Hats off to the lot of them.
Sure, some of the passing moves and defensive lines on show at the Shanghai International Circuit last Sunday afternoon wouldn’t have looked out of place in an episode of Jeux Sans Frontières, but on the whole the skill exhibited by the drivers as they dealt with the ever-changing conditions was mightily impressive.
The modern day narrow-track Formula 1 car is an unforgiving beast, especially in the wet; but, apart from the wretched Vitantonio Liuzzi’s first lap lack of talent, the race was devoid of major carbonfibre blitzes.
In such conditions instincts should drive. The racers call on their years of experience in karts and junior formulae, pulling all their skill and knowledge together for the battle on track.
Perhaps the most instinctive – yet elusive for most – weapon in the arsenal of all the great pilotes is the ability to apply the gift that is race craft. When the overtaking attacks are coming thick and fast – that is when the real exponents of this almost black art come to the fore.
You may think it dramatic to suggest that race craft is a skill you either have or have not, but for evidence just watch a re-run of Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Compare, if you will, the lesson in defensive driving Michael Schumacher gave Lewis Hamilton with the abominable efforts of Adrian Sutil while under attack from the Red Bull pair.
Schumacher, in the sluggish sludge-grey works Mercedes, was aggressive in defence of his position but always fair, making his car ever so wide and forcing his attacker to find a way past rather than inviting him through.
Sutil by contrast looked like the terrified office secretary hounded by her competitive work colleagues on a ‘fun’ night out at the go kart track.
Not knowing whether to go this way or that, he managed to lose two positions in the space of 50 yards.
It’s all about simple yet fundamental factors: judging your competitor’s speed and trajectory; where the grip is (and isn’t); your braking in to the corner relative to the acceleration out; and, surely, in the art of both passing and being passed the failure to slow your assailant down to your speed (so that you remain in control) is a cardinal sin.
One can try to learn these things, but just like all the elements that go to make up natural talent, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.
It was ever thus and will ever be so.