On Friday my manager (who has been my boss for seven and a half years) left the store (and the business) after seventeen years service with them.

It doesn’t feel real yet, but on Monday the reality will begin to set in that he won’t be in charge – that someone else will end up in the big chair, so to speak.

If I were to describe Friday as an emotional day, it would be an understatement. Not only do I regard him as being the best manager I’ve ever worked for, but I regard him as being a good friend too. I always knew where I stood with him, and everything at work was clear and straightforward.

Not anymore.

His departure creates horrible uncertainty. We have a strong team, with great people, and I love them all, but the culture of the company is such that it will drive out the people who work hard and contribute the most to the business. Head office and the area managers operate under the impression that store management have all the time in the world to stand around watching the staff, rather than contributing to things like stock, availability etc. Given how small our payroll is, this is not a reasonable or realistic expectation (especially given all the other tasks we need to do), but the area managers and head office never let realism (or common sense) interfere with expectations.

I think my (now ex) manager has gotten out of the company at the right time. I am extremely sorry to see him go but happy for him too. I aim to escape soon myself.

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Having taken a five point lead following the conclusion of the Italian Grand Prix, I would next face another one of my bogey tracks – Singapore.

Singapore is F1’s only full night race, held on a bumpy street circuit and in sweltering, humid conditions, even despite the time of day. In real F1, this is a test like no other; drivers sweat buckets and endure the vibrations down their backs for two hours (Singapore runs to the maximum length permitted for any race), and have to concentrate from start to finish with barriers waiting to collect them in the event of a mistake.

In 2009 turn 10 had already established itself as a horribly bumpy chicane that would, if not taken right, bounce a car right into a barrier. Recent modifications have reduced the bump considerably, but for my race experience I had to face it.

The first couple of practice laps saw me hesitate a little here and there, not being certain of braking zones and racing lines. With a little practice though, I was more confident going into qualifying than I usually am at Singapore.

I managed pole once again, but spent the first couple of laps behind Vettel and Button, after a slow start. It didn’t take me long to get back past them both, and I was able to eke out a good enough lead so that, by the time the first pit stops were over, I was only a few seconds behind Vettel. I made short work of him and continued to race at a competitive pace.

After the second set of stops I was briefly behind a slow Button, but fresh tyres saw me make short work of him, and by the time of the third and final stops, I was able to emerge still in the lead.

It appeared that I was on course for a seventh win, and I was continuing to extend my lead. All looked good, until lap 51 of 61.

That was when my engine failed.

Needless to say, I was gobsmacked. I wasn’t even annoyed, I was stunned! My first retirement of the season came just as victory seemed guaranteed (and the win would have moved me 8 or 9 points ahead of Button with just three races left).

Button’s fourth place means he now ties me on 94 points, with just three races left!

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Having claimed victory at Spa, the next race venue was a track every bit as famous – Monza, in Italy.

Monza has the highest average speed of any modern F1 circuit – from the Rettifilo Tribune (the main straight) to the fast turn 2 (Curva Biassono) to the Curva del Serraglio (turn 6), everything about Monza is about speed.

This doesn’t mean the track lacks the occasional slow or tight corner – it most certainly does, and this will try and catch you out if you’re not paying attention. Turn 1 (Variante Goodyear) is a snappy right-left chicane at the end of the main straight, and you hit the chicane at over 200 mph, braking hard (and reasonably early) down to about 50 mph in a matter of seconds. Brake too early and you are guaranteed to lose time; too late and you’re taking a trip to the grass.

Turn 3 is a similar experience, requiring the firm application of brakes, but turn 4 can be taken fast, or with only a gentle squeeze of the brakes, and turn 5… 5 needs a little firmness but not much.

Turns 7 and 8 are faster than they look, and it was here that I dare say I made up most of my time on my rivals. In P1 and P2 I was nearly a second clear of the pack, and I owe it to being quicker through here.

Turn 9 is fairly tight on brakes and leads into the fast curve that is turn 10, the final corner. This is a fast curve that sees you drift to the edge of the track – you need to be careful not to touch the grass, or you will spin.

I mentioned that P1 and P2 went well, and so did Q1 and Q2. I was very confident of pole, and in Q3 I set out early, holding pole to begin with. In my complacency, I did not try to better my time.

The result? Button snatched pole by a narrow margin and I had to settle for second.

For the race, I opted for the tried-and-tested three stop strategy, but as with Spa, I went for two stops on soft tyres and only put on my hard boots for the final stint. In P2 I did a simulation run to see how the soft tyres would hold up over time and decided I could get 13 laps out of each set. This would take me up to lap 39 and leave me doing 14 laps at the end on hard tyres.

At the very start of the race I was right on Button’s tail as we approached turn 3, and I tried to set myself up to go around the outside but he bumped into me and sent me wide! However he lost time too and the end result was I got back onto the track ahead of him. I led the race until my first pit stop, where I dropped to fourth and had a brief but exciting drag race with Massa’s Ferrari down toward and around turn 9, where I made the move stick. I then caught the squabbling Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel and weaved between them in the run up to turn 7 to regain the lead.

I would until my second stop, where the AI cocked up slightly. I was scheduled to pit on lap 26, but for some reason my teammate Kubica pitted and I, who had already entered the pit lane, was forced to go around again and pit the following lap. I nearly ran out of fuel and did lose a lot of time – dropping back down to third when I might otherwise have come out in the lead. Still, I would have the lead back by the end of the stops and would complete my final stop with no trouble.

In the end, I won by 23 seconds from Webber, and Button could only manage 5th, sending me, for the first time, into the lead of the championship, by five points, with four races to go!

So I’m doing a number of stomach crunches per day (ramping it up to 60 as of today) and press ups too. Got some weights too, for the arms – so far, I can feel tightness in my upper chest after the press ups, but the abs don’t feel any different, apart from hurting for a short while after exercising but not for long. I think I need to push on with increasing the reps.

The cardio work is largely sorted via walking to work every day, being on my feet all day, and walking home again.

I hope to see visible changes in a few weeks!

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After a woeful Valencia race (from pole to 9th and no points can only be considered a disaster!) I was five points adrift of Button as the game brought us to Spa, the famous venue of the Belgium Grand Prix.

With six races remaining (including this one) I needed to reel Button in quickly. My concern was that Spa would not be my friend (on previous racing games, I have not raced especially well here). The practice sessions were actually quite good, with competitive lap times (including topping P2), and so I went into qualifying with a fair degree of confidence.

Part of my pace here was, I suspect, due to an overly conservative AI braking harder at certain sections of the track. From turns 12-16, I was a lot quicker, as I was lighter on the brakes. This was also true of turns 8 and 9. The famous Eau Rouge complex (a very fast uphill, curved section of track) was another area where I think I was faster.

The result was that I breezed into Q3 (topping Q2 in the process), but then the weather (dry until this point) changed, forcing me onto intermediate tyres in damp conditions.

My worst nightmare! As practice had been dry, I had no idea what to expect from a wet run! Fortunately, I was not only able to maintain my pace, but I pipped Brawn driver Barrichello to pole!

At the very start of the race he nudged in front of me, but I dove down the inside of turn 1 (a formidable hairpin) and, with three of the four stints on soft tyres, I was able to race off into the distance. It was a trouble-free race, a good win, and I reduced Button’s lead back down to just one point, with five races to go!

ValenciaSo, after a brief break, I got back into the F1 groove with round 11 in Valencia.

At the time of writing this, I’ve completed Practice 1 and Practice 2, and I haven’t especially enjoyed the experience. The track has proven to be quite challenging, and to begin with I was more than a second off Button’s fastest time, though toward the end of FP2, I was able to improve.

My initial thought was that the car setup was too conservative. I made changes to try and eke out greater speed, and even tried using setups for other circuits, in a bid to find something – anything – that would see me close the gap on the fastest runners.

Nothing worked, until I realised the car setup was only part of the issue – I needed to change my approach to the track.

At Turn 8, I was tough on the brakes. I was too timid, and losing time as a result. This was also an issue for me at Turn 10 and Turn 12, and to a point, Turn 17. By being a bit braver (and accelerating sooner as well), I was eventually able to get to under half a second of Button’s best lap. It’s fair to say I have a lot of work to do in FP3 – but with a bit of luck I can continue to squeeze the gap on Button by the time I start qualifying.

By a strange quirk, I had to repeat FP2, which was in wet conditions. My pace wasn’t great, but the practice would prove crucial. Qualifying sessions 1 and 2 (which I just scraped through) were dry, but Q3 was wet, and, despite my trepidation about racing in the wet, I found myself managing pole!

The race though, was not great. I looked set for sixth (after running second for a while but with the Red Bulls right on my tail the entire time), but a lapse in concentration saw me suffer some front wing damage on my final stint, seeing me lose pace and ultimately wind 9th, outside the points. My only consolation – Button could only manage 5th, thus extending his championship lead to 5 points with 6 races left!

To mark the New Year, I got to go to work today (and I was there Boxing Day too). I don’t mind working either day, but I have to question the wisdom of having the store open on either day.

Last year, the store was closed on both Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, owing to poor sales the year before. This year, head office, in their wisdom, decreed we should be open on both days, despite the evidence of 2012’s figures.

Unsurprisingly, neither Boxing Day or today were great ones for sales.

It’s pretty obvious to me, a lowly team leader, why being open is futile for us. The company has a sale but, compared to bigger retailers, we don’t shout about it. No one knows what we offer, and where I live, public transport barely runs on bank holidays. Combine this with other retailers running shorter hours (or just not opening), and the footfall drops off dramatically.

Instead, the powers that be decided we had to be open 10-6 both days.

There really is no point in us being open to 6 (or at all). We took just barely £1,000 on both days, so, factoring in the cost of staff wages, heating and electricity, we would have actually run at a loss both days.

And the company wonders why we’re not making a profit. Well, perhaps next time, we won’t pour money down the drain?