I’ve spoken with many racing drivers through the years, and I’ve never heard a single one describe a racing lap as ‘perfect’.
Admittedly, I’ve heard them describe a particularly fine effort as ‘close to perfect’, I’ve often heard them say that they got ‘everything out of the car’ through a particular corner, or section, of racetrack; but to hear racing drivers discuss perfection isn’t simply rare, I’d say it’s non-existent.
That’s not to say racing drivers aren’t constantly striving for perfection, or, at least, their objectification of it. After all, isn’t that why we’re all in the sport? Everybody in Formula 1 is naggingly obsessed with perfection – whether it be the perfect lap, the perfect set-up, the perfect press release, or even the perfect espresso (scaldingly hot, thick crema, and two sugars, natch).
We all want perfection. We’re all obsessed with the quest for perfection, because, in our own obsessive minds, it brings the circle to a close; it provides a neatness to the solution that we’re otherwise lacking.
But the journey towards perfection is an exacting and, dare I say it, imperfect objective.
The pit garage is home to the professional problem solver. At Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, we employ an army of mechanics, engineers and strategists – and a bank of powerful desktop computers – to take perfection to its furthest limits.
To witness a racing driver debriefing with his engineer over the radio is to overhear a steady stream of complaints. Don’t mistake this for whining, however; a racing driver is attempting to refine a racing car to ensure it’s in a perfect harmonious state with the track.
Make no mistake: for a racing driver, a Formula 1 car is an extension of his own body – its wheels and suspension wishbones merely extensions of his own hands and arms – and he knows implicitly what he requires from a car and a set-up to make it dance at the very limits of adhesion.
But can he find perfection?
Realistically, it’s impossible: a racing car is a fractious, difficult beast – and, while the best drivers in the world may make it look relatively easy, a Formula 1 car is always eager to step out of line. Indeed, even on a ‘perfect’ lap, it will be stepping out of line – and, if it isn’t, then – ergo – it’s not a ‘perfect’ lap, because a car in smooth harmony with the track will always be sub-optimal.
Ultimately, what we’re really saying is that you can always go faster. And isn’t that the most fitting way of bringing this argument to a close?
We’re all in this game to go faster – and if an absolute maximum could be reached, a plateau beyond which no further performance could be gleaned, wouldn’t it somehow demean all the effort required to get there in the first place?
No, for me, the perfect achievement is an imperfect objective, and I like it just fine that way. For me, motor racing is about always going faster, always finding the extra tenth, that furthest thousandth. Give anybody in Formula 1 a limit and they’ll simply over-step it.
And that’s just how it should be.
The perfect lap is always the next lap…