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Hail Caesar

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
07/03/2022

Circus Maximus was immense beyond even the remarkable size of the Colosseum.

Chariot racing was filled with dare-devils, sporting rich kids, fearful rivalries, and significant bending of the rules. Legends were frequently made, then swiftly forgotten when the next hot young thing appeared. Oh, and wagers small, mighty, and colossal were placed, won, and lost in magnitude-Maximus. It was a mighty time to be a pilot, a team owner, a placer of bets, or simply a lover of fast racing. And all Hail to Caesar for facilitating enough peace and wealth through commerce to make it all happen.

A cheerful game of beach cricket, or beach volleyball, with family members during a Summertime trip to the seaside is hardly the seething cauldron of life-threatening competition that Circus Maximus provided. The vast majority of folk, both then and now, have never put it all on the table as they place their very spirit on the line to win a point, a game, a match, a race, the right to a name recorded in legend. Vicarious thy name be dear sport lover, past, present, and future. While the pilots of the chariots then, and our 2022 season contenders now, are truly the Caesars of the competition we should respectfully hail them for having the strength of soul to join the race.

Many orbits around the Sun prior to the one elected to represent 2022 your humble scribe competed at national, and international level in TaeKwon-Do, Windsurfing, and Cycling. I'm modestly prideful to say that I medalled in TaeKwon-Do, and Windsurfing, but only made the podium for informal club-level Cycling events. I've also been fortunate to be race crew on other people's yachts, and to race go-karts, and sedans, both in an informal manner. While I have my vicarious moments I'm more of a hands-on chap when it comes to injecting my adrenaline fix.

Like many I've faced the serious working-week challenge of rapidly closing-in on the bunny in an expensive car who cannot drive, yet needs to be taken around the outside - in the pouring rain - at the next roundabout during the desperate rush-hour race to the office. Possibly the ultimate test of clean, fluid, accident-free driving in the modern world.

Yet none of these challenges meets the life, legend or death pressure of the Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus built legends for the very reason that to compete, and not die, was impressive enough to ensure praise. To compete, and one day win a race was to win public hearts and with it modest legend. To build upon that modest legend turning one's self into the stuff of myth with multiple wins was an achievement worthy of echoing down the corridors of time.

Fast. Forward. Wham. Season 2022. Hello.

Max Verstappen and Lewis duelled throughout 2021 in a remarkably clean manner. Folk tend to remember the few moments they collided rather than the many hours they spent not hitting one another. They are the direct spiritual descendants of those racers at the Circus Maximus. They are of the same human stock. Prick us, and do we not bleed? They are the worthy carriers of the torch for another generation of sporting combatants.

So reflect, and join me in a thought exercise.

I know many readers have competed in various sports at high levels. A multitude of you may well have come to your own championship defining moment, and had it all on the line. Yet the rather vast majority of us have not competed in the Circus Maximus miasma these two gentlemen, and all the other worthy pilots on the grid, must confront and master each time they step on to the field of competition.

Michael Schumacher, Adelaide 1994. Rejoining the track in a manner rather unhelpful for Mr. D. Hill. Should Hill have seen it coming? Should Michael not have raced hard with a broken car? They should have both used mindfulness techniques to de-stress, take a few re-centring breaths, and then made rational competitor-friendly decisions. In the heat of battle! How dear reader? The red mist descends, the adrenaline is flooding the system with mania. The brain is at the limit of processing speed, and the fight-or-flight reflexes are locked into an overload of death-before-dishonour. Action must happen right now! Do not look back! Fly you fools!

In that very moment defining not just the second, the day, the moment, but the shape of your entire legend for the rest of recorded history, in this moment you are supposed to relax while considering the concerns of others?

How is a mere human potentially on their way to legend, yet forever short of god-hood, supposed to achieve that moment of balancing insight, and consideration for others, with the need for instant action and reaction? In the heat of sporting battle? We are not talking the Parish Croquet Easter Weekend friendly. We are not talking the local pub league dominoes final. We are not even talking inter-state, or inter-county. We are talking 300 kph World Championship, season-long, life on a knife edge moment of destiny, with the still present danger of moving directly to Heaven's Gate should your decision prove particularly poor.

So reflect dear reader. If you can actually imagine that moment, that pressure, that call to legend or ignominy, how would you choose, with no time to think, only time to react? Play it out in your mind, in slow motion... How did you stand as a fair player? Did you cleave to honour, or dishonour? Fear or heroic redemption?

It was the remarkable Mike Tyson who popularised the observation, "Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face". It is a beautiful summary of the difference between the cool, rational development of a plan outside the heat of competition, and the reaction of the spirit, and will to survive, once battle commences.

The extent to which Lewis, Max, and indeed most other drivers on the grid, show grace under pressure for race after race is simply remarkable.

Most of us have not exceeded 300kph in any road vehicle. As a reference point the take-off speed of an Airbus A320 is 170 mph (275kph), and that of a Boeing 747 is 180 mph (290kph). Imagine sliding along the runway on a tea tray in that split-second before the aircraft reaches rotation (nose wheel off the ground), while being surrounded by twenty other folk on tea trays, all intent on being in front of you prior to that hairpin bend mere yards ahead that is only three tea trays wide. I say sitting on a tea tray as relaxing with a perfectly chilled glass of Jacquart Cuvee Brut NV in a fully reclining business class seat (upright for take-off and landing naturally) conveys none of the drama of the speed when the wind is whistling around one's helmet with the ground inches from ones behind, rather than yards below, with one cocooned in air-conditioned luxury.

Back in our tea tray universe. Check around you, judge braking distances, consider if Herman Von Side-swipe is going to do just that as you dive for the apex... and above all in this high speed moment please remember to be sportsman like, respectful of others, aware of track limits, recall all relevant sections of FIA rules, oh, and then please, with all constraints mindfully considered, be first into the corner, first out of the corner before kindly proceeding to repeat this process until you've won the race, and then, by extension, the season.

In the bubbling lava of competition it remains a miracle to me that Mike Tyson's punch in the face is not frequently delivered within F1 from one furious driver to another race after race. Our would-be legends are slithering on tea trays, riding the crazy edge of the possible at in excess of 300 kph. Last year in testing Mazepin (irony be thy name...) topped the speed traps with 324kph. This year it has so far been Norris at 314 kph. A drop, year-on-year, for sure, but still comfortably ahead of our A320, and 747 at rotation.

So, Hail the 2021 Caesar of the track! Max drove mightily all season, there is no other way to get close to Lewis, let alone beat him. Lewis was his usual brilliant self, with a touch of bad luck, and an unusual few moments of poor (by his standards) form. Then there was that restart decision, which resulted in the most honourable look I have seen from a defeated driver in many seasons.

The look Lewis fixed on Max as they clasped shoulders, looking deep into each other's eyes, knowing the season they had each just delivered. To be that mighty in defeat, in such circumstances says Lewis is not simply Caesar for a season, he has a mastery about him which has already transcended into legend. A punch in the gut for the result? No doubt. A punch in the face traded, each for the other between two over-heated, over-emotional creatures of sporting fury? No, not at all. Hail Lewis for being a mighty Caesar of tough yet fair sporting combat. That was the look of Eagles rendered real for the World to see the strength of his soul. He will not go gentle to that long Winter's night this season.

Were we to drop these two gentlemen of the sport on the sands of the Circus Maximus at its peak, and ask them to race for their lives, I'm sure they would be at the front of the pack in a few short laps, each inspiring the other to leave nothing on the table. Usually seven long, curving laps per race, with twelve or so four horse-power light weight chariots flying for the victory. At the end, finish line attained, the victor, Caesar of the moment, would revel in the spiritual moment of triumph, sand, blood, and sweat having been mastered by passion and ability, earning the crowning victory.

Return to your tea tray thought exercise dear reader. In a cold quiet moment really reflect just how much grace under pressure you would display corner after corner, lap after lap, race after race, season, after season. Pause... silence is required as a mark of respect, and introspection. Then, standing with fist clenched over heart, raise your eyes to the sky, recall the gladiatorial tradition that Max, Lewis, and all our mighty 2022 Pilots embrace with honour before rightfully cheering them on into legend with the battle cry of, "For those about to compete on the edge of reason. We salute you! Hail our sporting Caesars!"

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Max Noble, 16/03/2022 1:43

"@ZJAY - in a (near) future article we will revisit suggestions that have been aired on PitPass in the past. I agree that electronic monitoring of track limits is 100% technically possible. We’ve previously suggested that as in tennis, when you need the entire tennis ball outside, and off the line, one could have a GPS, and electronically tagged track boundary. Wheels ON the line. Not an issue. Only one wheel totally over the line, not an issue… Two tyres completely over the line - cut engine power by 10%… then every full second they are over the line continue cutting power by 5% per second until they are back on the track. Once back on track proceed to return power at the rate of 5% per second… We’d soon see very few double-wheels off the track events…"

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2. Posted by ZJAY, 15/03/2022 14:05

"@Max Noble
If people can imagine a robot drilling a filling in your tooth in the near future they can surely implement technology which penalized drivers within seconds of track limits violation, after a central/headquarter stewards review of a rule infraction, by time penalty or speed control limits on a straight or whatever."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 15/03/2022 0:43

"@Cobra Driver - very pleased you enjoyed it, and found that it captured that “trauma of the racing moment”!

I have significant compassion for Masi and “that” rules call in the final 2021 race. Tennis is a fast moving game, but the Umpire has the ability to stop and reflect between points, use video review, and simply pause the game and (briefly) discuss what is going on. Unless we develop the ability to freeze time these reviews with the action paused will never be possible within Formula One!"

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4. Posted by Cobra Driver, 14/03/2022 9:13

"Max, you have captured the essence of what these extraordinary drivers face on a continuing basis during a race, and during qualifying as well. While I raced at a much lower level, I recall experiencing exactly what you describe, and how easily observers from outside the racing driver's fraternity could analyze my racing techniques and tell me exactly where I went wrong, at every turn. Brilliant armchair champions, they. This outstanding piece of journalism should be required reading for all automobile racing fans.
"

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5. Posted by Spindoctor, 09/03/2022 12:01

"@Max Noble - Yes, that's probably true, but dismal...."

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 09/03/2022 11:50

"@Spindoctor - good points about those three fine figures of the sport. Each a beacon of sporting obsession, in their own way. As you say no need to manufacture story, or character traits when you have people of that style… Yet if Toto or Mr. Horner acted in that style, they would probably have both been sacked by their corporate employers by now!"

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7. Posted by Spindoctor, 09/03/2022 9:11

"Thanks for another insightful piece.
The Tea Tray analogy is particularly resonant: every one of these drivers is managing a complexity of inputs & a dexterity of "outputs" which the rest of us can barely visualise, let alone emulate. Despite huge commercial & latterly media pressure, the young "Gladiators" are still Sportsmen.

My fear is that the Gladiatorial side of F1, amplified by Media make-believe, will swamp the Sport. Like our benighted Politicians, Drivers will become swept-up in the "story", they will start to "believe the hype".
The pronouncements of Teams & Principles over the last couple of years show how easy it is for this unreality to suck-in all the others.
Ron Dennis (a prophet in his own land...) was gnomic & uninformative, Chapman was "Jack the Ladd"ish, Enzo was a grumpy and acerbic character but those characteristics were who they were, not "characters" donned to garner ratings for some tin-pot "Drama"....."

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 08/03/2022 23:36

"@All - thanks for the thanks. Always appreciated :-)
@Superbird70 - In these days of prescriptive rules… I don’t think they are explicitly banned… and wheel covers are making a come back…!

@Devonlad - Pirelli specifically had races limited to seven laps maximum in order to avoid tyre issues :-) (I think that was the epoch they last came up with a handy innovation…). Fully agree with your observations. The cars corner so tight these days, with slip angle being a lap time killer, that we need those beautiful slow-motion shots to see the millimetres that the back end has stepped out at 200kph through a 85 degree left-hander… In short it does make it look easy - which is a shame, because as you note, they come from a different Universe when it comes to their ability to perform in a modern racing car. Also agree the drama “seemed more real” back in the 1960/70’s … as was the horror of the worst possible outcome.

We can all only hope for an excellent 2022 season, where the racing actually is closer, and more exciting! …if that fails Toto and The Joker, aka Mr. Horner, will provide plenty of Adam West era Batman antics to keep us all amused while Robin the Boy Wonder pedals as fast as he can…
"

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9. Posted by Superbird70, 08/03/2022 22:08

"Another awesome feature. One question, "Will Max and Lewis be allowed Boudica spikes this year?""

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10. Posted by Devonlad, 08/03/2022 18:54

"Not sure if they had pitstops to swap wheels at the Circus Maximus, or whether they needed a primitive form of DRS to overtake....

Max encapsulates what makes those on an F1 grid so special. As someone who has had an occasional track day (and spun) I can appreciate that the top level drivers in motor sport are not on a different planet to me, they are in a different Universe.

Each year the hype is built up for the new season, but in very few instances (2021 being an exception) does it actually deliver. And at the back of all this is the fact that since 2010 only two different teams have won the constructors championship. And there have been only four different championship drivers – and one of them is retired.

For a very long time now with very rare exceptions, the cars look like they are cornering on rails. Equally rarely does the television coverage actually provide the impression of speed so eloquently described by Max. And for how long have changes to the regulations promised ‘closer racing and more overtaking’?

In my formative motor sport years (1960s / 1970s) no driver or team combination ruled the roost for long – and each season would have at least one maiden F1 winner. Matched of course against this was the reality of dreading the Monday morning papers or the weekly magazines to discover who the latest racer to die.

What will happen when audiences desert Drive to Survive for something new?

Yes I totally appreciate we can’t wind the clock back to pre-computer design days, which means that most spectators can now only differentiate between modern F1 and sports prototype racers by their liveries.

I will still watch F1 this year more out of habit than anything else – and use my recording technology to fast-forward through the boring bits. And to watch racing with cars visibly different and visibly driven on the limit, I shall of course be at the Goodwood events
"

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11. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 08/03/2022 12:49

"A cracker! Hopefully the season itself will come up to your standards."

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12. Posted by Apexing, 07/03/2022 23:31

"Another brilliantly written piece. Thanks, Max! I do enjoy these immensely..."

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