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MJ_Agassi551 Oct 15th, 2019 534 Never
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  1. “The Tie”
  2.  
  3.  
  4. “Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.” --Steve McQueen
  5.  
  6. Excitement, tension, anticipation. Multiple emotions ebb and flow--rather, overflow--the paddock at Interlagos. Fans fill every seat in the grandstands with noise and banners as the teams prepare their cars, currently parked on their places at the main straight, for the start of the race. Fifteen minutes before the green flag drops, underneath an umbrella, Merlion team principal Ysidro Sandoval chats with Vikka-Marin Simonsson, who drives for Mercedes, until a new voice is heard from out of the blue.
  7.  
  8. “Boogity!”
  9.  
  10. Vikka is startled, but Ysidro only smiles. He knows Daphne Bieshaar will do this because he’s always known that Daphne does this. She likes to startle people with a childish squeak and wiper-wave, a quirk that underlines an otherwise consummate professional. And she gets the funniest, most potent reactions from Simonsson. Just like now.
  11.  
  12. “Oh god, why do that?” Vikka looks at Ysidro, incredulous. “Look at her, Sidro.”
  13.  
  14. Ysidro merely chuckles as Daphne tries to muffle her laughter with her left palm. In response, Vikka immediately snags Daphne’s neck and snags her on a loose half-choke. Then, rather clumsily, she initiates a noogie. Daphne only laughs harder and louder.
  15.  
  16. “All this time”, Ysidro says, chortling, “and you still haven’t learned why?”
  17. Vikka tightens her hold, her smile breaking through. “Oh now you tell me, Sidro?”
  18. Vikka lets Daphne go, and laughs, her shoulders shaking. Daphne is uncontrollably hysterical, but between fits, she speaks:
  19.  
  20. “That’s what you get for signing with a different team. You forget that I do this every race.” And Daphne finally calms down, heaving for air.
  21.  
  22. “I know, I know,” Vikka replies, “but their offer was just too good.”
  23.  
  24. Ysidro’s head bows down slightly, trying to hide a break in his demeanor. Of course, it wasn’t the only reason why Vikka left Merlion, but he’d rather keep that a secret. Besides, if he can still get to talk to her, and if she can still visit the garage and headquarters freely, the split isn’t really as bad as the press made it out to be back in April.
  25.  
  26. Most importantly, if both her young padawans still get to share moments like this…
  27.  
  28. “...that’s because you don’t use strong enough sunblock, Vikka…”
  29. “...stop tickling me, Daph…!”
  30.  
  31. ...he reckons he didn’t really lose anything valuable. Neither, he supposes, did the two drivers standing there. Ysidro checks his watch. About ten minutes to go. He pats Daphne on the shoulder. “Can we head back?”
  32.  
  33. “Now? But I’m not done yet,” Daphne protests, but only in jest. “Her overalls are still silver and teal, look.” Daphne makes a scraping motion as if she had a spatula. “I’m supposed to scrape it off.”
  34.  
  35. There isn’t much that Ysidro can do to stop this sort of sport that Daphne, her star driver, is doing to Vikka. It’s good, light-hearted humour, one that he needs now.
  36. For her part, Vikka is playing along, resisting the scaping motion done to her shoulders while putting her head on a swivel. None of the press people--or mechanics--have caught on. This time, she pushes the hands away.
  37.  
  38. “Don’t worry. We’ll just have to finish the race, then once I beat you we can go get some ice cream.”
  39. “Or crash into me at Turn 1 like the iRacing teammates you have,” Daphne replies. "THEN we run away."
  40.  
  41. By this point, even Ysidro is on the lookout. Banter is normal, but his radio is now crackling with chatter. Apparently Sam Stephenson prefers a harder compound. “Then change it. I’ll be on my way back.” He gestures with his hands to the general direction of Daphne’s vision. “Get in, settle in.”
  42.  
  43. Finally, Daphne gets the message. Turning to Vikka, she says: “Right. See you at the podium, Vik.”
  44.  
  45. Vikka sighs, but smiles anyway. The realities of Formula One have once again caught up to the both of them. In truth, Vikka is out of contention, and only ever secured front row after the FIA applied all of the penalties. Daphne, meanwhile, has qualified P1, breaking the track record in the process. It’s a Herculean effort, but with Honda improving every day since the first race it was only a matter of time before the fans and the experts pegged Bieshaar to win the drivers’ championship. “They peaked at the perfect time,'' Peter Windsor said, “and it’s rewarding their best, most consistent driver in the best way possible.”
  46.  
  47. But of course, she still needs to win this race. After all, Daphne didn’t win the first seven races of the season. Martina Saint-Clare did, and she has never dropped below tenth, which means that her Ferrari, despite sitting behind Bieshaar’s car, could still carry a world champion after 71 laps of difficult, dangerous racing.
  48.  
  49. None of that is of any concern to Martina, though. Indeed, her seemingly longing gaze at the scenes unfolding ahead of her has become a talking point to engineer Horatia Luzzini while the tyres are being carted into the steadily-cooling track. She approaches her driver, whose shoulders now drop to a worryingly slack position.
  50.  
  51. “Le gomme sono qui,” Horatia says in her smooth-sounding Italian. “What’s wrong?”
  52. Martina exhales. “E solo quello…” and she points with the open palm of her right hand.
  53. “You think it’s inappropriate?”
  54. “No. Just strange. You’d think Toto or anyone would step in right around now.”
  55. Horatia shakes her head. “I think if anything, he’s letting it go. He knows he failed Vikka, in a way. The least he can do is give her this much space. Besides, it looks like Ysidro is leaving.”
  56.  
  57. With one hand motion, Horatia looks back and orders the mechanics to fit the new tyres on. “Super-soft, as you specified.”
  58.  
  59. “What mystifies me is how Daphne can win races while she looks that distracted,” Martina surmises as she walks towards the cockpit. “How can she shake off all the controversy?”
  60.  
  61. Horatia checks off a box. “There is no controversy, at least to her. She loves Vikka, Vikka loves her, and they’ve been teammates for much of their career. The media is frustrated that they can’t make it an issue, so instead, they focus on the signing. Pundits of all languages tried everything--she’s a turncoat, Ysidro gave her away...”
  62.  
  63. “And if they can downplay even that…”
  64. “Precisely,” Horatia continues. “They wore it like armor, which means no one could use it against them.”
  65.  
  66. Martina must have had enough of the sight because she soon requests for her helmet. “Prendi i miei guanti. I’m going in.”
  67. “Buono. Might as well,” and with that, Horatia checks off the last box. They’re all set. She catches a glimpse of the three, as well as tidbits of their chatter, and soon, the Mercedes mechanics.
  68.  
  69. This is Ysidro’s cue to leave. He’s now well ahead of Daphne, who’s slower to walk away.
  70.  
  71. “Let’s go, Daph!” Ysidro orders.
  72. Vikka, however, isn’t one to miss out. “Wait! I forgot something.”
  73.  
  74. After Daphne makes one step, Vikka suddenly takes her hand, pulling her closer, and gives Daphne a quick little kiss on the cheek. Then she whispers: “Win for me, OK?”
  75.  
  76. Daphne nods quietly, returns the kiss, and runs towards her car to meet her own mechanics who are presently walking towards her car. It’s apparent that she is not able to turn her face away fast enough, but that’s neither here nor there at this point. Vikka knows and understands the need to be in the zone early. Ysidro, along with his brother Dougles Sandoval and Rachel Noy, drilled it into them during their academy years while the veterans were hard at work, driving for feeder series before being recruited by Merlion for their GTE-Pro campaign, where they first struggled, then ruled.
  77.  
  78. Since then, they have enjoyed nothing but triumph, first in Formula 2 on a shoestring budget, then at the Ultracar Cup driving Rimacs, before winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship with Peugeot. Through it all, Ysidro, the team principal, is their number one fan, doing everything he can to keep the team up and running, even if it wasn’t always profitable as a business. Between contract negotiations, supplier woes, investor pressure, and infighting, Ysidro always seems to be on the edge of insanity, which was taken, at first, as a bad omen given his generally calm, composed personality, befitting that of an investment banker born and raised in Singapore.
  79.  
  80. Yet his dedication and belief in the power of winning not only kept Merlion Motorsport financially afloat, but ensured its place in the annals of racing history as the little team that could, and did. He speaks directly with his drivers, treats his staff as though they were family, directly involves himself in production, testing, and always knows how to turn a bad situation around. Vikka admires him, both as team principal and as a confidant. Even if she got cut from the team, Ysidro ensured the best team signed her.
  81.  
  82. Now Vikka is driving for Mercedes-AMG, albeit as a wingman for Esteban Ocon. She’s always known this is what her role is going to be -- Ysidro told her as much. And for the most part, she has done well, with one win and four third-place finishes, often just behind Martina and Daphne. Her training and hard work has paid off, and today, even if she is very much out of the title race, Vikka prepares to fight Daphne on track once more. Before stepping into the cockpit, she catches Ysidro’s glance. He nods. It’s all the assurance Vikka needed. Almost. Once again, she looks to her right. Daphne is in the car, head down in lucid visualization. She’s ready, Vikka thinks, and I better be. One of her mechanics pulls her mind back to reality with a question: “How would you want the MGU boost to go?”
  83.  
  84. “Full power”, Vikka replies. “Map the fuel mix to mode 8. We can take it.”
  85. Next, to her, lead engineer Misha Paulsen is apprehensive. “What about late-race?”
  86. Vikka is adamant as she wears her helmet. “I know. We can take it.”
  87. All Misha can do is run his hand through his hair. “Just be careful. Can’t lose fuel”.
  88. At this point, Ysidro has already reached the garage, making final checks on the garage, patting his mechanics’ backs and talking to Essi Lofgren, Sam’s lead engineer. “Ensure that we can box him later without losing position. If he wants a harder compound, he can get it, but he can’t be too aggressive too early.”
  89.  
  90. Essi quickly sifts through the options, the past strategies they employed. Sam has never finished on the podium all season but consistently scored enough points to keep Honda-Merlion up there with Mercedes and Constructors’ Champion Ferrari, provided useful tow for Daphne, and worked twice as hard to provide valuable data during testing days. She’s made more mistakes that kept the already middling Sam down in the midfield, and Ysidro’s stern look is currently speaking a heavier sermon than the many she’s gotten from him and Daphne’s longtime engineer Freya Coley, her counterpart.
  91.  
  92. “Can’t we just keep him on the same tyre as Daph, then? We are still in range.”
  93. Ysidro, however, is adamant. “The gap should be big enough that we can pit him later and he’d end up in the top 5. We can’t afford to lose him to the back late in the race. That’s what got us in Malaysia.”
  94. “It’s the slower tyre, though,” Essi worries.
  95. “Not by much, and it can last for two laps longer than the ultras.” Ysidro abruptly receives a pat on the shoulder and a query. He responds by pointing his finger outside the garage. “I say let him push the car slightly to keep pace, then wait until the rest of them have pitted. Daph comes in one lap earlier because she’ll be the rabbit. As soon as Daph pits, tell Sam to come in on the next lap.”
  96.  
  97. Once again, Essi ponders, clicking her pen a little more furiously than before. That strategy almost worked back in Catalunya, but Ysidro called for a softer tyre on Sam, not Daphne, a mistake that cost them an entire car when Sam spun out and crashed at the last corner with five laps to go. What they’re doing is the inverse, which could either work marvelously or blow up in their faces again. Essi taps her feet.
  98. Finally, she gets the message. This much is apparent when one gets to see her face at that moment. “So that once he comes out, it’s a 1-2, then?”
  99. “Precisely. That favors us in many ways, mostly because we can let Sam hold them off while Daphne builds the lead. We won in Canada that way.”
  100. Ysidro puts his right hand on Essi’s shoulders. “I know you can nail it. Now go fit the tyres.”
  101. “Aye, captain,” and Essi bolts away to the grid barking out instructions.
  102.  
  103. A similar conversation is bubbling up inside the Ferrari garage at the other end of the pit lane, towards the exit. Only this one is more heated, one-sided, emotional, and uncharacteristic for both parties involved. Amidst the busy gaggle of red shirts working tirelessly in Saint-Clare’s garage, Horatia struggles to hear team boss Luca Ghirga talk, or even keep up with his walking pace.
  104.  
  105. “You can’t just fucking decide that unilaterally. We’re a team, Luca! I thought you--”
  106. Luca cuts Horatia off. “Were better than this? That seems rich coming from someone who ‘took a sabbatical’ because she didn’t like how this team is run. You’re lucky to even be here at all.”
  107. “This is exactly why I took that damned sabbatical, Luca!” Horatia retorts. “People like you, who are breathing on my neck for even the smallest of errors--
  108. This time Luca snaps in anger. “Errors that could cost Martina the title today! Can’t you see, Horatia? They all add up. Now Martina’s tied up with that Bieshaar kid when she should be one race ahead!” The din of the paddock is forcing Luca to raise his voice. Not that he had any intention of going any softer. “And your miscalculations in Monaco and Singapore are to blame.”
  109.  
  110. Luca takes another step towards the motorhome. “You led her here.”
  111. “Oh yes, this is my fault, that’s right,” Horatia says, “because no one else did? I remember your signature on that contract. It was you who started us here.”
  112. Luca’s expression changes, finding the accusation stunning. He turns, shaking his head in disbelief. But just as he starts to close the door, Horatia, who is about to be uncorked but can only clench her stopwatch, tugs Luca’s right arm with her left, her hand gripping tightly at her boss’ wrist. This forces Luca to turn around, and he sees Horatia’s new, emboldened face, a restrained rage that Luca swears (internally) that he’d never seen Horatia ever hold. Her eyes scream bloody murder, yet the rest of her face is still. “You want us to win? Let me call the shots. I’ll give you this win, and I tell you now: it will be the last time I’ll win with this wretched organization,” Horatia says with enough grit in her teeth for emphasis, yet still keeping a serene, soft tone. It is eerie, and Luca feels frosty chill course through his clothes and crawl in his skin. Unlike him, Horatia doesn’t break in disdain as easily, which makes her statement even more terrifying.
  113.  
  114. She has been in talks with Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team principal, after hearing that her sister, Fiona Luzzini, is to be promoted to the A-team. In truth, Horatia’s dissatisfaction with the team has been simmering for two years, ever since Luca insisted on signing Max Verstappen, a move that turned out to be far pricier than management anticipated. He crashed out in the first four races of 2025 and barely clinched the championship by the end. This year, Luca has underestimated Honda, who partnered with the Sandovals’ Merlion Motorsports Group for a factory campaign. They started slow, to be fair, with Daphne having difficulty keeping up with the midfield early in the season. But they gained ground, gradually then at once suddenly rising to fight Red Bull after the mid-season break, and if it wasn’t for Stephenson turning out to be less than what he was initially hyped to be, Honda could be fighting for the constructors’ crown in this race as well.
  115.  
  116. All the while Luca eagerly shows his face to the camera, touting the Ferrari’s power while dodging questions about internal disputes, instead blaming any shortcoming on staff problems or supplier disputes. Horatia, meanwhile, is more honest, yet never let slip that the rift between boss and engineer has reached a point where just one more swing could tear it apart. Instead, she blames herself, taking the flak every time Martina underperformed--something that rarely happened, mind, but Horatia would rather swallow pride while the cameras roll than be seen as a liability. At least she can still fight the board--her father owns a large stake in Ferrari, after all, and he has known the real problem: Luca, a drunk, sniveling braggart, who swindled company profits to help his cronies in Modena, is unfit to lead La Scuderia, and Horatia should take his place.
  117.  
  118. Today, Horatia gets to exert some of this potential to lead as she pulls Luca out of the motorhome’s doorway. “Look at yourself. You can’t even read!” She slams the door shut, and breathes out. Tears begin to form in Horatia’s eyes, yet nothing else about her face changes. Instead, she opens her phone. Fellow engineer Joel Agassi has sent her a message. “Need you in the box pronto.” Horatia peers out of the window. Luca’s gone away. Wiping her eyes, she puts her headphones back on and rushes back to the garage.
  119.  
  120. There are only forty-five seconds left before the formation lap begins. At this point, the tyre blankets come off. All the mechanics and other personnel leave the grid, filling the apron and the walls of the track. Flags billow westward, yet the clouds stay still. The cheers grow three magnitude louder.
  121.  
  122. Freya makes another check. “Last comms check, Daph. Are we clear?”
  123. “Copy”, Daphne responds more chipper than ever. She seems confident, Freya supposes. Good. That means we’ll win. Hopefully. “Can we start the procedure?”
  124.  
  125. “OK, so formation lap, let’s get up to temperature, be mindful of the start.” Horatia, now calmer than before, guides Martina along. “Don’t get between those two, Tina.”
  126. “Understood,” Martina replies. This time, don’t make the same mistake twice.
  127. “If you want, you can switch to Setup 3 on the knob, that gets us a better start.”
  128. “No, no need. Best to let Daph and Vikka tire themselves out.”
  129. Simonsson weaves left and right through Mergulho. Toto Wolff comes on the radio. “Vikka, this is Toto. I grant you full discretion to attack, you gain priority over Ocon today. Bring it home. I know you can.”
  130. Vikka turns her radio on. “Thank you, boss, and I’ll see to it that we win today.”
  131.  
  132. Over 14,000 horsepower thunder past Subida dos Boxes. The drivers begin to form up to their places on the grid. A championship shall be decided today. Daphne Bieshaar is on pole, ready to get as far away from everyone as her Honda RA126 can let her. Vikka-Marin Simonsson, her girlfriend and rival, is next to her on the left, aiming to keep her honest. Martina Saint-Clare is behind Daphne. She knows that Daphne will move left to cover Vikka. The gap to her right will be where she’ll strike. Her teammate, Max Verstappen, is P4. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo is P5. Sam Stephenson, on the harder option tyre, is P6. His fight will be tighter. Essi Lofgren reminds him as much.
  133.  
  134. “We cut through Verstappen then, and hold the Ferraris off, correct?” Sam asks.
  135. “Yes, then we pit later so we’re in front of everyone else,” Essi adds.
  136. “More like behind Daph, right?”
  137. Essi stops. Boss heard this for sure. She becomes stern. “You can fight her by then.”
  138. “Sure,” Sam blurts out sarcastically as he tunes his brake bias to the front.
  139.  
  140. Every driver’s fingers are now on the clutch pedal. The first pair of red lights come on.
  141. Their eyes are locked in to the gate. The second pair of red lights come on.
  142. Both feet hold the pedals firmly. The third pair of red lights come on.
  143. Let’s break this tie now. The fourth pair of red lights come on.
  144. Get ready, Daph. The final pair of red lights come on.
  145.  
  146. With bated breath, the audience will see the start of the 2026 Brazilian Grand Prix, the final race of the season. Everything rides on this one moment. Horatia glances on a monitor. Ysidro pats the heads of both his engineers. This is it.
  147. “It’s light out and away we go, as both Daphne Bieshaar and Vikka-Marin Simonsson get a flying start here at Interlagos--”
  148.  
  149. Martin Brundle cuts David Croft off. “Looks like Vettel may have jumped the start there as Sainz just dropped like a fly, look. ”
  150.  
  151. He has. Sainz's McLaren (at P7)  has spun its wheels, so Carlos sets off sluggishly, losing seven positions in one moment. He is just next to Sam, who complains to Essi about Vettel’s start. Meanwhile, up ahead, Martina is still behind the Honda and Mercedes. Daphne has anticipated the move and stayed on the right, sacrificing position for better coverage. Besides, she can always take Vikka on the outside.
  152.  
  153. Freya Coley’s eyes hover to the telemetry monitor on her right. She didn’t expect Daphne to restrain herself, but gets what Daphne is trying to do. Vikka can hold her position more deftly and for longer than Daphne, but with the Honda being better on the slipstream, Daphne can easily go past the Mercedes on the straight after Descida do Lago. She’s putting Martina in Vikka’s way on the braking zone. That will free her come sector 2. Lines jolt on the screen. Daphne has braked, but only minimally. Keep up, Vikka. She’s counting on you.
  154.  
  155. Vikka did not disappoint. She hangs on to the inside kerb and Daphne’s car, who is now a front wheel ahead past the double apex corner, and gaining fast. Vikka moves ever so slightly to the right, to the middle of the track, as soon as the gap is formed. Martina, exiting Turn 5 while riding the entirely of the wide outside kerb, seizes the opportunity and enables KERS boost. If I can’t get her on the right, I’ll do it on the left.
  156.  
  157. Vikka does not cover the gap to her left, allowing Martina to inch forward until the front right tyre almost touches the Mercedes’ sidepod. Too late. Daphne has covered the line just in time on the entry to Turn 6. She turns in. Vikka follows her line. Martina cannot.
  158. “Was that legal? Was her move legal?” Martina crackles on the radio as she moves down two gears.
  159. “Yes, Tina, that was a good move. Daphne still has position,” Horatia replies.
  160. Martina growls in frustration. “OK, then. Will press Vikka instead.”
  161. “Copy.”
  162.  
  163. Pressure is certainly plenty as both Vikka and Martina speed into Turn 8. Martina brakes later, but not by much, and so she only able to force the car level, never ahead of Vikka. As they enter Pinheirinho, Martina sees Daphne as little more than a toy model exiting the corner. This sight eggs her on. She has the inside line on Vikka. Her exit is compromised. Now! And she opens her e-boost to complete the pass, blocking the Mercedes in the process. “Sensational move early by Saint-Clare there on the inside”, Brundle says on the broadcast. Now where could Daphne be, Martina wonders.
  164.  
  165. Freya pushes a button. “You are now 7/10ths ahead of Martina, she’s just overtaken Simonsson. Repeat, Martina is now second.”
  166. Daphne, beneath the helmet and the balaclava, is surprised. “That early?”
  167. “Yes, but that’s OK, we’re gaining 4/10ths per sector. You got this.”
  168. “Copy,” and Daphne pares down the engine mode. She’s done her first objective.
  169.  
  170. Ysidro breathes easily. With Daphne clear, I can now focus on Sam’s fight. He turns his radio on to Essi Lofgren’s channel and speaks: “Right. Essi, how’s Sam doing?”
  171. “P4 now, .628 ahead of Verstappen.”
  172. Ysidro verifies the stat. The gap remains constant. “Remind him to keep his hands up.”
  173. Essi scribbles some notes on her clipboard. “Aye-aye, captain.”
  174.  
  175. But it won’t be for long. Max is far more experienced than Sam, and is able to take care of his tyres better while keeping an unrelenting pace. As they enter the Senna-S for the second time in this race, Max has slashed the gap by half. Sam checks his mirrors.
  176. I’m losing 0.1s on this tyre, Sam calculates. If I push the car, I’m still a little faster, maybe 0.3s up, but that’s my car, not the tyre. By lap 12 he might just go for it. What are they counting on? Sam begins to sweat as Rosso Corsa fills both of his side mirrors. Verstappen is close enough for DRS. Both drivers open them at the same time. Ysidro, Essi and most of all Sam hold their breath. Both the Ferrari and Honda are equal in straight-line power.
  177.  
  178. You’re not beating me here this time!
  179.  
  180. Sam follows through. He brakes later, almost to the point of locking up, clears Verstappen, and nails the block pass. Once again the Dutch driver is denied. But Sam grits his teeth. The exit isn’t as clean as he wanted it, countersteering to barely miss the kerb. He stands on the accelerator and checks his mirrors again. Max is still behind him.
  181.  
  182. And getting further away from me?
  183.  
  184. Max has overshot his exit, taking the edge of his car’s right-side wheels to the grass. This mistake results in a gap two-tenths of a second wider; nothing significant, but just enough to keep Sam from worrying too much. He breathes. Max ain’t catching me up for long. But should I still push the tyre?
  185.  
  186. This question he now directs to Ysidro’s radio channel. “I think we’re losing a tenth per lap with the option tyre.”
  187. Ysidro, looking closely at the undulating ridges on the telemetry monitors, calmly replies: “We can gain that in the pits. You have longer-lasting tyres so you have more time to push the lead. Once we box you, you’ll come out ahead of Daphne”.
  188.  
  189. And with the gap between Max and I widening, I can still be slightly more conservative, Sam surmises. But what else is Sidro counting on? Max can claw it back, surely.
  190. Sam asks Essi a new question as he approaches Subida. “What’s the gap?”
  191. “You’re 1.2 seconds ahead of Ricciardo,” Ysidro replies.
  192. “Oh, so Max fell off?”
  193. “That’s right, Max is P4 and has a flat spot. He’s losing time fighting.”
  194. Reassuring, Sam thinks. Ysidro’s plan might just work. “Copy,” he responds.
  195.  
  196. Two seconds ahead of him, a different fight ensues. Vikka never really lost time even if Martina overtook her on the opening lap. In fact, 8 laps into the race, she’s only six-tenths behind. She’s chipped away a tenth at a time for six laps, equalling or even surpassing Martina’s lap and sector times. Even James Vowles, the strategist at Mercedes, is quite impressed that she can keep up. But Misha Paulsen is not.
  197.  
  198. He’s always known Vikka is capable of driving like this. She is, after all, Merlion-Peugeot’s top driver, so he’s always found it strange that they prioritised Esteban Ocon for the past two years despite signing arguably F1’s hottest rookie since Martina Saint-Clare signed with Ferrari in 2019. Development for the two seems equal at first, but when it proved that both drivers are on the same level, top brass decided to pour their resources into giving Ocon a better chance. Last year, they came close. This year, Ocon either crashed out retired in nine of the 21 races while Vikka scored five podium finishes, including a win in Germany, results that Ocon cannot match. If it wasn’t for reliability, his driver, the one currently opening DRS to close the gap at Reta Oposta, could very well be champion two races ago.
  199.  
  200. Then again, Daphne and her Honda soon became unstoppable when they got Spec 2 parts installed. Fighting her girlfriend sure helped, huh, Misha reckons.
  201.  
  202. She is 2.7 seconds clear of the other two now, looking after her tyres and ensuring the pace can stay hot enough that it will take either car behind unreasonably Herculean effort to even get close to DRS range. Speaking of--
  203. “OOOH that’s the Mercedes on the inside there, big dive by Vikka at Senna-S,” Croft exclaims as he views the broadcast feed. “She just has to make it stick…”
  204.  
  205. You can’t, Vikka, Martina smirks silently behind her helmet. You don’t have a line!
  206. Then I’ll make one, Vikka retorts, and straightens the wheel by two degrees.
  207. Martina looks left. She’s pushing me off! To compensate, Martina applies throttle.
  208.  
  209. “They’re just alongside at turn 3, this will be a drag race isn’t it?”, Brundle thinks out loud. “Simonsson is dead even with Saint-Clare on the exit…”
  210.  
  211. And both their DRS are open. Narain Karthikeyan posits that this will be a battle of braking--the Mercedes can push further in and later even if it’s down on straight-line power against the Ferrari. But something is amiss.
  212.  
  213. In the rush to straighten out and give Simonsson room, Martina ends up pressing DRS later than Vikka. And that erroneous blink is beginning to look critical. By the time the Ferrari’s wings opened, the Mercedes to its left is a front wheel ahead. And gaining, if slowly, but enough to cover any weave. Now, Martina needs to act fast, and decisively. Can I stop later? Or do I just wait until I get out of the double-apex?
  214.  
  215. Vikka faces the same decision. She’s ahead, but not significantly so, and if Martina feels like she can brake later, she will, even if her car is way on the outside. Vikka glances left. She’s still there!
  216.  
  217. Approaching 250 meters, she cracks on the radio: “Can’t shake her!”
  218. Misha replies instantly: “I think you can; her line isn’t good.”
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