x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Formula One's hurry up before the slow down: Teams start three-week break

With Hungary in the books, the Formula One teams have a three-week break in front of them, two of which they are not allowed to work on improving the car.

Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg will have plenty of time for texting now that the Hungarian Grand Prix is over. The teams are taking a three-week break before returning to action at Spa.
Mercedes GP driver Nico Rosberg will have plenty of time for texting now that the Hungarian Grand Prix is over. The teams are taking a three-week break before returning to action at Spa.

Now that Hungary is out of the way, the teams are on a self-imposed break for three weeks, writes Gary Meenaghan

Late last night, despite the drizzle that dampened the Hungaroring's bustling paddock, there was a certain sense of satisfaction circulating among the drivers and engineers, and other team members. As the cars were packed away and the motorhomes dismantled, laughs echoed in the air and music played.

The holidays had arrived.

The chequered flag at the Hungarian Grand Prix marked the start of the three-week midseason break, a mandatory recess established by the Formula One Teams Association (Fota) in 2009 as a means of cost-cutting.

With teams ordered to shut their factories for two of the three weeks, the break was initially criticised by some, who found it frustrating to be prohibited from working on developing their cars.

Slowly, however, the positives are being appreciated.

"When we first agreed to do the shutdown, there were a number of us who thought that it was going to be problematic," said Jonathan Neale, the managing director of McLaren-Mercedes.

"Now most of us think it's a blessing. When you look at the length of the season and the hard work - not just for the teams, but also the number of people who keep the show on the road - I think everybody looks pretty tired and they could do with a break."

The drivers, as expected, are jetting off to exotic locations. Mark Webber, the Red Bull Racing driver, will relax at his country house in France; Heikki Kovalainen plans to work on reducing his golf handicap in Finland; and Jenson Button, yesterday's race winner, will be reflecting on his magical 200th grand prix from a sun lounger on a beach in Hawaii.

"It's good having a couple of weeks break now because it might take me that long to get over tonight," said an ecstatic Button immediately after stepping off the podium. "Everyday we are on holiday, though, we will be thinking about [the next race], coming back and doing the same again."

Red Bull Racing, who dominated the first half of the season, have seen their superiority challenged in recent months, and a three-week period in which to work on improving their two cars would likely have been welcomed.

Yet, Adrian Newey, the Austrian team's chief aerodynamicist, said he has every intention of switching off entirely for two weeks.

"You have to, otherwise it would be completely all-consuming and probably not healthy," Newey said. "For most people, creativity and so forth is part of the job, and if you do nothing but think about the job, you probably lose that ability."

Not everybody in the paddock is afforded annual leave, though.

The marketing departments of the 12 teams continue operations as normal. Those involved in the business side of the sport will also remain busy.

Riad Asmat, the chief executive of Team Lotus, plans to visit his family in Malaysia, but only for a week. The rest of his break will be spent dealing with administration and sponsorship commitments.

Likewise for Eric Boullier, Renault's team principal, who said he will take "some days off", but that he will not be bumping into Button on the beach. "It's important to relax because it's a long, hard season, but I won't be going to any exotic countries," he said.

The Frenchman, whose Renault team are based in England, will likely make a short trip across the Channel to his homeland, while some of his staff are planning a short trip to Portugal.

At Williams, one member of the communications department will work for two weeks before enjoying a family break in Spain in the week leading up to the Belgian Grand Prix on August 28, but Sir Frank Williams, the founder and team owner, and arguably due a break more than most, will be working.

The 69 year old has been involved in Formula One since 1966, yet has little intention of taking a prolonged rest. When the mandatory recess was established two seasons ago, Williams agreed despite not being part of Fota. He said he understands the importance of the team taking a break - although gives little indication he will be enjoying some downtime.

"We don't have to lock up and put the keys in the police station for three weeks," he said. "I'll go in, and all the management [team] will go in, because we still need to put money in the bank. The whole reason for closing down the factory is to save money, as well as taking the opportunity to make some.

"Don't think I have got to go in, or that I will be there from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, but speaking proudly of myself, I can't exactly go and play football on Sundays," said Williams, who was involved in a car crash in 1986 that left him requiring a wheelchair.

"My wife doesn't want me around the house every morning and the racing cars are there, so it's great for everyone."

The teams reconvene for a media briefing in Spa-Francorchamps on August 25.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae


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