"Can you tell me where my country lies?"
Said the uni faun to his true love's eyes
"It lies with me!" Cried the Queen of Maybe
For her merchandise, he traded in his prize
"Paper late!" Cried a voice in the crowd
"Old man dies!" The note he left was signed 'Old Father Thames'
It seems he's downed
Selling England by the pound.
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, Genesis (1973)
So opens the magnificent 1973 Genesis Progressive Rock album 'Selling England by the Pound'. For those that know what they like, and like what they know... it is a masterpiece.
This opening song, and several other references throughout the album, reflect on commercialism, selling out and wondering what it is all about. A rather fitting mind-set for our half-term review of Formula One as we get set to resume the second half of possibly a continuing Red Bull masterclass. Who has sold out? Who is lamenting the headlines? Hopefully no one is drowning in anything more alarming than winner's champagne or floods of sponsor's gold. Let us go eager reader and discover just who might be selling England by the pound.
Simple opening verse. Given the red-and-blue tsunami so far of a 100% win rate for the Red Bull team, can they maintain this stunning level of achievement for another ten races? Ten races, being around 3,000 kms of racing left this season, dependant on rain, red flags and safety cars. We know Adrian Newey designed a car capable of winning every race. The question is now on the many other humans spread throughout the team. Can the engine and related sub-systems all maintain 100% reliability? Can the strategy folk maintain that half-a-step-ahead of the pack thinking? Can the pit crew be unrelentingly flawless at every pit stop? Then finally on race day, can V. Max keep it out the wall, avoid pesky others and skim to the flag first? Failing that can Perez ensure he catches the ball and runs with it, in the unlikely event V. Max drops it? So far it is 10/10 for V. Max as flawlessly dancing with the moonlit knight.
For Red Bull, not so much where does their country lie, as to where could their risks be lurking? In order I think their risks are; One, mechanical failure of a key component during a race. If it is prior and swapped-out, such is the talent of V. Max that starting a few places back down the grid is shrugged-off with all the ease of a nuclear aircraft carrier gliding over a soap dish. So it is only an in-race technical failure they need to avoid. Two, another racer sliding gracelessly into V. Max. This has happened before and is likely to happen again as V. Max does not give up the fight easily, and he is always up the sharp end. He needs significant racing wisdom in this second half to ensure he is not swiped off the road by some ill-judged overtake. Three, V. Max and Sergio trip over one another in a moment of non-cooperation. Four, poor strategy. Improbable, but there is a non-zero chance of making the wrong call, and not being able to recover prior to the end of the race. Five, and last, driver error. In variable conditions V. Max slides off into the countryside.
My gut says a perfect season is, in these days of 20 plus races, impossible. But I'm sure Red Bull has no intention of letting that distract them from trying! It's worth recalling the 1950 F1 season (the first with a World Driver's Championship). Farina was the first World Driver's Champion, winning three races that season, the same number as his team mate Fangio. So the Alfa Romeo team won six out of seven F1 races in Europe, while the seventh race that season was the Indy 500, which Alfa did not contest. This could rather be seen as one team and two drivers sweeping the board. McLaren, Ferrari, Williams, and Mercedes have all had similar high levels of achievement across a season, but no one can claim to have won every single race. It's going to be fun watching Red Bull try!
Mercedes. It is a mark of their recent domination that they consider being second in the team standings, and the only team other than Red Bull to be on more than 200 points, as a relative disaster. Truth is, after a poor start to the season they now have a competitive car, just one not as fast as the Red Bull. On current form they are the team most likely to claim a P1 in the case where both Red Bulls lose the plot in the same race. They would have to cease turning up for race weekends to lose second place in the team standings, but can they sneak a race win?
Breaking out the telescope to look further astern we find those who might be considering leaving a sad letter signed by old father Thames. First on the sadness list, Aston Martin. Having been the runaway good news story of the first six races, they are now being convincingly beaten on track each race weekend by Mercedes, while a recovering Ferrari is now hounding them for third place. This is going to be the most exciting battle zone for the rest of the season. Can Aston sneak past Mercedes on occasion? Can they keep those red cars safety in the wing mirrors? It will be exciting to see which of these three flies out of the gate at the first couple of races in this second half. Or will it be that they shall drown in a sea of red?
Ferrari. Sigh. Rather like Mercedes complaining about being second, Ferrari are in the mix more often than not. Only one driver and one team get to be champion each season, and when you've been around as long as Ferrari... well that's a lot of seasons. They are usually in the top half of the grid, and frequently top three. Expect them to show continuing strength and depth as they chase down Aston and probably overtake them for third in the team standings. Catching Mercedes? Improbable at this stage, but who knows! Some finely applied accounting rules, and Mercedes could be slapped with bans, point deductions and public floggings in the name of good sport. Watch this space for the biggest off-track action!
Charles, along with Sergio, scores 1/10 for their dancing with the moonlit knight. Each repeatedly trips over their own sword, bangs helmeted heads, and too often ends up in a clatter of plate armour spread on the dance floor come race day.
McLaren. Again it is a reflection of tough times that fifth for McLaren is viewed as a positive step. At one point in danger of "doing a Williams" it is to be hoped that the slump is over and this is a clear sign of a multi-year climb back to the top step of the podium. Again, it is going to be fascinating to witness the continued improvements over the second half of the season.
Now we drop to the double-digit scores of the lower half of the team table. The lower five teams have amassed 91 points between them. This compares to the 103 of McLaren in fifth, and the 503 of Red Bull. Ouch.
The good news for the FIA is at least all ten teams have scored points this season. This is a positive, showing it is possible for each team to build a car that can break into the points, if not actually win a race.
Alpine. What are they doing? Right now it would appear they are doing a "French Williams" as they continue to look nothing like their old championship winning selves. I'm not expecting much here for the rest of the season. This is a very low base so they might be able to spring a surprise!
Williams and Haas tied on 11 points each. Williams will be pleased they are easing off rock bottom, while Haas, I'm sure, are alarmed that they are close enough to see the bottom of the Piranha tank. This season will probably contain little joy for either team as they look to scrape a few more lower-points finishes and gain the edge over one other. I'm sure both are eyeing Alpine slip-ups with anticipation for the scoring opportunities this might deliver.
The final two teams, and we are into single digits. 9 for Alfa Romeo and 3 for AlphaTauri. Bit of a long way to the top for Alfa compared to that mighty 1950 season! Let's see what happens when they stick all those Audi circles on the wall and start talking about a tradition of racing excellence... I'm not expecting much from them until the official name change, and the desire for corporate success is lit anew.
Alpha Tauri. Long ago a strong mid-field contender. That remarkable 2008 Italian GP when Seb won his first GP feels like it was three life-times ago! True they were called Toro Rosso back then but it's the same team, many new faces, but the blood line runs on. If Daniel were to pull off a shock win in the tail end of this season, possibly via a genius strategy call in a damp race plus good timing with the safety car, that fading echo of past success could become a roar of joy once again! There would be extra rum rations in the trenches here at Southern Pitpass Towers should Daniel achieve such a victory.
As someone delightfully noted many years ago, Soccer is a game of two halves. So it now is for us dear reader as we stride relentlessly towards the second half of what has been a masterclass first half. As a long-term fan I'm loving the battles up and down the standings. Each team has a near-neighbour with which to engage in a meaningful battle, while Red Bull is trying to set records to stand for a generation, possibly longer. Several once mighty teams are battling to regain past glory, while Williams, Haas, Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri are all pushing each other to ease clear of the bottom of the pond.
To demand 500 overtakes per race weekend, with ten drivers all with a mathematical chance of winning the championship is to completely lose sight of the subtle genius which is the ability to consistently win in F1. This has been a season of fine driving, and remarkable team achievement. It has produced moments of great overtaking throughout the field. It will deliver a worthy champion driver and team. The Uni Faun should hold on to his true love of F1, for despite the increasing off-track noise, on track the drivers are singing the same mighty songs of glory as the drivers of old.