2018 United States Grand Prix – Summer in Finland
TO SLEEP OR NOT TO SLEEP…that was the question. Having watched most races live for the previous five seasons, the altered starting time in Europe from 10 pm (Australian time) to 11:10 pm was the last straw tipping the balance away from my previous obsession with witnessing in real time the end-result of each race. As the minutes ticked past midnight, my capacity to stay awake diminished rapidly until eventually the need for slumber outweighed the euphoria induced by watching psychedelic machinery at speed. I had watched Monaco live with Daniel on Pole…who at least despite his engine’s attempts at self-destruction had managed to stay just out of reach of the hordes of hounds baying for blood at his heels. I had watched Monza live with Kimi on pole, my heart in my throat and hysterically counting down each lap until Lewis predictably flew by while Kimi was forced to nurse his disintegrating tyres to a disheartening second place. Most of the other races this year I had recorded and watched at my leisure the following day, shunning all news and social media to avoid potential spoilers.
But the United States Grand Prix would start at 5 am. Getting up early was a different and more doable proposition than staying up late, though I would also have to sustain the adrenaline rush while working in Accident and Emergency until 11 pm that night. The deciding factor was when my husband surprisingly announced his intention to watch the race live. He had long ago abandoned late season early morning races when first Vettel’s and then Hamilton’s domination of proceedings resulted in the gain and loss ratio coming down solidly on the side of sleep over sport. He said he had a good feeling about the race – Kimi having been given the gift of a front row start after Seb’s indiscretion under red flags during practice. I did not share his premonitions…certain that Lewis would win both the race and the championship. At least I would see history in the making.
OVER FIVE YEARS BEFORE I had witnessed Kimi’s last win. My husband and son were attending the race in Melbourne…his brother having been given free pit straight grandstand tickets and invited them to join him…but it was a boy’s only weekend. I had only stopped falling asleep after the first few laps the previous year…seven winners in seven races creating enough interest to keep me awake long enough to discover the chess game inherent in Formula One. I was now hooked. For the race weekend, my three daughters and I stayed with my sister and her two daughters in Sydney, and I was relegated to watching the race on TV…alone. The remainder of the girls made cupcakes, having no interest in race proceedings. Unable to keep still, I sat fidgeting on the edge of my seat as Kimi won the 2013 Australian Grand Prix driving his black and gold Lotus, doing one less pitstop than his competitors and contriving to keep his tyres alive until the chequered flag. At the end of that year, he returned to Ferrari. Surely there were still more wins to come. Until this last weekend…seemingly not.
So, I got up. My heart raced as Kimi squeezed past Lewis into the lead at the first corner, having the advantage of softer tyres and the inside line. But that level of adrenaline was not sustainable, so, most likely along with Kimi, I resignedly settled back to wait for the inevitable. One last win for Kimi had now entered that fanciful and fabled land of myth and legend. I had little expectation for a positive outcome. A few corners later Daniel and Seb banged wheels, Seb’s Ferrari gently pirouetted, and Kimi was given a second gift from his teammate – the priceless pearl of strategy priority on the Ferrari pit wall. Kimi was now let off the leash. No longer would he be expected to bail up Lewis so Seb could catch up and keep his glimmer of hope for the championship alive. Kimi was now free…free to run his own race unshackled by team responsibilities and obligations.
ALTHOUGH USEFUL AND NECESSARY, it takes more than strategy to win a race. To win would require Kimi driving the best race he had driven for the last five years. He had been so close in Monza, but maybe he had wanted it too much, having only that morning been made redundant. He was driving a scarlet Ferrari in Italy surrounded by the frenzied atmosphere generated by the hordes of fanatical Tifosi. On pole with maybe too much to prove on a weekend that must have been difficult even for someone with the apparently glacial body and soul of the Iceman. Overcooking his tyres too early in his second stint, his seemingly last chance for a victory slid away from him.
BUT AT THE CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS, it would all be different. After the survival of the first lap, came surviving the strategy call of the first pit stop. This occurred early due to Daniel’s Redbull cutting short its charge on lap ten. At the time this was arguably of greater benefit to Kimi on his ultra-soft rubber rather than Lewis who had started on super-softs. Lewis was told to do the opposite to Kimi. Kimi teasingly gave the rear of his car a wiggle as they headed towards the pit entrance, but passed it by. Lewis came in and replaced his super-softs for softs…cutting by half the time required to do a pitstop. He now had a theoretical 10-second buffer in hand – but only if he didn’t need to stop again.
With his fresh tyres, Lewis rapidly closed the gap to Kimi…the seconds melting away like snow in spring. Kimi used his multiple years of experience of racing and defending on precarious surfaces to keep his sliding Ferrari under control with its minimally grippy rubber, placing the car in just the right position to make it impossible for the silver Mercedes to circumvent the Ferrari. This is where the race was won…as well as lost, but that was only evident later with hindsight. With the engineer informing him that Lewis was probably on a two-stop, Kimi said not to do anything stupid. The more time Lewis lost behind Kimi now, the better off he would be later. Flawless positioning of the car, along with the disruptive aerodynamic effect of following another car closely, meant Lewis was stuck…bleeding out the seconds of time that he gained by pitting under the safety car.
Eventually, with Lewis still mired in the mud behind him, Kimi peeled off into the pits, and it was now up to Lewis to build a sufficient gap. Kimi came out 17 seconds behind and was shortly on the rear of Seb’s yet to be pitted Ferrari. “OK, this is how it works,” Kimi said as he was informed that Seb had been instructed to let him past. For some time Kimi and Lewis held station, and then the gap between them started to decrease. At first only a tenth here and a tenth there, but as Lewis’s tyres blistered the time being lost eventually became rivers of seconds. When Hamilton came out of the pits after his second pit stop, he was 12 seconds behind with nineteen laps to go. Catching Kimi would definitely be possible. But would it be possible to pass him? Kimi was further aided by the fact that he had the best possible protection between him and Lewis – Max!! There was no-one more desirable to act as a rear gunner.
FOR THE LAST TEN LAPS Lewis first chased and then caught the duo trying to keep out of his clutches ahead of him. But catching them was one thing. Passing was a different kettle of fish. Kimi was warned that Lewis would appear behind him with three laps to go. He admitted later that with ten laps still to go he wasn’t holding out much hope for a win. With five laps to go Lewis was behind Max…and that was as far as he got. He tried valiantly to pass Max…but trying was all he could do…not willing to risk contact for second place. By now Kimi could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was sure I was dreaming. But I was not…
Kimi crossed the finish line in first place for the first time in 2044 days…and 113 races…to become the most successful Finnish F1 racer with 21 race wins. As he took the chequered flag, he said aloud what his myriad of fans all felt: “F***king finally!”