Atlas F1

Rory's Rambling

An Occasional Column from the Antipodesby Rory Gordon, Australia

These days, it's not often that I get the chance to do any long distance driving. Especially not by myself. But, since 1996, the start of a new F1 season does just that.

Based as I am in the real home of the Australian F1 GP - Adelaide (forgive my bias!) - it does seem silly not to drive over to Melbourne for the first GP of the year.

I've long held the belief that, if you are physically capable of doing so, the best time to do such journeys, especially in a country like Australia, is at night. The ability to stay awake and alert is the main problem, and I cope with this in a number of ways. Firstly, I am a night-owl anyway. So, sleeping and snoozing during the daylight hours is not something that I have to plan... I do it anyway.

Second, I consume large quantities of a certain, caffeine- and sugar-laden, available world-wide, cold, carbonated, cola beverage.

Third, due to that beverage and the demands of my dog (who seems to think that the back seat of my car is her kennel), stops are required at least every two hours for, shall we say, "bladder evacuations".

Finally, I "distract" myself from the boredom by smoking and eating, and by listening to a wide variety of music. When I get really bored, and to my dog's disgust, one of my old Beatles tape gets plugged in and the raucous sing-along commences. "She Loves You" sung (if you can call it singing) by me at any time is bad enough, but at 3.00am it's worth avoiding.

Before anyone makes a comment, I have one absolute rule: if I even think that I may be even a little drowsy, I pull over and either take an extended break, or have a snooze for a while.

This year, the journey back home from the GP, from the front door of where I was staying to my front door, was near enough to 800 kilometres (those of you who aren't metricated yet will have to do your own conversion) and took about nine-and-a-half hours, including stops.

I actually enjoy driving at night, and the car benefits as well. For a start, you can drive much more smoothly - there aren't so many idiots on the road, so you're not having to slow down and speed up all the time, nor are you having to weave your way through traffic.

And it's much cooler, of course. Not only is that better for your pocket, in terms of fuel economy, but it is better for you physically as well.

But driving at night also has its scary moments, to say the least. It's the time when, certainly in Australia, the big trucks are on the road. In addition to the "normal" big articulated beasts, are the even bigger double-Bs, or B-doubles (I've heard them called both), which are an articulated trailer on an articulated trailer on a prime mover.

Many of the trucks are supposed to be limited to travelling at no more than the speed limit of 100 kilometres an hour. If we accept that I might have been travelling at slightly above the speed limit (not that I would confess to such an act... just in case an officer of the appropriate constabulary is reading this), then the speed limiters on quite a few of those trucks weren't working - some of those trucks caught and overtook me quite easily.

Just about the scariest thing of all for me, though, is when lights appear out of the darkness behind me, approach, close up and then two or more trucks come thundering past me at speed, seemingly only inches (I'm not that metric yet!) apart.

Personally, one of my basic rules of driving is to rely on all the other drivers on the same part of the road to be virtually totally unpredictable. I have to rely on them to a certain extent, but I like to leave as much space between myself and every other vehicle as is safely possible. So these trucks being that close to each other scares me a lot.

What the truck drivers are doing is slipstreaming, of course. They aren't in a race, but they can save a lot of fuel by doing this. Still, it does scare the poop out of me just to see them doing it.

Want to scare me even more?

Ask me to think about the possible consequences should the leading truck have to stop suddenly. That SCARES me.

I console myself afterwards by thinking that these guys spend a lot of time on the road, in their trucks, and "in company" with the other trucks. So they must trust each other implicitly, even if they don't realise it.

There's a very fine-line between implicit trust and... I don't know... stupidity? Foolishness?

Slipstreaming may be a large part of NASCAR racing today, but it certainly isn't really part of F1. And even when there is some slipstreaming, they're racing and not just trying to save fuel.

But there is a common factor between those truck drivers and F1 drivers.

Watch the F1 drivers who have been around for a while. They know how another driver in that particular car - more so towards the end of a season - is going to behave. They know that it will be impossible for them to come up the inside on this corner. But at the next corner? Or on the next lap?

And they know that the other driver knows them. And they both know just how much room to give each other so that they both survive the manoeuvre.

Any two drivers on the grid may well be on opposing teams, be competing for vital points, and be the bitterest of rivals, but there's a lot of trust out there. A lot of trust in each other.

They may not like each other, but they get to trust each other. Isn't that nice to know?

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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