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Formula 1

Why it’s important to enjoy the brilliance of a ‘boring’ win

by Matt Beer
5 min read

Lewis Hamilton’s domination of the Spanish Grand Prix laid bare one of the eternal paradoxes of sport as a mass spectator experience. The all-time greats, such as Hamilton, people love to watch also have the capacity to make the extraordinary appear mundane.

The race at Barcelona was no classic and criticism of it as a spectacle is justified. But there are other ways to enjoy and appreciate grand prix racing that stretch beyond cheering for the latest wheel-banging pass or astonishing charge that we all crave. While what Hamilton did was no thrill ride to watch, to dismiss as boring and ignore the exquisite craftsmanship underpinning it is to take an impoverished view of Formula 1.

Appreciation of brilliance in itself isn’t any substitute for a spectacular race, but somewhere on the spectrum between that and ‘borefest’ there is a happy medium where you can take pleasure in admiring a job well done. Hamilton winning from pole position in itself is nothing new, this was his 54th, but you can make a strong case for it being his best win of the season.

But while not one for the majority of the fans, Hamilton believed it was one his fellow pros would appreciate.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Barcelona F1 2020

“Yeah, absolutely know what you mean,” said Hamilton when I asked him after the race if this was a high-end win despite lacking the thrills of a great swashbuckling victory.

“Both these professional drivers [Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas] next to me can tell you, there are different types of races you have when you’re behind or leading. We all try for perfection and it’s not always easy to deliver like that but today, for me in the car, I was ecstatic when I came across the line.

“It’s not an out of body experience, [I was] just in my highest form, I would say” :: Lewis Hamilton

“I didn’t realise it was the last lap, I was still going. In my mind, I was like a horse with blinkers on, I was going to keep going. In terms of how I drove, really delivering, I think today is right up there with some of the best that I’ve personally felt I’ve done.”

This is the definition of being in the zone.

It’s simply when everything is in harmony and the driver literally doesn’t have to think about it – consciously at least. Subconscious processing is capable of remarkable things, astonishing speed and control and that’s exactly how Hamilton was operating in the race. Everything flowed, and it translated into a dominant victory. In another era he might have been a minute or more up the road.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Barcelona F1 2020

Such a state of performance is often shrouded in mysticism and, for some, this is the easiest way to understand it. But there’s nothing unscientific or magical about it. Hamilton was simply able to channel his skills and vast experience effortlessly through that unconscious processing. Other drivers in F1 will have done the same thing at times, but rarely to such devastating effect.

Being able to do this, and vast effort is expended by elite sportspeople to try and get into such a state, is at the heart of brilliance. And it is not unique to motorsport – for more on that, the book In The Zone by Clyde Brolin is recommended given the remarkable breadth of athletes who explain their understanding of ‘the zone’ and how to get there.

“It’s not an out of body experience, [I was] just in my highest form, I would say,” explains Hamilton.

“I always like to talk about trying to be our highest selves and each of us have, I guess, an unlimited capacity and it just felt like the zone I was able to get into and stay in for a long, long, long time. It was evident in the gap, it was evident in how I managed the tyres. I am always talking about perfect race that was one of them.”

Inevitably, Ayrton Senna has to be mentioned when it comes to this. He was very much of what might be the school of mysticism when it came to interpreting and expressing his experiences behind the wheel, but there’s no doubt that what he talked about in the past is a similar ballpark to what Hamilton felt in Spain. Regardless of how you interpret it, it’s a very real state.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Barcelona F1 2020

“I wouldn’t describe it the same was as Ayrton would,” said Hamilton when Senna was mentioned to him.

“In the chase for perfection and being in that zone, you could be very, very close but still be slightly out and not be quite in your perfect rhythm. But for whatever reason, I can’t quite pinpoint why, but today it was like a clear zone, the clarity that I had today whilst I was driving was… I’m sure I’ve had it before but as I said, it not always. I don’t even know how to really get into that zone.

Every fan of grand prix racing should appreciate, enjoy these performances and witness greatness

“It’s hard to say what helps you get into that space I will evaluate this weekend and the feeling today but honestly I felt fantastic in the car. It was physically challenging but in terms of not making any mistakes, delivering lap upon lap upon lap, I was in a perfect zone and that’s the zone that I dream of being in.

“I never would have expected to have a lead of 24s but I really put it down to that. Even when I was catching traffic I was gaining time rather than losing time, which is never the case, here were all these elements, which were just perfectly in place and I was very, very centred in my core. Got to try and get there every week, every day.”

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Barcelona F1 2020

That last sentence sums up the challenge facing every athlete, and even the best will only be able to get there on occasion. That’s why every fan of grand prix racing should appreciate, enjoy these performances and witness greatness.

After all, how much would any of us give to have the privilege to watch one more masterclass from Ayrton Senna, Jim Clark or Stirling Moss?

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