I forget when I first heard the phrase Take another trip around the Sun. It is a wonderful reframing compared to This coming year being three dry words.
The artful six-word statement rings with the poetic beauty of promised future adventures. It hints more at the human story than the count of a single year does. Take another trip around the Sun preludes potential stories, adventures, delights and challenges that will define the trip as each day unfolds. Future plans are called to mind simply from hearing the phrase uttered. This coming year, by comparison, has little capability to stir the mind to romantic musings, future or past.
For many, the line, It was the Summer of '69... sets off memories of the time, the song, and those it has been shared with. Past dances, and possibly concerts, yelling along as part of the sea of humanity briefly connected by the art. There is poetry within numbers. When that magic happens, the story is told. Consider also those of a particular age do not think of red balloons when they consider ninety-nine of them, rather a certain lovely young lady. Again the number leads us to the human heart of the story.
So what of on-track numbers this season dear reader? What are we chasing? Or more precisely, what are the FIA and Liberty Media chasing? What is a good number, which is bad?
Singapore presented V. Max with the wrong sort of zero. He is used to zero errors over a race weekend. At Singapore however the zero related to the win. Not only was it zero wins for the weekend, it was zero podiums. Not the right type of zero to be sure. One was not the loneliest number for Ferrari. One win, one driver on the podium, one close behind. That's one that Ferrari would take week after week right now. One was also the number of laps that George Russell had left to complete a tough weekend with a modest bounty of points. Until he hit the wall... just once...
McLaren with two in the top seven! After Lord knows how many days wandering in the wilderness those are numbers that will brings smiles to one and all within the Woking camp (followed by their excellent showing in Japan).
Then, glancing up and down the field, as much as camera work will allow, one had near countless battles throughout. That was a good number to have. Let's call this number plenty.
Looking at some off the track numbers we now have V. Max on 374 points and 12 wins as of Singapore. Given some drivers do not reach 12 wins in a career, indeed most retire with another of those unwanted zeroes writ large next to their name in the history books, this humble dozen is a number most remarkable. I'd also expect it to grow larger before season end.
Mercedes are 'only' second in the standings on a trifling 289 points (as of Singapore). Double this number and we arrive at 578. A large number indeed! Except it is still 19 points short of the Red Bull total even when doubled. Yet I'm sure that both Red Bull and Mercedes are less concerned with the number of points and far more concerned about the simple numbers one and two. So again, the smaller number is the one they both obsess over. Being number one is the goal. The points total each season is only a matter of concern in so far as it assures the team of The One they desire.
Looking at the other end of the scores tables, and we find a modest number two. This two relates to Liam Lawson, who now has points against his F1 career. A well-judged drive in Singapore resulting in a joyful drive to ninth at the flag. All these numbers only existing because poor Daniel has a non-zero number of fractures in his left hand. Funny how the same number can bring joy in one context, and devastation in another. We then have to ask dear reader what number of races Liam has left in F1 this season, before joy returns to Daniel as he reclaims his seat? The same number will bring joy and sadness in equal measure to these two racers. Two racers, only one race seat. Impossible to keep all parties happy in that situation.
Three. For some reason as a race we have a bit of a thing going with three. Three wishes granted by genies recently released from bottles. Top three places get medals. Three Kings travelling from afar... indeed the Holy Trinity itself... Name your top three favourite movies/cars/songs... so it goes. So it would appear that V. Max will surely be a three-time World Champion by season's end. He joins Sir Jackie, Ayrton, Niki, Jack and his father-in-law Nelson on this esteemed number. That's fine company to join. Yet I'm sure V. Max will be only too happy to trade this year's three, for next year's four and join Alain and Seb as fast as he can humanly manage.
One hundred and fifty million. A nice big number. But the leading teams keep stating it is too tiny to run a team. Yet here we are with all ten teams confirmed as operating within the budget cap last year. While expanding factories, hiring more people, returning a profit to owners and signing major multi-million dollar sponsorship deals. How do they do it? Clearly once a dollar sign is attached to a number it takes on a multi-dimensional magical quality all of its own. Tax paid here, sponsors entertained there. Two cars (or do we still call them packages these days?) placed on the grid each race. Drivers paid, team members paid, factories built and aircraft chartered. Yet this swirling miasma of magical numbers always adds up! Now that is high art indeed!
Now please gentle reader, do not confuse what I allude to as cheating. I'm 100% certain none of the current teams are cheating. As previously noted, measurement impacts behaviour. So the teams have employed accountants, finance analysts and cost controllers, plus the odd international taxation expert, and a few international business law gurus, to ensure concise compliance with the rules as written. This is not cheating! This is officially making the point to the FIA of how many beans make five, while spending what it takes to deliver results.
The Australian government has been doing it for years. Lovely graphs showing how government, and defence in particular, has public sector spending at an all-time low. It is only these past few months that people have started having kittens about the colossal armoured wagons of cash being shipped to the major consulting companies that mean the game is up! All those graphs showing year-on-year decreasing expenditure on the public service were never paired with the matching graphics showing consultant spending replacing it! Yet the question asked at the time was "What is your department spending on public sector wages?" The question was not aimed at the consultant expenses required to actually deliver results. Now we are all in a flap about El Nino, Ukraine and Atomic fish from Fukushima. So the consultants, wise owls that they are, will type very quietly, not snort any cocaine off a naked lady in public for a month, and wait for it all to blow over.
So no gentle reader, the numbers within F1 are not cooked or crooked. They are legitimately managed to tell the story the teams want within the framework dreamed up by the second rate accountants at the FIA who failed to get high paying jobs with the teams.
On a personal note I met with my coronary specialist this week for a check-up. He is a fine gentleman who understands that your scribe likes things to move at a good clip. As a result within a half an hour consult we held a two hour conversation. Sadly this is the inverse of some of my working day experiences whereby it takes two hours to have a ten minute conversation! So graphs, numbers and digitalised notes fly across his screen as we discuss my key inner subsystems.
He leans back and pauses for a very brief moment: "You know in unusual cases one has to be very careful not to fall for managing a number rather than the patient," he states.
"I like not being a number, please go on," I encourage.
"The temptation is to start chasing ideal numbers through treatment, and lose sight of the human, and as a result actually have good numbers but a worse clinical outcome for the patient. Can you see that?" he says.
"Yes, I can. So what do we do?" I enquire.
"Well if we didn't try at least a little bit I'd feel we were not pushing enough. But don't tell the numbers we are chasing them, and let's keep this human. So, what do you think about..."
I could only smile given my articles of recent weeks that even my heart specialist was assuring me numbers were never the whole story. They can help guide, help keep score, highlight a trend. But at heart, it really always is the human that is the story. The numbers are simply a supporting act highlighting the unfolding narrative.
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here