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A Surprise at the Portugal Grand Prix

An unlikely finish shocks the racing world

By Henry SmithPublished 3 years ago 12 min read

The early morning streets in Belgravia were empty and there was an eerie calmness to the spring London night. As the limo driver pulled up and stopped in front of the building, it was a moment of relief for the passenger, since he knew his long trip was over.

“We are here, sir. I’ll grab your bag,” his driver, Ali, turned around and stated.

“It’s just the one bag, pop the trunk…sorry, boot, and I’ll grab it myself,” the passenger answered before handing over a £50 note.

Normally Ali would just pocket the cash and wait for his passenger to disembark. It was an interaction they both have gone through numerous times over the years, but this time Ali paused and examined the note for a moment before noticing his passenger watching him.

“Sorry, sir, this is the first time I’ve seen one of the new Alan Turing £50 pound notes. We are living in a time of changes, I guess,” Ali responded before deftly sliding the note into his breast pocket. “Thank you sir. Sorry about earlier, but…” Ali realized when he started to bring up the events earlier that he was out of his lane and starting a conversation that a limo driver shouldn’t have with his passenger, even one he is friendly with, so he just let his response die off and slowly turned around to face the road ahead.

His passenger smiled to deflect this awkward moment. “Definitely a time of change. No worries! I’ll see you next week. Have a good night and kiss Fatima and the kids for me,” the passenger said before getting out of the limo, grabbing his bag, and making his way into the flat.

Upon entering the flat, he tosses his bag on the couch, walks into the kitchen, and grabs a beer from the fridge before returning to the living room and plopping down in a chair. He lets out a long, dejected sigh, turns on the television, and flips through the screens until he finds the shows he recorded. He then works his way through the list, and chooses the latest edition of Redline Racing Weekly recorded a few hours earlier.

The recording starts just after the show begins and the lead-in music ends, before the camera pans in on the two hosts. He could see that they both have huge smiles, are fidgeting with eagerness, and as the music begins to taper off, Nigel Filson loudly jumps into the show’s monologue with an excited voice. A bit overboard with the showmanship at times, but he always liked Nigel and what he has done for the sport..

“If you haven’t seen the weekend’s action in Formula One, you missed out on one of the greatest starts to the racing season that we have ever experienced! The entire sporting world is in shock, and unless you live in a cave, this will be the biggest news today. I have been covering the racing scene since 1975 and this by far has been the wildest start to Formula One I have ever experienced. It’s been hours since the race ended and I’m still in shock.”

His co-host, retired racer Hans Koch, interjects with just as much enthusiasm and in an overwhelming German accent says, “Nigel, we have been talking about this race non-stop since it ended and will probably be doing so for the next week. I think David had better odds facing Goliath than the story here. If you are just coming around to hearing what happened, let’s catch everyone up about this amazing race weekend and what led up to it.” Screw you Hans he thought to himself. He gives good analysis but was an average driver at best back in his day.

Nigel jumps back in. “Starting in the off season, the Ferrari team had made groundbreaking advancements to their cars. In this race, they unveiled their new hybrid engines, which they claimed would increase the thermal efficiency by as much as 15%. It was a huge leap and an incredible advantage. Additionally, Ferrari has installed new infrared tire monitoring technology which allows the pit crew to monitor the wear and track performance of each individual tire. Finally, Ferrari invented a new braking system utilizing hydraulic and air cylinders, which eliminates the friction and heat stress on the rotors. And leading into the season, Ferrari blew the doors off of the rest of the field during testing week and had all of the other teams look like Wile E. Coyote going back to the drawing board. Honestly, it looked like the season was done for the competition’s other 18 drivers before a race had even begun.

Fast forward to the first race of the year and we travel to the beautiful port city of Portimao, Portugal. We start the season on a challenging modern track, a venue with an elevation change baked into its layout that causes a number of problems for many of the drivers. The 4.6-km lap sends drivers swooping uphill and then down into a plunge that leads back onto the straight. It is a track where the car matters, but the driver’s technical skills matter more.”

“I can’t wait, hurry up, man, and let us get to the good part,” Hans butts in, laughing.

Nigel responds, “Oh, it’s coming!” They both have a sarcastic laugh before he continues. “So heading into Friday testing, the fans were finally going to get a look at the new Volkswagen cars and its team. They had signed two of the sport's fastest rising stars—Claus Lauder, the nephew of racing legend Nikki Lauder, and longtime Spanish driver Sergio Macias, who many consider the best driver in the past decade not named Henry Smith.

Then disaster struck the VW team on Wednesday evening when Sergio Macias walked out over a contract dispute. To add insult to injury, both of the team’s replacement drivers tested positive for COVID, and the Volkswagen team had to scramble to find another driver for the Spainard’s vacant seat. In what most people considered a PR stunt where VW could get some positive stories out of this weekend, at the last minute, the team brought in an obscure driver who, despite a slew of success on the Formula 2 and 3 circuit, is relatively unknown. A driver who would be the first woman to race on the modern day F1 circuit. Sophie Lovell Andersen, or “Slay” as she is now called by the overnight deluge of fans following her, in a play on her initials of S.L.A.

Now let’s jump ahead to testing day, where Henry Smith, the man who has dominated the sport for over a decade and was looking to make this race his 150th win on the Formula One circuit, set a blazing test time in the 4th run of the day that should easily put him in pole position. His qualifying laps averaged almost a full second and a half ahead of the pole position qualifying times he set the year before.

Then it was Slay’s turn in the last run of the day. She was met by an empty track with many of those in attendance having disregarded her chances, started heading toward the exits. Also, because the Portamao Track personnel wanted to get a jump on the overnight preparation, they didn’t let Slay run her qualifying laps before they had started breaking down portions of the track that needed to be put away for the evening. And in a move that showed a complete lack of respect to the first-time driver still out on the track, Henry Smith had started his press conference early and all of the media following this race went there instead of watching Slay in the last qualifying laps.

Then the first of the impossible happens. In a text book display of diving mastery, Andersen drives the track like she is latched on to rails. She was perfect in following the correct lines, and in the end she came within three tenths of a second from Henry’s time, a score that would have had her in pole position last year, and putting her in position two for the start of the next day’s race. A feat many would find unthinkable. So let’s go to the press conference when Henry was asked about this.”

As he finished answering a question about one of the newer junior engineers on the team, Henry was interrupted by a reporter in the back explaining to him about what just happened with Sophie Andersen. “Henry, did you just see what happened? The new driver from VW, Sophie Andersen, just came within three tenths of your qualifying time and put herself in position two.”

A big smile formed on Henry’s face, “Did you say position two?”

The reporter answered, “Yes, position two.”

Not picking up on the sarcasm Henry continued with his jab at this reporter. “Why would I worry about someone who finished behind me?” Henry retorted in a snarky and overconfident manner that had the room erupting in laughter and the reporter feeling silly for asking about the newcomers qualifying.”

Hans cuts in, “I can’t take this any more, let’s get to racing day and the juicy events surrounding this incredible start to the season.”

“Right,” Nigel answers. “So we are looking at a perfect day for a race. The stands are packed, the drivers and teams are all hopeful, and it is a clear sky with a high of 28 degrees. We have a legend on the verge of making history and setting a record in Formula One wins. We have the first female F1 driver in the modern age and she ended up turning heads and was nipping at the heels of the all-time great with her performance in the qualifying laps. You couldn’t have planned this day any better.

We go to the highlights of the race, but honestly you could look at all 66 laps as a highlight. Right from the green light Slay challenges Henry and the new Ferrari car by driving into the first curve like she was being shot out of a gun. This was daring and absolutely brilliant driving by the young lady, and if it weren’t for her disadvantageous position at the start, she would have taken the lead right away.”

Hans cuts in, “I was amazed at her aggressiveness. Many newcomers would have shown a veteran driver like Henry Smith too much respect, but I liked the way she didn’t let him bully her and drove against him like he was just another driver.”

Nigel goes back to detailing the race. “And she drove glued to his tail like she was attached to him for the first 21 laps while the rest of the field did nothing to distinguish itself in challenging these two. It’s here, on the 22nd lap where both of them pit for new tires, but the inexperience of the VW team became apparent when they cost her a few seconds with a sloppy exchange. You can even see one of the pit crew members getting his foot run over because of an inefficient pit stop. Fortunately, he was okay and continued for the rest of the race.”

Hans quickly interjects, “Shame on VW for that pit performance. In a close lost race the blame would surely ride on their shoulders.”

Nigel continues, “Back in the action we have Slay now 6 seconds off the lead and she is being pushed from behind by Henry’s teammate, Antonio Fusci, who finally tries to challenge these two front runners. A veteran F1 racer and a driver who always finishes in the top quartile of the driver standings, his surge only lasts for the next three laps before Andersen begins to put distance between herself and Fusci, and before Henry is feeling the pressure from her on his tail again.”

“Look at the way she comes into the straight aways out of the turn that is affectionately known as The Slide. Most of the racers find themselves rubbing their tires on the wall coming out of that turn, but Slay looks like she is riding the exact same line every time, and just off of that wall by mere inches. It’s laser precision and I don’t think she touches that wall once. Amazing!” Hans adds.

Jumping back in, Nigel’s voice begins to quicken and the excitement he is feeling describing this race is bordering on frenetic. “It is back and forth with Slay trying to break her second place running for the entire race so far. But the wily veteran has been able to stay in the lead and brush back her attempts at passing him. Now we are in the waning laps of the race and Henry has been able to maintain his lead throughout the entire race. There is probably no better front runner who has ever competed in the sport, so the chances of Slay passing him were slim to start with and shrinking with every turn.

Then the unthinkable happened. On the final turn going into the 66th lap, Slay started to go high, and when Henry moved up to cut her off, she darted underneath in a classic move — one that is simple, obviously effective, and that you wouldn’t think a highly experienced driver with the accolades of Henry Smith would fall for. And she passes him! She passes him! With one lap to go and Slay running in the front, the normally calm Henry, methodical in his driving style, showed a frantic desperation in trying to recover in that last lap. The prodding and maneuvering she had been doing the entire race seemed to be nothing more than setting him up for this moment. Absolutely brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!” Nigel was shouting toward the end of his piece.

An excited but much calmer Hans gives more of his racing analysis. “Not only did she beat a certified legend, when you add in the fact that she has been able to push the VW car to its limit and tip toe the line to where that car was at the point of failure, all to carry a first time racing team to the podium…it was just one of the most brilliant performances I have seen on the track.”

Nigel begins winding down the recap of today’s race. “You see the VW team is jubilant in their victory and champagne bottles are being popped and sprayed by everyone on the team. It was the most unlikely story one could have come up with in racing, but yet it just happened and we have a new star standing up at the podium. Ladies and gentlemen, if you are like many of us and haven’t heard of Sophie Lovell Andersen before today, well we were just given one hell of an introduction. And if her performance on the track didn’t send shockwaves through the sport, her press conference afterward certainly gave us a lot to talk about. Let’s take a look at what she had to say.”

“Sophie, you are the first woman to compete in modern F1, won the very first F1 race you competed in, drove a new car from a team that has never raced in Formula One, and shocked the racing world by beating a driver who many consider to be the best racer ever to compete. What do you think is going through the mind of Henry Smith at this moment?” the first reporter asked.

Smiling, Sophie pauses, ponders her response, and patiently waits for the noise to calm down before answering. “Why would I worry about someone who finished behind me?”

A phone rings and the TV viewer pauses the show, sees it is his manager calling, and picks up.

“Hello, Henry. I didn’t want to call until I knew you were back in London. Sorry about earlier today. I’m still in shock. I know you were going to surprise everyone and announce your retirement after winning this race. What are your plans now?”

Henry takes a moment, “Well, Marco, I was going to retire because I had grown bored and didn’t feel challenged any more. This girl is the best racing talent I have ever seen and has lit a fire under me. Don’t go calling any of our sponsors to cancel their support just yet I’ve got to get readyt for the Australian Grand Prix. Talk to you again after I’ve had some sleep.”

Fan Fiction

About the Creator

Henry Smith

If I ever denied being a slave to the corporate world, the MBA branded and shackled me into chains of cubicle servitude. For relief, I’m a walking heavy bag when I spar in kickboxing or dream of being John Wick at the gun range.

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