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It's Only A Number


As an eternally impressed Douglas Adams fan I can only ever have "42" as my favourite number. To be honest I'm amazed none of the drivers have selected it as their personal race number. I guess Douglas is too far in the distant past for them, and they all simply know where their towels are and never hyper-jump on empty stomachs.

Luigi Fagioli is the oldest ever race winner. 53 years and 22 days when he won the 1951 French GP. Lewis would need to race on into the 2037 season, 14 years from now to equal that figure! Or V. Max? Why he'd need to race until the 2051 season to beat this record! 2051! That's 28 years from now! That's the power of numbers folks!

Let's move to our current Grandpa of the pitlane, Fernando. The mighty Samurai Alonso only needs to drive until 2034, eleven years from now, to beat the record. Anyone want to put money on Lance and Fernando still driving for Aston in 2034? Anyone want to put money on Aston going bankrupt, again, between now and 2034...?

The mighty Fangio. Born June 1911. Died July 1995, aged 84. Raced in F1 from 1950, when he was already 39, until 1958, retiring at 47. By which time he had raced and won for Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes and Ferrari. Five Drivers' Championships, 24 wins, 29 pole positions and 23 fastest laps... Most of those when he was already in his 40's! Even prior to F1 his first official race, the Turismo Carretera, in a Ford V8, was in 1938 at the age of 27! Not exactly in Karts from the age of three!

We witnessed the young gun Kimi, the Ice Man, slowly turn into Kimi the Elder, and then Kimi the retired. Sir Lewis and Fernando, both leading young guns in their day. Now elder statesmen. Even V. Max who had his F1 Super License before his road license is now a middle-age driver. Time waits for no human.

Another aging player? Why the internal combustion engine. Or ICE as we are currently encouraged to call it. Been with us since, well stretching the science a bit, but the original internal combustion engine was a curious Chinese invention around the 12th century. Fast forward to 1791 and John Barber, an English inventor, patented a gas turbine. Then in 1794 Robert Street patented the first liquid fuelled internal combustion engine. Then it took until 1876 for Otto, Daimler and Maybach to patent the compressed charge four stroke engine.

So let's go with the four stroke effort of Otto and friends, and say the ICE (as we know it Jim) appeared in 1876. That dear reader is 147 years ago. Which, to give some perspective, is about how long you will wait to hear back from a major bank about a refund of over-charged fees. Yes. That long!

147 long years in which the modest ICE has slowly evolved from half the size of a house, and producing the power of an asthmatic mouse to double the size of a mouse, and generating the power of 1,000 white chargers. Damn it's been a cool journey.

Today's power figures, and to be honest, fuel efficiency figures, are items of which we should all be in awe. A marvel of design and engineering. But those numbers will not save it, as we move towards well-wound dynamos, contactless stators and super cooled magnets. Mr and Mrs ICE are soon to go bye-bye. To be honest after 147 years it is probably time we moved the game forward.

Tyres? The FIA love nothing more than a sturdy wooden wheel with a fine band of steel wrapped around it. At least that frequently appears to be what Pirelli supply to the teams. Generally agreed to have first appeared in Mesopotamia around 5,500 years ago, the wheel was a big step forward from all the log rolling required to get Stonehenge finished on schedule. The Romans then wrapped wooden cart wheels with iron bands. Then a significant pause in creativity until we had the pneumatic tyre arrive in October 1887, when John Dunlop developed the very first inflatable tyre for his son's tricycle. So even the trusty inflatable tyre has the rather large number 136 attached to it in terms of age. Time for hover-boards surely...!

Anything invented more recently of a technological flavour is usually banned by the FIA on the grounds of, well to be honest I'm not really sure. Original ground effect? Out! New ground effect? In! Rotary engine winning Le Man car? Out! Highly prescriptive V6 engines with a pile of mandated common parts? In! Cleary each needed to have been invented back in the 1880's to be considered proper.

Everyone loves good numbers when it comes to keeping score. It takes the numbers from the bottom 12 drivers this season added together for them to exceed V. Max's current points total (as of Monza). Is V. Max 12 times the driver? Is this the wonderful level playing field the cost cap is supposed to have imposed? As teams the numbers tell a similar tale.

The bottom seven teams have amassed 450 point between them. It takes adding Ferrari in third place, with 228 points as of Monza, for the bottom eight teams to score a combined 678 points to Red Bull's current total of 583. So that's nice and level now we have the cost cap in place!

The good news story is that this season every team has scored at least a point. AlphaTauri, on a modest 3 points, is the only team not in double figures. So from this perspective the cost cap has aided in providing all the lower half of the gird with scoring opportunities.

Or from another perspective it places Mercedes in second with an impressive 273 points in a position of success for a team that grumbles so much. It is just a season in which this number is not enough to trump Red Bull and lead the Championship. Yet on their own they are still out-scoring the lower five teams combined. So the number is really not that bad.

Other impressive numbers? Ten. Ten fingers raised and V. Max notes what is only a number. Yet Toto went into Beast-Sulking mode in response. It remains a modest number. Rather than the photo moment being one for the album, Toto feels it is only a "Wikipedia thing." I count one grumpy team principal, that's a low number.

A final glance at beloved numbers for now. Lewis is (as of Monza) sitting on 324 starts, and 4,569.5 career points. Fangio had 51 starts, and 245 career points. Using those numbers does that mean that Lewis starting 6.35 times more races makes him more dedicated and committed to the sport? And scoring 18.65 times more points. Does that make Lewis 18 times the driver Fangio was?

Remember dear reader. The numbers are never the story. The human is the story. The figures might keep the score according to the rules of the day, but the human builds the soul, and defines the legend. We fans are here for the stuff of legend. Not the stuff of the ledger.

Max Noble

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



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1. Posted by Tyrbiter, 17/09/2023 18:23

"The important thing about learning to fly thus is the need to be totally distracted at the right moment, something to do with a tin of sardines if memory serves."

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 16/09/2023 8:43

"@Max Noble
Forgot to applaud the Douglas Adams references in the article. I was Lucky to have listened to Hitch hikers Guide when it 1st aired. Needless to say I was hooked. Amazingly funny, but also intelligent & insightful."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 16/09/2023 3:37

"@Apexing - yes such great story telling with, as you note, some simply classic one liners. Later in the series I love his (spoiler alert) definition of learning to fly as “Throwing yourself at the ground and missing.” Right up there with Monty Python for quote-a-bility…!

…and as I think we are all sort of saying here, the numbers aid in understanding, bounding, giving vitality to, the human aspects of the story. No numbers? We do not know how the story shapes up. Dry numbers, no humans? We don’t care…

Here’s to a great race weekend generating some wonderful human stories, and remarkable numbers…!

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4. Posted by Apexing, 15/09/2023 22:19

"Great article once again, Max! My favorite line from Life, the Universe and Everything was something to the effect that the spaceship hovered in the air in much the same way that bricks don''s been probably 40 years since I read that book, and that has stuck with me ever since!

The people are the story, but the numbers (to me anyway) do help quantify things and place things in relative order, and in a relative scale. But that's just the engineer's brain stuck in my head looking for order in the chaos. Enjoy the weekend, everyone!"

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5. Posted by Spindoctor, 15/09/2023 11:13

"@Max Noble & Chester
Thank you both for those kind words"

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 15/09/2023 9:22

"@Spindoctor - Artfully reasoned view, my thanks for sharing. It makes one wonder what precisely breathes life into any moment, thing, action, or creature, us included. Barbie movie goes through the roof… Van Gogh dies broke. Nil-nil soccer game leads to breathless penalty shoot out with the world screaming on. Moonlight sonata echoes around a half empty concert hall… (Didn’t that come from a chocolate ad cries a voice from the back… sigh…).

What puts the soul into the moment? For want of a better answer I say the human. It’s why Lewis has grown on me so much as his career has progressed. He is very centred in being himself. Many struggle to do that. The art on the edge of the possible which is F1 at its best. Then the numbers remain to remind us, as we recall seasons past with a smile.

@Chester - Much to my delight my sons all ambled off and read Plato off their own backs. The endless conversations about existence cheerfully continue…

@Kenji - My thanks! May we all enjoy Singapore, perchance…!? McLaren hosting a fan zone event at Chijmes has me crying. It’s a great location with a wonderful mix of bars and restaurants created in a building that was a Catholic Girl’s school.

@All - as ever thanks for reading and commenting, the flow of ideas and opinions is a joy. Please (respectfully) keep it coming!


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7. Posted by Chester, 14/09/2023 17:20

"@Spin. That's deep.

You brought back great memories of my first Philosophy class beginning with me being so visibly agitated with the subject that the professor asked me what was wrong- and ending with me (quant person) absolutely loving the subject and minoring in it.

Merci, SpinDoctor"

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 14/09/2023 12:13

"@Max Noble - Great quote from Paul Simon. One of my favourite tracks.
To digress in an (I hope) relevant way it clearly demonstrates that in the same way that Numbers alone don't tell the whole story, so Language itself doesn't correspond 1:1 with "reality".

There is no such thing as an "immediate" or un-mediated experience. At the most basic level our eyes don't "see" the world, it's our brain which does that using data collected by those organs. Similarly with language: that passage from Paul Simon is hard to analyse "literally", but works so well by because our minds conjure images from the words.

Numbers in the form of raw data require "mediation" or context before they become useful as information."

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9. Posted by kenji, 14/09/2023 2:07

"@Max an ex professional artist I must commend you on your penetrating insight and subsequent tribute hahaha. Life is full of surprises eh?

Theres no way, 'I'd trade all my tomorrows for another yesterday'. Either Mercedes or Porsche. Enjoy Singapore."

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 13/09/2023 12:02

"@Kenji - your most artistic post yet. May my future articles inspire you to similar heights!

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11. Posted by kenji, 13/09/2023 11:48

"@Max...good one. How about,

Guitar player been all around the world
but he can't play a lick, for looking at the girls

1234567 well you better change your mind
or you won't get to heaven

8 9 10 gonna stop at 11
11 just lays around with 7

some like this and some like that
and some just don't know where it's at.

The more things change.....the numbers tell the story."

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 13/09/2023 9:23

"Ah the boy in the bubble…

These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all…

…And don’t cry baby, don’t cry, don’t cry…

…or for film type folk, refer “Dinner for Schmucks” with an American bent, or “Le Diner de Cons” for readers of a European bent.

We all get played… the question is not “Am I played?” It is “Who is playing me?”

…Plus ca change
Plus C’est la meme chose

…and don’t get me started on arguing Canadian French with a Parisian. I lost.

I think the number is up on random quotes for this reply… :-)


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13. Posted by Spindoctor, 12/09/2023 14:07

"@kenji sorry but my bubble remain unpricked!
I won't waste anyone's time with a detailed refutation of your ill-conceived response. Mr Noble has done an excellent job of that already.


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14. Posted by kenji, 12/09/2023 13:20

"@Max noble....PHI plus Pi mixed with a dash of E=MC2....who needs humans?"

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15. Posted by Max Noble, 12/09/2023 13:08

"@Rock Doc - 100% The fact Fangio won all those races and didn’t die in a race car is remarkable. A once in ten generations talent. Times change. Heroes evolve. People forget…

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