The 1000kms of Spa was full of action and incident and I am sure it provided a drama-filled six hours for those who were there; for those who paid their money to spectate. A tremendous battle for the lead, practically throughout the race between the two manufacturer teams from Peugeot and Audi. Great battles in the classes. Uncertain weather conditions. A forty-minute hiatus while power was restored to the circuit? Bizarre that.
I remember in the early 1980’s at Brands Hatch, there would often be a power cut around 30 minutes before the Grand Prix began, as 26 tyre warmers were all switched on at once. Much panic all round ensued. But the race was not delayed.
I found myself in two minds as the drama unfolded. The old-fashioned, backward-looking side of me wondered what all the fuss was about. Surely a motor race shouldn’t be dependent on a supply of mains electricity? I grant that it makes life difficult (if not impossible) for those in the media centre, gazing at TV screens and trying to keep a live audience around the world informed what was going on. And for those in the hallowed race control building, with its air-conditioning and walls of monitors; the Big Brothers, controlling everything and everybody, governing which flags are shown where, overruling marshals in their split-second judgements at posts around the circuit.
What about those spectators around the circuit though? Public Address loudspeaker coverage at Spa is any case somewhat patchy (I’ve been there as a spectator – I know). It must have been a bit odd for those campers up at Pouhon or Blanchimont when it all went quiet.
But then the 21st century side of me took over. We live in an age of electricity. In not many years to come, I am sure that advances in battery technology and increasing worries about mains supplies through traditional ‘non-renewable’ generation will mean that this era will become regarded as a quaint transitional period, when our dependence on wires to supply electricity become as outmoded as the need to have wires to ensure communication. We are not yet in that era though. We are still dependent on the wires for power. I can understand the worries of the race director, who, after all, bears the ultimate responsibility for the safe execution of the event. We have become used to having live timing screens – although I am convinced that RIS timing will have had back-up plans in place to do without power, as would Audi, Peugeot and the other major players. But for the world’s media, as well as for the safety of all concerned, I suspect that the decision to pause the race was the best one, at least to preserve the reputation of most concerned. As ever, I’m not sure that playing a ‘blame game’ actually would achieve anything.
Remarkably though, the ‘power cut pause’ did not spoil the race very much (from where I was sitting). We very nearly got through 1,000kms anyway. And we had a great race. Seen in isolation from Le Mans, the battle for the lead was excellent. Two major manufacturers, each using a slightly different configuration (Peugeot adapted their car for the particular requirements of Spa, Audi running in full Le Mans trim). Changeable weather conditions. Lots of traffic and several safety car interventions. A change for second place on the penultimate lap, and three cars on the lead lap at the finish. Great stuff.
And interestingly, the winning Peugeot spent more than three minutes less time in the pits than the third placed Audi. Yet at the chequered flag, the Audi was only just over two minutes adrift. So Audi could have won the race on pace alone. Hopefully the myth of dubious Peugeot pit strategy can be put to rest at last.
Yet if I were in Dr Wolfgang Ullrich’s shoes, I would be worried. He may have been able to make the most of the opportunity to enable his team to ‘gel’. The team may have learned a lot about the performance of the upgrades to the R15. But at Spa at least, the team was reduced to a pretty much one-car team against the three factory Peugeots. And even with the ‘dream team’ of Audi driving talent, there was no evidence of a significant advantage of the sort Audi enjoyed for so many years.
Peugeot may have had their moments too. But first, second and fourth places for their three cars with all the dramas that the race threw up is a highly creditable performance. First blood to the French, it seems to me.