work beneath the surface – the miles of tyre-testing, the rig development work, the hours in the windtunnel and the days and weeks spent behind a desk – that would more effectively determine the outcome.
Even in the late-’60s, Bruce and his merry followers keenly understood the logic of testing: Goodwood was invariably the venue of choice, and it was the tireless miles around the West Sussex circuit that helped hone and refine the team’s mighty CanAm attack. That it also caused the death of the team’s founder, on June 2 1970, was unfortunate, but further proof that testing was just as crucial an element of motorsport as racing.
Over the decades that followed, tyre- and chassis-testing programmes would become ever more lavish and sophisticated, with operations building up bespoke test teams with their own dedicated cars, engines, mechanics and engineers.
Naturally, McLaren was also at the sharp end of such developments, using Indy Lall to set up and run a dedicated test team in conjunction with Honda from 1988 onwards. While Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were battling across the globe, drivers such as Emanuele Pirro, Allan McNish and Mark Blundell were acting as technical ‘wing men’, putting miles on components to ensure they worked and were reliable.
Even when in-season testing was phased out at the end of 2008, McLaren still reacted strongly to the need to run an extensive test programme within the restrictions of a grand prix weekend.
After winning the 2008 world title with the MP4-23, the team was on the back-foot to fully develop its successor, the ’24, into a title contender in time for the new season. To make matters worse, several other teams had abandoned their ’08 early in order to get to grips with a raft of new technical regulations for the new season.
So when the MP4-24 hit the track and proved to be lacking in pace, the men and women in Woking reacted with typical urgency: instigating a comprehensive aerodynamic overhaul in the dying days of the pre-season test period, and then bolting on all manner of new components at every available opportunity.
More pertinently, they went about this campaign with steely focus and commitment: running hugely disciplined programmes throughout both FP1 and FP2 at each race weekend to gather more information and boost their understanding of the new car.
In true McLaren fashion, it all came good: a comprehensive upgrade package, delivered ahead of the mid-season German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, immediately delivered results – only for a lap-one puncture to thwart Lewis Hamilton’s bid for glory.
He didn’t wait long – at the very next race, he took the transformed MP4-24 to the first of two victories that season. That the car went on to score four pole positions simply underlined that McLaren had turned the car into one of the very fastest – all due to studious number-crunching and assiduous hard work.
And both those qualities can’t be sustained for the whole time, which brings us back to where we started – the hard-working folks in Formula 1 have all worked themselves out to bring you a thrilling and fascinating 2013 season.
With a little R&R (rest and relaxation) they’ll be ready to bring us some more R&R (rock and roll) for the rest of the season.
Until then, the beach calls…