Spy Down Under

G'day everyone, Spy here, kicking back with a cold one in Albert Park. This is a lovely place, made even more lovely by the gratuitous lack of anything resembling a racing car in the immediate vicinity. I am, of course, here by mistake. After testing in Barcelona, the rest of the team went home but a bunch of non-essential freight got shipped directly to Melbourne. I'd bridle at being described as such – but I'm far too busy enjoying the sunshine to complain.*

First shock revelation of the season: Nico Rosberg's going to be driving our car in the Australian Grand Prix. Or, at least, that's the impression one gets from looking at the pitlane, where his name is on the board above what's going to be our garage. Then again it could be Keke; maybe these new cars really are a throwback to the 80s and need the not-so-tender attention of genuine, brawny hard men of racing: better keep an eye out for mirrored aviators, unfiltered cigarettes and people listening to T'Pau on a walkman. More likely it's simply job number one-thousand-and-one for the guy with the cherry-picker and he simply hasn't got around to it yet – being rather more concerned with making sure the start-finish gantry is working and stuff like that.

Barcelona was an interesting experience. As usual the performance of the ten teams was incredibly easy to decode and we now know exactly what's going to happen during the 2017 season, don't we?

No, we don't. We never do – but that's OK because testing at this stage of the year is less about comparing the car to the competition and more about comparing it to the wind tunnel and CFD models. And figuring out the tyres. And getting the driver comfortable. And making sure all the new kit works. An... look, it's just not about comparing times, OK? There's nothing to win here. I mean, sure, everyone is giving everyone else the sideways glance but no-one's ever going to come away from a test filled with smug complacency or an urge to get back to the factory and hit the big red button marked 'PANIC'**. When we want to compare cars we have another mechanism for doing that: they're called races.

There is talk about some teams 'hiding their true performance'. Yeah, well, maybe. Spy enjoys a good subterfuge as much as the next secret agent but it seems a bit too much like hard work in the current climate. Where's the advantage in sandbagging? Chief designers didn't look at sector times from Barcelona and say "Alright lads, we're winning, take it easy for a fortnight."

That's not to say cars won't start sprouting new bodywork next week and get faster. They will – but it's generally a consequence of having data from testing and another month of development from the point you fitted the first batch. Besides, cars get faster every week. That's what Formula One does.

In fact, the only thing you do learn about the competition during testing is who's got a pretty livery. And not even that in 2017 as Force India appear to have been sandbagging with the paint scheme, lulling everyone into thinking they were sticking with the chrome before unveiling something dramatically more interesting. Actually, everyone looks pretty spiffy this year: McLaren have gone for a scheme that's being called 'Optimised Jaffa Cake', Toro Rosso have that cool metallic thing going for them, Force India have the aforementioned shocking pink, Haas have a very cool shade of Airfix primer (it's how we used to while away the idle hours, before F1 came along and stopped us having any) and Sauber seem to have adopted the colours of the European Union – which is ironic considering theirs is the one car put together outside it.

Our two tests went OK. We'd have liked a few less niggles and a few more laps but everything that needed to be done got done. We should be OK next week. I mean, for context, during testing in 2014 the car caught fire pretty much every time it left the garage and we were still able to put it on the front row in Albert Park, so any programme where we bang in 700 laps and don't run screaming for the extinguishers every five minutes is generally regarded as a success. How far up will Daniel and Max be? Somewhere in between 'Solid start to the season' and 'nosebleed city' is the best intel I can offer.

For the moment, Spy's just enjoying the quiet. Or I would be if there weren't 500 guys and gals with hammers*** and forklifts and cranes busy building the track all around me. Having previously believed racing circuits were something built by elves or just happened spontaneously, it's both humbling and a little bit exciting seeing the massive, massive effort that goes in to getting one ready for the circus to come to town.

*It's neither warm nor sunny – but compared to Milton Keynes in the winter it's like sitting on the surface of the sun. If the sun had a bar.
**It's a purely theoretical button. Probably. Ferrari might have one.
***Proper Aussie guys and gals: hammer in one hand, meat pie in the other.