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F1 Testing, Indycar season opener and Sebring 12 hours

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 83 -

JT – It’s been almost two months since the 2017 racing season got underway in earnest with the Daytona 24 Hours and our last blog. Since then there has been more sports car racing including last weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring, the IndyCar season opener. In Formula One, the focus has been on off-season testing.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicked things off for IndyCar a little over a week ago. The racing was generally good with surprisingly little contact and a lot of green flag running.

Scott Dixon was well positioned, running second to James Hinchcliffe when a full course caution was called for debris on track following contact between Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin on Lap 26.  Scott, like others in the front running group, had remained on track after the window for pitting early opened on Lap 14.

A group at the back of the field including Simon Pagenaud and Sebastian Bourdais opted to pit early. When the yellow flag flew, this group gained a slew of positions as those who hadn’t yet pitted came in for fuel. Scott had to fight hard to pass his way back up the order, ultimately finishing in 3rd position.

The caution was obviously frustrating but on the whole a 3rd place finish at St. Petersburg- a course that has not been kind to Scott in the past - is positive. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Every time you have a closed-pit rule when there’s a full course caution, you’ll end up with the same problem. The race often falls into the lap of guys who started at the back or are running at the back as they have more freedom to roll the dice in a situation like that, and the guys up front are basically screwed. It’s just part of the game in IndyCar or any other series using the same rules. On the whole though, it tends to even out over the course of a season.

It’s frustrating at the time for the guys who get caught out, and especially if you know you have a winning car, which was definitely the case for Scott. His car was really fast all weekend, in every session and the race. None of the guys who were on the same strategy as him finished in the top ten positions. Interestingly, no one – not even the media – seemed to notice but I think he drove one of his best races ever. He had to save fuel for most of the race after the second caution and his first pit stop to get onto a different strategy. As usual, he managed to stretch his fuel for a lap or two compared to the other competitors and he was still passing cars along the way. He literally drove his way back up to 3rd, by going faster than the guys in front.

JT – Overall, St. Petersburg turned out well for the Honda teams. Seven of the top ten finishers were in Hondas. It looks as if the Honda engine/aero package has made some gains though there are still some tracks where it will be at a disadvantage.

SJ – Yes it went well although St. Pete hasn’t been that bad for Honda in the past. It’s interesting that people have noticed how well the Hondas did but Ganassi was pretty much the quickest Honda team overall through the weekend. That would lead you to conclude that had Honda had Penske or Ganassi as one of their teams in the last couple years there’s a good chance they would have had a lot better results over that period.

The Honda package should work fairly well at Long Beach but at certain tracks the Hondas don’t seem to have a chance to win. It’s just the way the aero is at the moment. But the engine is by all accounts better than the Chevrolet.

The Ganassi guys think they’ve found a reasonably good balance between mechanical and aerodynamic grip that seems to work well on the street and road courses. But at places like Phoenix where you’re basically flat through the entire lap there is not much that can be done, the drag vs downforce is what it is, and they are definitely at a disadvantage. On the other hand, the super speedways seems to give the Honda cars a slight advantage as we saw in Indianapolis last year for example.

JT – With St. Petersburg in the rear view mirror, Scott headed down to Sebring for last weekend’s 12 Hours. The race was competitive in most of the classes – again with surprisingly little contact and few caution periods.

The Cadillac DPis and the teams that run them – Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express – proved to be the class of the prototype field again just as they were at the Daytona 24. In GTLM, Ganassi’s Ford GTs had a numeric advantage but finished behind the #3 Corvette.

Scott finished in 4th place in GTLM, driving with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook. Porsche looked very strong as well, particularly after night fell but a mistake in the pits put an end to the #911 challenge in the closing stages.

Meanwhile, Riley Team AMG scored the biggest win yet for the Mercedes AMG GT3 with their run to the front of the GTD class. Scuderia Corsa had a good race as well finishing 2nd just behind them.

What are your thoughts on the race?

SJ – Overall, I think it was a very good race. The new prototypes definitely look great on-track and they sound great. The Cadillacs were good and their teams are very good and definitely make a difference as well.

The Ganassi cars couldn’t stay with the Corvette or the Porsche but I think that comes down to a little more than the change in temperature at night. It was plenty cold during practice earlier in the week and they didn’t show their speed. Somehow they managed to find some extra speed towards the second half of the race and there was no way for the Ford’s to catch the Corvette at the end.

With the Ferrari (Scuderia Corsa) we had a pretty decent race finishing 2nd. It looked like we could win it for a while but we didn’t quite have the pace of the Mercedes there at the end either.

JT - As always, it’s hard to pin down form in F1 following pre-season testing but the on-track action in Barcelona gave us an impression of the new-for-2017 cars’ appearance and a few clues as to which teams may be improving and which may not. What are your thoughts on what we’ve seen so far?

SJ – Predictably, as we mentioned before the launch of the cars, they all look pretty much the same with minor variances here and there. That’s just the way it is now because the regulations only allow teams to work within in a small window.

It’s very interesting considering these are completely and quite different rules from before, and we have to assume that none of the teams had any chance to know what the others were doing. Yet again, all the cars look almost identical apart from some different solutions to the various aero philosophies different teams have applied. There are the T-wings and shark fins but those are little nuances, not exactly ground-breaking stuff and most of it has been done before in various ways over the years. That kind of development is to be expected if it’s allowed within the rules.

When you look at these new cars and the new rules, you have to ask, why? Was it really necessary to have these new rules? The cost of creating these new cars is mind-boggling for every single team. I’m not sure what the exact reasoning was for these new rules to be put in place to begin with and I’m not so sure anyone else really does.

Was it because the racing was not exciting enough, did they think the old cars were too slow. Did they not like the look of the cars? Were they too easy to drive?  Whatever the reason, I don’t think these new rules have been particularly well thought out. They feel like another band aid solution to some knee jerk reaction based on a few minor issues rather than a big picture solution to the complete philosophy of what a modern F1 car should be.

Performance is always difficult to gauge from the early tests but everyone I’ve spoken to who has been in Barcelona seems to agree that Ferrari looks impressive regardless of how much fuel or what tires they’re running. Apparently the car looks planted in most conditions. It would be great if they’ve caught up with the front runners, but I think Mercedes is still the standard despite some difficulties in getting up to speed in the testing.

As always, we won’t know for sure until after Qualifying in Melbourne. But I have a feeling it could become a closer battle between the top 3 than we have seen in recent years.

JT – There have been a number of stories in recent weeks about Ross Brawn’s efforts to “fix” Formula One as Liberty Media’s motorsport director. He’s even suggested a “non-championship round” recently that would allow teams and the series to experiment with the racing format and approach.

Obviously there are sporting and technical suggestions which Brawn can make but unless I’m mistaken, he is not the FIA and it’s the FIA that makes F1 rules. It almost seems as if some people imagine that Brawn can shape and manage the series on his own. Do you have a similar perception?

SJ – Well, the hope would be that he can bring some clarity and sense back to the way F1’s rules are written. The way it is now, the engineers have taken over the show. The rulebook is so complicated that no one except the engineers are capable of understanding it. It’s time to simplify everything and if anyone is capable of doing that it’s Ross. So hopefully his influence will eventually show some positive results.

It would be nice if he could be the sole person responsible for shaping the rules and also to enforce them. He would obviously need a well-rounded team of people to support him but it would be a much better solution than this strategy group that currently exists. They don’t seem capable on agreeing on anything of any importance.

It’s a strange situation at the moment, typically it’s the FIA that write the rules but now F1 has this democratic process which is the strategy group. The teams apparently have an equal number of votes to FOM and the FIA to determine the rules. But no one in F1 management or the FIA can read even the first five pages in the rulebook because it’s so complicated that they just glaze over. They put it down and say, “yeah fine” and then just let them get on with it. 

I have spoken to several very competent engineers and designers that have also had the opportunity to read the rulebook and they all agree, it’s so complicated that most of them just give up.

That’s what it’s come to and things are just sort of spiraling in a vicious circle. When teams have to employ over 100 aerodynamicists to design and develop a car, you know something is seriously out of whack.

Ross is the perfect man to get a handle on this democratic process that’s gradually crept into the system and I am sure he will put together the team of people he’s been talking about that will create a sensible and coherent plan going forward that will make both the cars and racing more exciting and interesting to watch.

JT – In addition, last week Brawn suggested that F1 should have a group of experts examine ways to improve overtaking on-track.  He mentioned a “state-of-the-art CFD project” to study an aero concept where cars with high downforce would be capable of running close together.
This sounds needless, unrealistic and like a fantastic way to waste money and time. As you’ve said so often, diminishing downforce and emphasizing mechanical grip is the simple, cost effective way to improve overtaking.

SJ – F1 has been through this over and over again but it’s pretty obvious what they need to do. As a basic rule of thumb, if you have half the grip or more on the cars coming from aerodynamic downforce you’re always going to have turbulence that makes overtaking more difficult. It’s inevitable and I don’t see how you can find a way to eliminate the wake behind the cars if you rely this much on downforce.

JT –Apparently F1 viewership dropped to a 12-year low in 2016 in the U.K. – F1’s business and spiritual home. This was despite a popular British driver – Lewis Hamilton – battling for the championship.

SJ – I did see that story too. However, I don’t think it’s just F1 that is losing viewership. Most sports are struggling to hold on to the eyeballs. There is just so much competition out there for things to engage in, the battle for any sport is to figure out how to capture the younger generation.

In racing, the fans just seem to get older and the loyal followers F1 has had for years are gradually losing interest for different reasons. One main reason in my opinion is that it’s just become too clinical and over regulated. It’s complicated even for people like myself in the business who are passionate about it and live and breathe it every day. So I can’t imagine what it must be like for the fans.

I am not qualified to comment on what exactly needs to be done to change that and bring not only the viewers we’ve lost but more importantly the new generation of viewers that is vital to the future of motor racing. But one thing is almost obvious and that is that we need to make the racing exciting and interesting again.

For me, I’d rather hear a lot more noise about the human drama of F1 - the drivers. They are the heroes people want to cheer for and should be highlighted as the gladiators they should be. If F1 isn’t being followed in the U.K., which is the heart of racing, you know there’s something wrong.

JT – Speaking of Lewis Hamilton, he recently confirmed what you’ve been stressing for almost a year now. Following testing he said that being behind the new, higher downforce 2017 cars is much more challenging. The turbulence or “wash” from the rear of the cars is worse than ever. Hamilton says passing will certainly be more difficult.

SJ – The aero package certainly doesn’t seem to have solved any of the issues related to turbulence. I don’t know how things will shake out but I’d be shocked if drivers’ ability to pass is improved. I can’t see how that’s possible with these rules.

Anyone with even a basic understanding of how a racing car works could have told them this. Any engineer I have spoken to who’s been around for a while says the same thing. There will be no way to overtake with these cars.

It makes you wonder who are the actual people who created these rules? I have not seen one individual name mention as the leader or responsible for this group. It’s like a big gray entity that suddenly came up with these rules and everyone just seemed to agree to go with it.

JT – Stories have come out nearly every day during testing of McLaren-Honda’s woes, particularly their difficulties with Honda’s power unit. There may be some exaggeration but they do seem to be in a bit of a pickle. The relationship between McLaren and Honda seems strained and what I’ve heard from people knowledgeable about the team suggests that it’s in a bit of disarray.

SJ – Yes, they obviously still have some problems to overcome with their engine and the situation in general is probably as challenging for them now as it was last year at this point, maybe more challenging. That’s not a great place to be in but we’ll see.

They definitely have some work to do. I don’t know enough about the details to comment either way, but it’s obvious they are way behind any targets they had set for the testing. It’s a very bad situation to be in at this stage of the game, as any major changes are virtually impossible once you have decided on the architecture of the engine and the philosophy on how you’re planning to develop it. It will no doubt be a very long and tough season for them.

JT – As the off season has progressed, I’ve noticed a number of drivers speaking out about various aspects of racing in the modern era. Their comments are very interesting and give insight to the behind-the-scenes grind of racing these days.

In the blog on his website Benoit Treluyer (www.benoittreluyer.com) says he’s been reveling in being a part of the Andros Trophy. The ice-racing series is a fixture on the winter racing calendar in France and draws many well-known drivers. He says racing in the series was a “breath of fresh air” after having competed with the now defunct Audi LMP1 squad for several years.

Treluyer stressed that driving isn’t always the major part of the job when racing with a top manufacturer like Audi. Many other tasks, from writing reports to briefings/debriefings, meetings, etc, consume a driver’s time. He added that the style of racing a hybrid LMP1 car can be rather “metronomic” as well. In contrast, he found ice racing in the Andros Trophy freeing and fun.

You’ve been in that manufacturer environment with the biggest teams in the world. What are your thoughts on Benoit’s comments?

SJ – He’s absolutely right, there’s no question that it can simply become a “job”. The bigger the operation, the smaller the driving part of the effort can be. You want to be as professional as you can but yes, it can be mind-numbing sometimes, the amount of reports and briefings, and on and on. There are so many layers of engineers and departments within a manufacturer team nowadays. And when you work for a manufacturer there is typically a lot more development work involved as they make almost everything themselves, whereas when you drive for a private team it’s more just dealing with the engineers on basic set up rather than development.

Both F1 and LMP1 is almost the same now. Everything is so thoroughly prepared and with more and more applications of engineering, the less important the driver becomes. That’s why the only really fun and interesting races are generally when the weather plays havoc and there are unpredictable circumstances that neither the engineers nor the drivers can prepare for beforehand.

That’s why when a lot of the drivers that come to America to do IndyCar or other series – it’s such a breath of fresh air for them. It’s very pure in comparison. The tracks are a lot better because they’re old school, rough circuits which makes them much more interesting and challenging. That gives them character.

They’re not all the same boiler plate modern-type circuits and each one of them have their own nuances that you need to figure out to get the last bit of speed out of them. The ideal line is not always the fast way around these places. That’s where “driving” comes into play in a completely different way, where a driver has to adapt and figure out what to do.

And most important of all, if you screw up, you’ll get punished because there’s not a half mile of run off area with smooth asphalt but instead either a barrier or a sandtrap which in both cases mean your race is generally over. Take a track like Sebring for example– if you repaved it, it would be the most boring track in the world but as it is, it’s one of the best tracks in the world.

Everyone that goes to do Super Formula in Japan loves it for the same reason as Indycar, because it’s pure hardcore, really tough racing with very good cars on a variety of really great race tracks.
I agree 100 percent with Treluyer. I see exactly where he’s coming from. You become like a journeyman when you drive these LMP1 or F1 cars because there’s so much other stuff aside from the driving that plays a big role in how you get on. You have to fit in with a corporate culture and do things that take a huge amount of your time.

That said, some drivers love it and though it sounds funny to say, some of them can sometimes be better at that part of the job than driving, and seemingly it works because they stay employed for several years in many cases.

JT – Another aspect of the current racing landscape that is less than ideal was directly addressed by Nicolas Armindo recently. Armindo, best known for his success in racing GT cars, announced his retirement earlier this month with a frank comment.

“I’ve only lived for motorsport but I no longer want to fight against the system,” he said.
Armindo’s remark directly addressed the difficulty the Gold-rated driver has faced in finding a competitive ride due the FIA ratings system now in place and the Balance of Performance format now prevalent.

“There are too many Gold drivers that no longer have rides,” he said. “Gold drivers are being asked to pay for a ride and Silvers are being paid. The system in place is discriminatory and arbitrary.”

He further added, “How can you ask a driver not to go too fast early in the season so the manufacturer is not penalized by BoP?”

We’ve discussed the driver ratings system before and its drawbacks, and the BoP. What do you think of Armindo’s remarks?

SJ – I agree, definitely. Every time you try to create artificial rules or regulations this is what happens.

And though the current ratings system would work in my favor if I wanted it to, especially being a Bronze driver now, it’s a completely unfair system, completely unfair. Before the ratings system there never ever used to be a problem.

Teams that wanted to win would simply hire the best drivers they could afford to give them the best chance of winning. On the other hand, the teams that just wanted to be there to fill the grid and be part of it, they would take a paying and less fast driver and it always worked itself out. Now, it’s completely unfair that good professional drivers – really good drivers - can’t get a drive because of this ratings system.

Instead, teams now scour the earth to find a karting champion who’s 16 years old and hasn’t been graded yet, and Gold or Platinum drivers instead have to find money. The thing is that the Bronze or Silver drivers become the most important ones as the difference between all the Platinum or Gold drivers in the field may be 5-8 tenths per lap.

The difference between a really good Silver, or even more Bronze driver and a not so good one, can be several seconds. So they become by far the most important cog in the wheel to win. It’s completely backwards, the whole system. They should just get rid of it. I’ve said that from the moment they came up with it. Let the driver market happen organically like it used to happen. There was never a problem before.

An important point in all of this is that almost every single race car today is too expensive to run. With all of the electronics they have, with all of the systems it takes twice, maybe three times the amount of people just to run a car now. Manpower doesn’t come for free. The cars are much more expensive to manufacture, and the cost of spares are through the roof in comparison to what it used to be. What happens is that all the money a team can generate is now absorbed in running the team, hence there is very little left to pay a good driver.

The truth is that drivers today outside the top level of Formula One or maybe NASCAR make less money than they did 20 years ago. In some cases you’re lucky to even make any money at all as a professional driver. The system is really screwed up.

In sports cars, LMP3 is a great example of how a less expensive formula should work. It’s a comparatively very affordable category with reasonably priced cars where you can run a full season for $500,000-$600,000.

And look what’s happening. The LMP3 grids are full. You can’t even get an entry. Next year there will be about 150 LMP3 cars sold around the world. That should tell you something. On the flipside, an LMP1 prototype budget is over $200 million per year in an effort to win Le Mans and that should tell you something else.

That’s just as ludicrous as it is for an F1 team to spend half-a-billion dollars per year. It’s crazy, and as a result we now have only two teams running LMP1 who are capable of taking the overall win at the Le Mans 24 hours and more than a handful of F1 teams running on fumes before the season’s even started. Not a good situation.

Unfortunately, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. When you create new technology and knowledge, you can’t just erase that. That means it’s always difficult to control costs. People will always find another way to recover performance. But some simple reforms need to be made.
As an example, a one car IndyCar budget for a season equals just the brake budget for one of the top F1 teams!

But going back to the ratings system, another way to think of it is that everyone reaches their limit as a driver - the limit of how good they really are. That’s gone now. There are guys who literally shouldn’t even be on the grid in sports cars who are there because of this ratings system while pros can’t get a job. Even in F1 you have half the grid there because the drivers can bring money. It’s a mess.

JT – In the WEC, Toyota recently said that if there was any reduction in the scope of hybrid technology for LMP1 in the coming years, they would be unlikely to continue in the championship. LMP1 is declining and as we’ve discussed costs must be reduced for the WEC as a whole and the P1 class if it’s to survive. Dialing back the massive cost of creating complex hybrid drive systems would help. But apparently the manufacturers aren’t that interested in cost reduction if that means they can’t use the series for development.

SJ – It’s a repeating problem in several championships. They become slaves to the manufacturers and that affects every other part of a series. It’s the same old double-edged sword. It’s great to have the manufacturers because they spend money and promote the championships but simultaneously they make the racing so expensive it pushes out other competitors.

I’ve said this for a while now and I’ll say it again. In my opinion the best thing they could do is scrap LMP1. There are only two teams now and who cares? They should do away with the prototypes altogether and instead un-restrict the GT cars and get rid of theBoP (Balance of Performance). That would give them 200-250 more horsepower immediately, even with their road car powerplants. The Ferrari has over 200 more horsepower as a street car than it does as a Le Mans car and it’s far from the only GT car that has much more power than the racing version of the same car.

If you gave the GTs that kind of power and some wider tires, maybe by two inches wider front and rear, and a little more aero, they would be doing 3-minute-30-second laps around Le Mans in no time. That’s seems to be the sweet-spot where the ACO wants the speed to be.
That way you would have a whole field of really fast GT cars which effectively could be purchasedas customer cars by any team – the same car as the factory teams use – and it would be like it used to be with the Porsche 956s for example. There used to be three factory cars and 25 privateers running 956s.

You would still have the factory teams that would be a bit faster than the customer teams but not much. Nothing like we have now where there are two teams that are more than 10 seconds a lap quicker than the next competitors. Every manufacturer would have to build a car that’s homologated, like the Ford GT.

There would be a wait list for every road car version of the same car they’re racing, just as it is now with the Ford. No BoP. Every manufacturer would have to build the best car they could to fit the rules and not slow down the rest of the cars to make the field even - may the best man win!

LMP1 may die a natural death anyway with expenses and other concerns for the current manufacturers at the moment. If the GTs were brought forward I think you’d have eight to ten manufacturers wanting to participate. And if they’re GT cars, I think you attract a whole different and much larger fan base.

Bernie Ecclestone leaves F1: the End of an Era

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 82 -

JT – The New Year is underway and as the Rolex 24 have just kicked it off, we begin another season of the #SJBLOG.

We’ll continue to discuss all that is fun, fantastic and occasionally frustrating on the global racing stage. We invite you to join us for what should be a very interesting year in Formula One, IndyCar, sports car racing and more.

Times are definitely changing in F1 with the ownership transfer of the series to Liberty Media and the departure of Bernie Ecclestone as F1 CEO. It’s the end of an era and the beginning of something different. Opinions on Ecclestone’s reign vary but two things are certain:

Bernie pushed the series forward to new heights and is the one person most responsible for what F1 has become in the modern era. He also the only leader the overwhelming majority of the F1 paddock has ever known – a figure central to the environment in which teams, drivers, circuits and manufacturers have functioned for decades. What are your thoughts on Bernie’s exit?

SJ – Well, it was to be expected of course with the new ownership but it’s still a very major end of an era. Since any of us can remember Formula One has been synonymous with Bernie. It seems like nothing in modern times in almost any capacity has ever happened without his involvement. Teams, drivers, promoters, TV, you name it – every little detail and every brick in that business has been laid by him.

It was a weird feeling when I first heard of the announcement and talking with other friends from Formula One it seems that everyone agrees that it’s kind of sad, he’s been like a grandfather to all of us. The change is definitely a big deal. I can’t think of anyone in the paddock now who was there before Bernie. It will be very interesting to see what happens. Personally I feel that Liberty might have been better off by keeping Bernie on-board for a few more years and ease into the ownership by learning or studying how things got done rather than cutting the cord and starting with a clean sheet right away. If I had the opportunity to work next to what is arguably one of the best deal-makers in history, not only in F1 but in general, I would certainly jump at the opportunity. The devil is always in the detail and Mr. E was the only one in that organization that had an intimate knowledge of every little detail. Those are some big shoes to fill for sure.

JT – Indeed they are. Liberty Media has a fairly impressive team. Chase Carey is now CEO while ex-ESPN executive Sean Bratches will direct the commercial side of the series. Ross Brawn returns to F1 with Liberty in charge of the sporting side of the series as managing director, motor sports. 

SJ – I think it’s great that they’ve gotten Ross involved on the technical and sporting side. You couldn’t find a better guy as he’s probably the only designer or engineer that also has a very clear and deep understanding of the business side of F1. Hopefully he will be able to simplify many of the things that have gotten far too complicated over the past years.

On the other hand, there’s been a lot of talk that everything needs to change. But I don’t think anyone really has the answer whether it’s on the digital side, the sporting side or the commercial side. What is the actual answer to all of this?

It may be easy to recognize what’s wrong but fixing it all is something else. That’s the critical part going forward. I’m not underestimating the people at Liberty Media. They’ve been extremely successful in everything they’ve done. And they’ve have already been smart enough to surround themselves with good people so one would hope that the right decisions will be made.

But I believe F1 is at a stage right now where if you make another two or three wrong decisions in important areas I don’t know how much longer it will be interesting or relevant for the fans - or for the teams too for that matter. Aside from the manufacturers, every team is on the limit financially already. With new rules again for this year the costs will certainly not go down, most likely they will increase yet again as all the teams had to start with an almost clean sheet as far as the chassis go.  How do you control the costs? There are so many different aspects and at the same time you may not want to do too many things. Ross has already talked about a 3-5 year plan on the technical side, and that’s a good sign for sure. But then there’s all the other commercial aspects of the business that needs to be dealt with. I don’t think anyone truthfully has the correct answer or the right way forward in this area simply because things are changing at such a high rate today. It’s very tricky to say the least. All sports are dealing with the same problems, people were quite happy to sit through a 2-3 hour sporting event in the past, because it was the only game in town, not so anymore, except for the very big events like the Superbowl or the Soccer World Cup for example.

JT – Chase Carey made the comment that he wants every race to turn into a “Superbowl” with the event starting the week prior to the Grand Prix. Do you think there is enough interest in some of the markets to make this work?

SJ – We have two very definite Superbowl equivalents in Motor Racing already, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hours, they are both massive events. Monaco probably falls into the same category although they can’t pack in the same amount of people due to the sheer size of the venue as they do at Indianapolis in particular.  I don’t know how well they have studied each individual market but in some other places it is already like a Super Bowl kind of atmosphere. The build up is starting very early and the entire City comes alive when the GP comes into town. Montreal for example is a great example of this, there’s an incredible atmosphere there, Singapore, Monaco and some others too. But there is generally a common denominator in all these cases and it’s the location of the track. If the track is located in a major city or very nearby it sort of just happens organically. But, when you have to drive for an hour or more and the hotels near the track are spread over a 100 mile radius it’s difficult to get a Superbowl atmosphere because there is no focal point. And this is the problem with a lot of the venues on any racing calendar. Indycar is exactly the same, all the city races are huge, with large crowd and great atmosphere. As for the TV numbers I am not sure they would get anything close to what they have for the Super Bowl if there was one every two weeks in F1. It’s a completely different thing and maybe that’s partly what’s lacking in F1. Monaco is for sure more prestigious to win than any other Grand Prix, but it’s nowhere close to Indianapolis or Le Mans in terms of the amount of spectators or the build up beforehand.

JT – In comments earlier this week, Liberty commercial chief Sean Bratches outlined four areas that the organization will prioritize to improve the sport. The third concerns the approach Liberty will take to managing the series.

“The third is creating a much more democratic approach in terms of how we approach our partners – from teams/sponsors/promoters and rights holders. There is a lot of opportunity to leverage the F1 IP to integrate it to their businesses,” Bratches said.

Given the view you’ve often expressed about the inefficiencies that result when F1 is ruled “by committee”, what do you think of Liberty’s notion of a “much more democratic approach”?

SJ – If you look at any championship that’s been run like a democracy, it’s failed. I think that’s true of most sports in general. I think there will be so many opinions that, again, it will be hard to get things done. But this is the “romance period” for the new establishment. We’ll see how it goes. Since F1 implemented a somewhat more “Democratic” approach through the Strategy Group there seems to be more confusion and more complicated rules every year. So far, they have not accomplished anything that has made F1 better as far as I’m aware. I absolutely think they need to get away from this Democratic approach and instead put together a small team of individuals that are highly respected by their peers, that understand the different aspects of the business and are completely independent from the pressure of running a team or promoting a race or anything else that will give them a biased view of how to run the business. You then need to let them get on with formulating a plan to go forward. If they let everyone have their view on every single matter it will end in disaster just as we’ve seen in so many other series and sports for that matter. I don’t think the guys at Liberty has any idea of what’s in store for them when it comes to dealing with the teams in particular. The best analogy would be to use the famous quote from Ron Dennis when Eddie Jordan entered F1 back in the 80’s, “Welcome to the Piranha Club”. Nothing has changed since then and that is exactly what they can expect.

JT – Drivers have now started to opine that the new 2017 cars will not only be faster but much more physical to drive with higher loads to be withstood. That’s why many have said they have stepped up their off-season physical training. In addition, many including current and former drivers are finally acknowledging what you spoke out about half a year ago - namely that the increased downforce of the 2017 cars may actually make passing even more difficult in F1.

SJ – Unless I’ve completely missed something, I can’t see how the new cars will make the racing better. I’d love to be proven wrong, seriously, but I don’t understand how it’s possible.

It was already difficult enough to pass in recent years because braking distances are already so short. With the current cars they are almost in the corner when drivers hit the brakes. They are now talking about a 40kph increase in cornering speed with most likely even slower straight-line speeds due to increase in drag from the added downforce, which means they will literally be in the corner when they brake. Unless I’m mistaken, braking into a corner is generally where most passing takes place, unless you’re on an oval track and you can run multiple lanes. Maybe these cars will have so much grip that they can run two lanes. That’s the only way I can see any passing happening.

Your exit speed from a corner will be completely irrelevant because, relatively, there will be so little acceleration taking place with a 40 kph higher exit speed on average. That means your acceleration will be even less than currently from corner exit to the end of a straight.

Apparently the FIA has already informed the track owners that they will have to modify the run off areas in some places due to the increase in cornering speeds. In fact, what is happening is that the cars have now outgrown nearly every track. With such an increase in grip and cornering speeds there is virtually not one challenging corner left on the calendar. The engineers are already talking about several corners or sections on many of the tracks being straights, as in there will be no lifting or braking as it used to be before. For example, I expect Eau Rouge at Spa to be flat on the second lap out in first practice, it will literally hardly be a corner anymore. The only place where a driver will be able to make any difference in the lap times will be in the low speed corners, and it will be even more about technique and just hitting your marks than it already is. Bravery and being able to “hang it out” won’t enter into the equation anymore.

JT - All this talk about the drivers having to be super fit this year, what are your views on that?

SJ - I don’t think it will be anything near as hard as everyone thinks or is talking about. By the time they get to the first race they will all have gotten used to it. They’re certainly not going to pull more Gs than what an IndyCar already does on an oval track. And the guys in IndyCar don’t complain too much about that. All of this is completely blown out of proportion in F1 as far as I’m concerned. The other thing is that the Indycars don’t have power steering so they are way more physical to drive than an F1 car will ever be to begin with.

In any race car these days you’re literally glued into the seat. The only things that should move are your arms and anything from the knees down and maybe your core to some degree. But your head is literally stuck in one position now because the head-rest surrounds you and you have the Hans-Device. I don’t see what the fuss is all about.

When your head was sitting a foot above the cockpit like it used to be, you really had to use your neck muscles to hold it up. Now you just brace against the head-rest and you’re fine. And in F1 it’s still nothing like the oval in Phoenix in an IndyCar for example, where you race with monster Gs lap after lap for 200 laps.

And generally speaking I think all drivers today are very fit to begin with, much fitter than they used to be and they have much more sophisticated training methods and better diets. I don’t think we will hear a word about the physical aspect after a couple or races.

JT – Valtteri Bottas has been confirmed as Nico Rosberg’s replacement at Mercedes GP since last we talked. Mercedes made quite a few deals to bring him to the team. What’s your view on his potential?

SJ – Signing him was the obvious thing to do, I guess. We’ll see how it goes but now it’s time for him to shine and become a real superstar, or fall by the wayside if he’s not able to match or beat Lewis. It’s the same for all of these guys in mid-pack teams. It’s easy to be a kind of underdog and do a great job and be recognized every time you do a good job and succeed.

And when on occasion you do an average job, it’s still ok. If you have an “off” weekend, finishing 7th instead of 4th – which has certainly been the case more than once for Bottas – it’s not that big of a deal. When you’re in Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari or McLaren, you’re not allowed to have an “off” weekend. In a top team there’s a completely different dynamic. You better be on your A game in every race and every practice session. If you’re not people immediately start to ask, “What’s wrong with him?”

They say you’re “finished” and this and that, and the media is all over you. The team is on you, everybody’s on you all the time. You’ve got to be at the highest level every time you step into the car. I think that will be the biggest eye-opener for Bottas. He is no doubt a super talent but trying to beat Lewis every time out won’t be easy for anyone in the paddock, we have already seen that with Alonso, Button and Rosberg. All those guys are the best in the business.

JT – Adrian Newey and Red Bull Racing seem to be more optimistic heading into the 2017 season, declaring that Renault has made progress with its power unit and that the Red Bull chassis - already well developed – will benefit from it.

SJ – I think Red Bull will be the biggest challenger to Mercedes. I don’t think the gap to Mercedes will be as big because the huge advantage they’ve had with their engine is getting smaller. I think they’ll still have a slight advantage but whoever gets their new chassis right will be much more competitive with them and I think Red Bull will be very strong. I have a feeling McLaren will catch up quite a bit too. Ferrari is an unknown at this point, I hope they will surprise everyone and maybe the silence from Maranello is a good sign.

JT – You’ve said repeatedly in the past that despite all the resources invested, F1 cars all end up looking almost identical even after a rules change. Do you think that will be true this season?

SJ – To a large degree I think they will. The window of what teams are allowed to do is so small now that by nature they’ll all end up looking the same. There’s really no room for innovation anymore. They work in such a narrow box that it’s mostly down to the endless tinkering with the details. I noticed from what I’ve seen until now that the complicated front wings will remain more or less the same, which effectively means that any hope of a car being able to follow the car in front close up is no different from before. I thought one of the reason for increasing the aero from underneath the car was to avoid this from happening, but this will not be the case, unfortunately. As long as the main area of performance on the car is aerodynamics it’s inevitable that all the cars will eventually look nearly the same, the air only like to travel in a certain way and that ultimately determines the shape of the car.

JT – One thing not yet discussed by Liberty Media is what they might do to control costs in F1. They have proposed more evenly distributing money among the teams but that won’t help much if F1 remains unsustainably expensive. The sums spent by manufacturers, teams, etc in F1 these days are staggering yet no one seems to blink an eye or has the courage to try to control it. How is it possible for this to be ignored?

SJ – Yes, distributing money more evenly is fine but when costs are already through the roof it doesn’t help much. And with frequent rule changes you add even more expense. The best way to keep costs down and make the racing more exciting is to maintain rules stability. The ramp up in costs is always at the beginning of a new rules package for obvious reasons as every team has to develop a whole new car effectively. The longer you have the same set of rules the more the lower ranked teams will catch up and the closer the field will be and the costs will eventually drop for all teams as the trade-off between performance versus money spent decreases each year.

To make the competition closer and to control costs, more than anything, I think you need to limit what teams are allowed to do with the cars. I firmly believe that you could standardize 50 to 60 percent of the components. That eliminates the need to design, manufacture and build every single component of a car. All those components have to be run and tested, and now with limits on testing it becomes even more expensive as they have to be simulated and tested in different way which adds even more cost.

Sketch by Giorgio Piola

Sketch by Giorgio Piola

I keep repeating the same thing over and over, the biggest culprit is the aerodynamics. They must figure out a way to minimize the importance of downforce on the car, or at least simplify what you’re allowed to do on the car. I don’t see why they can’t use the same front wing on all the cars for example, issued and controlled by the FIA. No one can hardly notice the difference between any of the cars as it is now, yet they all produce their own front wings at an astronomical cost to each team, with a windtunnel and CFD programs that never ends, literally. It’s a constant 24/7 development war that never stops all year long, to find the tiniest gains. One of the top teams employ a total of 250 staff in the design and engineering department, of which half are aerodynamicists. I am baffled why they can’t all agree on this as a starting point at least.

JT – On a lighter note but also a serious one, racing in general is facing an unprecedented level of competition from other sports and new forms of entertainment. As you observe there are lots of distractions and some are a good laugh.

SJ – Fernando Alonso made a comment about the 80’s era recently, saying that people would find it boring nowadays watching those races with Prost and Senna fighting each other. He’s 100 percent right of course. But the difference is that’s all there was back them. People could understand the challenges and dangers, the spectacle. They looked up to the drivers as gladiators and thought it was fantastic. The cars were beasts and fans could see that when they were watching. But the racing was generally quite boring in fact, even more than it is today I would say.

Today, there is so much clutter and competition for eyeballs from so many different sources, especially for the younger generations which makes it hard for anyone to sit through a 2 hour race that have very little happening most of the time. Compare that to something as silly as watching these “fail” videos that are so popular now on YouTube for example with these morons from all over the world wrapping their Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s around a tree or a lamp post, well I hate to admit it but it can be quite entertaining too at times.

It’s a silly example and as funny as that is to say, it’s true. And it can be anything. Whatever people are into, there’s instant access to as much as you want – complete sensory overload. So, in my opinion, whatever needs to be done to increase the interest from the younger generation in F1, and racing in general, it has to be something really special. It has to be something really spectacular like F1 is supposed to be, and even more. It can’t be politically correct all the time. It has to be something that people can easily understand as extraordinary and special. F1 isn’t that way at the moment.

JT – With the Rolex 24 a new era started in sports car racing with IMSA’s DPi and the global P2-spec.

SJ – We’ll see how it all shakes out. The cars at Daytona looked fantastic in my opinion, both the Dpi’s and the LMP2 cars. The racing was good and I think this format could be the way forward for Prototypes in general. Let’s hope the ACO will take a good look at this with an open mind and allow the same type of cars to run the 24 hours too eventually. With only two teams or manufacturers that can effectively win the 24 hours I think it’s time to re-evaluate the entire format for the ACO and the Le Mans 24 hour race.

JT – The 2017 IndyCar season is on the horizon. Much of the off-season talk has centered on the series “aerokit freeze” this year and its intention to go to a “universal” kit in 2018, a configuration that may see Indy Cars generating more downforce from underneath the chassis. The move to make downforce from below is intended to reduce turbulence for following cars.  What are your thoughts on these moves?

SJ – Well, moving to the kit for 2018, even if you try to make downforce from under the car instead of from the top I don’t think it will completely eliminate the problem. You might improve things a bit but you’re still going to have a high downforce configuration. Whatever the ratio is between aero and mechanical grip, you’re going to have a problem if the aero portion is greater than the mechanical no matter what.

Right now, the dependence on aero with an Indy Car is probably 80 percent or more. The cars have a crazy amount of grip. If they got rid of a lot of the aero appendages that are all over the cars and cleaned them up it would be a big improvement.

I think the best, and only way, to solve this problem for any type of open wheel car is to drastically reduce the downforce and rely more on mechanical grip and more horsepower to get the lap-times to the same levels we have now. This would put the emphasis back on the drivers and car control which is key in my opinion.

It’s the same as in F1. Why spend all of this money on aerodynamics when you can have the tire companies give you the grip and engine manufacturers make the engines more powerful? They are both very easy things to do, and at virtually no development cost to the teams or certainly nothing close to what they are spending on their aero programs at the moment. If you had multiple tire suppliers they would duke it out and spend as they used to, to develop better tires. The lap times would drop by 4-5 seconds almost immediately and probably a lot more with time. That would at least have some level of benefit for street tires too as some of the technology is eventually applied to their consumer products. Aerodynamic downforce is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle for anything else but making a race car go faster.

2016: Year In Review

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 81

JT – With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on some of the year’s racing headlines, trends and impending changes as the new year arrives. But before we get to that, let’s chat about your first experience racing an LMP3 car earlier this month at the Gulf 12 Hours on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit. 

You were teamed in United Autosports’ No. 22 Ligier JS P3 with Jim McGuire, Nico Rondet and Matt Keegan. Qualifying featured an average of all drivers’ lap times in each car to set the grid. The sister No. 23 Ligier of Alex Lynn, Shaun Lynn and Richard Meins lined up 7th with your car 6th. You set the fastest time among bronze drivers in qualifying and finished third in class with your teammates after both segments of the 12 Hours. 

What was it like to drive the P3 car and how did you enjoy the racing?

SJ – It was good fun. I hadn’t been in a proper car for a while. It’s been four years since I last raced a prototype. It felt a bit rusty to start with but as the weekend went on I started to get sharper. It started to feel pretty good in my last stint of the race. I guess if I had to rate myself over the weekend, I’d give myself a “5” out of 10. There’s definitely room for improvement but I really enjoyed it. It’s always been the same for me over the years when I’ve been out of a car for a longer period of time, after three races you’re more or less back to where you need to be.

The Ligier LMP3 is a great car, fantastic fun to drive. I really like the concept of the LMP3 class with economical, proper prototypes. The cars have no driver aids. They’re very pure and basic, but like all modern race cars very underpowered but certainly not easy to drive. The chassis is very reactive and because it doesn’t have driver aids it’s actually more difficult to handle than the other classes of cars. It’s not that different than a LMPC car and has a similar raw feel to it. 

JT – What did you think of the Yas Marina circuit? You hadn’t raced there before, correct?

 Correct, I have been there a few times for the F1 race but I had never raced there before. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke designed track. The facility is outstanding and visually it looks amazing when you first see it but it’s not very interesting once you drive it. There are four 1st-gear corners, ten 2nd-gear corners and one each which are 3rd, 4th and 5th-gear. So, the track is really all 1st and 2nd gear corners with the exception of turns two and three which are somewhat tricky to get right. The rest is all typical modern F1 tracks, with the identical template kerbs on every corner and although they are by no means easy to get right it’s purely another technical track where car performance and precision are the key factors to a fast laptime. Not one single corner where you have a take deep breath and go for it.

And there are three chicanes built into a track that started with a clean sheet, which is kind of strange when you can choose any combination of corners you wish? Chicanes were originally invented as a kind of last resort to slow cars down when a track was suddenly deemed too fast for certain cars. When you start from scratch designing a modern track there should be no reason to include chicanes. It’s amazing and frustrating that this trend keeps on going on almost every modern race track being built today. Why doesn’t someone at least attempt to do something really extraordinary when you have the opportunity starting from scratch. 

Source: F1

Source: F1

JT – Looking back at the 2016 F1 season, it unfolded pretty much as expected in general terms. Mercedes GP was head and shoulders above the other teams and dominated, winning 19 of the 21 races on the calendar, setting a new record in the process. 

SJ – Yes absolutely, they dominated. The only times they were beaten is when others picked up the pieces after they made errors, bad starts or had problems with reliability. Apart from that the races were pretty much a foregone conclusion before they started. 

Ultimately, Rosberg did a brilliant job winning the championship. It’s been so close between the two of them the past couple of years and this year was no different of course. Rosberg was able to turn it on mid-season to gain a big enough advantage over Lewis, where he did not have to get into a dogfight for position but merely had to maintain his points gap even if Lewis won every race towards the end. I believe this was the key to him being able to drive disciplined and error free to get the points he needed to seal the title. I don’t think there’s much left to say about his decision to retire a week after the final race, everybody interested in F1 have voiced their opinion one way or the other. In the end it’s his decision and no one else’s. I personally respect the way he bowed out of F1. When you think about it, what would a guy like that want to do next. Would he want to hang in there trying to break every record? 

Source: F1

Source: F1

I think it really comes down to the goals you set for yourself. His goal was to win the Formula One World Championship and he did that. Other drivers – Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton – they have different goals perhaps. And then some drivers simply love racing and can look beyond what the goals are and just enjoy the moment, enjoy racing for what it is and still do a great job by doing that. Bottom line is that every driver is different and it would have been a much easier decision for Nico to say I carry on for a few more years rather than make a decision that is completely life changing to him in every aspect, it takes someone with a lot of courage and will power that reach that conclusion. 

JT – For the last couple decades F1 has focused on Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton – all guys who share a determination to be relentless in their pursuit of winning races and championships - sometimes to an unhealthy degree. I think Rosberg has demonstrated that there’s another way. It may not be a new idea but his outlook is refreshing and perhaps good for Formula One. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree entirely. There is a fine balance between doing the right thing and being relentlessly obsessed with winning at any cost, including cheating if that is an available option – and the notion that we should somehow admire that without questioning the means of how the winning is achieved.

In the end, the relatively brief moments we spend fighting to win races and championships are miniscule relative to the bigger picture of life in general but also in the life of a racing driver. I think we all evolve as human beings to appreciate that at some point later in life. Everyone has their own morals, desires and ambitions in life but I think what Rosberg did was classy and graceful. 

He figured out what he had to do, did it his way and succeeded. That’s very admirable. 

JT – The Formula One cars we’ve known for the last few years are changing for 2017. Most fans won’t miss the cars that have raced in recent seasons but as you’ve said repeatedly, though the formula is changing somewhat, the direction chosen probably won’t improve competition.

SJ – Yes, we’ll have a completely new style of cars for better or worse. The cars will probably look a lot better but whether they’re going to be better in terms of racing remains to be seen. I doubt it very much personally. We have gradually over the years arrived at a situation, primarily thanks to the designs of the cars with these incredibly complex front wings and the amount of downforce they produce, where we then have to create an artificial device (DRS) that will enable overtaking with the purpose of making the racing more exciting or interesting. Add to that the tires which have been mandated to be much worse than they could or should be, again with the purpose to spice up the show with a very short life span and low grip levels. Yet we are now adding even more downforce to the cars, granted it’s supposed to be generated from the bottom of the car and not the front which will help the turbulence for sure, but the fact remains that the cars are already almost in the corners when they brake so I can’t see how by adding a very significant amount of downforce will be helpful in this regard. The cars will be on rails literally and there will be even less opportunity to pass than there currently is. Some argue that it will only be the brave drivers that will be fast which is complete nonsense in my opinion, anyone can drive a car with a lot of downforce as long as they are fit enough to handle the forces, it’s when you start taking it off to a significant degree the difference between the great and not so good will start to show.

Technical Analysis Sketch by Giorgio Piola

Technical Analysis Sketch by Giorgio Piola

You have to assume that Mercedes will maintain some kind of advantage but whenever there’s a reset like this there is an opportunity for someone else to get it more right than the others and that advantage then tends to stay for a while as we’ve seen with Mercedes the past few years. There are also a lot of changes within Mercedes for next year. Rosberg has left and Paddy Lowe (technical director) is apparently leaving too. I have a feeling that Red Bull will be in the strongest position to challenge Mercedes next season. The engines are all getting closer to each other every year and we can assume that starting next year there will be very little difference in terms of power between the different engine manufacturers, so the emphasis will be moving back more towards the chassis and who can get the best out of the tires. The cars will have a massive increase in downforce, and it will be a somewhat new frontier for the teams to find the best package for the start of the season, and this is why I think Red Bull will be very strong as they already had arguably the best chassis this year and with Adrian Newey fully focused on the F1 program again. 

Also, all the teams that have a “B” team or a satellite team or whatever you want to label them, Red Bull/Toro Rosso, Ferrari/HAAS and Mercedes with the teams they support will most likely have an advantage in the early stages as they will have 4 cars or more to collect certain data from during the initial testing.

JT – Mercedes GP is still lining up a replacement for Nico Rosberg. Williams F1’s Valtteri Bottas is seen as a leading candidate. No matter who is chosen, they will likely experience friction with Lewis Hamilton.

Photo by Motorsport.com

Photo by Motorsport.com

SJ – There was friction between the drivers before so why should it be any different in 2017? 

How much friction depends on how big a threat Lewis’ new teammate could be. That’s normal and not a bad reflection on Lewis in particular but merely the way it is, especially in a team where you have two driver with an equal chance to fight for the championship. We had the same scenario between Vettel and Webber when they were dominating and both had a real chance of winning the title, Prost and Senna, Mansell and Piquet. It was war without weapons and no different to what we have seen between Lewis and Nico the past few years. Unless you have a clear number one driver like Ferrari had with Schumacher you will always have that dynamic if the title is at stake. 

JT – At McLaren, Fernando Alonso will have Stoffel Vandoorne as a new teammate. Vandoorne spent 2016 racing in the Japanese Super Formula. The series features 2 liter turbocharged engines from Toyota and Honda in Dallara SF14 single-seater chassis. Comparable to current IndyCars in terms of pace, the Super Formula cars are challenging to master and the generally experienced field of drivers assures stiff competition. One would imagine that racing in Japan in 2016 was probably good for Vandoorne in terms of experience.

SJ – The racing in Japan is super competitive and those cars are on a very high level of performance. It’s a great training ground for sure and it shows how competitive it is when someone like Vandoorne goes there and struggles to win races. (Vandoorne won two races in 2016.) And it’s the same for every European who goes there. It’s a very tough series.

JT – The 2017 Formula One calendar is firm and it shows that F1 events are always in flux. For the first time in many years there will be no German Grand Prix. Other events which have struggled recently including the Malaysian GP were able to secure a date. But attendance has been off at many venues, including at European races like the Austrian GP at Red Bull Ring which has seen a precipitous drop and financial losses. F1’s mix of circuits globally is always a point of debate.

But F1 will always have problems in one region or another. Typically they go to places where money is, although the European races are not big spenders. But I think it’s worthwhile to retain some of the classic venues to mix with new circuits. 

JT – A proposal for a budget cap for F1 teams has surfaced again, this time from Liberty Media, the new group taking control of F1. The budget cap idea has been put before the teams several times in recent years but has never gained support because the top teams claim that the caps cannot be enforced. What do you think of the latest move to try to institute some kind of spending limit?

SJ – I agree 100 percent that you can never really truly enforce a cost cap. The teams will always find ways to spend money, and the creativity they have to accomplish this will just make it even more expensive in the end in my opinion.  I think what should be done with that in mind is to limit the areas where large amounts of money are currently being spent.

The number one area by far to focus on is Aerodynamics because everything on a current race car evolves from the Aero package. This is the single most important area for car performance, yet it has very little benefit if any at all outside the realm of making a race car go faster. The amount of money each team is spending on aero development is astronomical. I spoke to one of the Senior Management guys in one of the top teams recently, he told me they have a total of 250 people in the Design and Engineering department, of which half are aerodynamicists. Then bear in mind that each team probably have a similar ratio of staff depending on how big their budgets are. And all they are free to do is basically just fine tuning of a very restricted package, hence nearly every car looking identical. There is no innovation, just an enormous amount of money being spent on gaining ½ percent here and another ¼ percent there which all adds up in the end. 

Almost every single driver and many designers I speak to today is in agreement that aerodynamics or downforce is not the way to go. It’s a point I’ve been making for some time now, it’s killing the racing in every category and is making the average drivers look much better than they really are. Even Adrian Newey, who is the best Aerodynamicist in F1 history came out this week and said he is in favor of a Wind Tunnel ban. 

The best and only solution in my opinion in order to keep the costs down and to make the racing more interesting but still give teams the freedom to innovate in other ways is to set a fixed limit on the downforce the cars can produce. Whatever the number is, something significantly less than what they’re getting right now, the focus would go from how much aerodynamic downforce cars make to how much grip the teams could gain back in other areas. It would be easy to monitor the level of downforce through the ECU and the load sensors in the suspension. 

It sounds controversial as it requires a complete rethink but it’s in my view it’s no different than limiting the size of the tires, the engine size, or the amount of fuel the cars can carry. We have limits and restrictions in almost every area of the car so why not limit the amount of downforce to a level that is sensible and that will also improve the racing.

Limiting downforce and putting the emphasis on other areas of development would also assist in the prevailing debate of political correctness which says that Formula One should benefit automotive technology for the street somehow. If you take all the effort, brain power and money that’s been spent in wind tunnels for the past 25 years and concentrate those resources in other areas, I guarantee you that in five years there will be breakthroughs in technology that we haven’t even seen yet. 

This could include technology that gives cars a massive leap in mechanical grip, a lot less drag, greatly improved tires and much more. At the least, it could open up new areas of exploration instead of endlessly focusing and fine-tuning the aero within this very defined box. New materials we never knew existed and other technologies would be discovered and developed at a pace we can’t imagine. 

If you free up the engine restrictions you can make similar gains as well. Set a certain parameter regarding how much energy consumption is allowed but let the engines make as much horsepower as they can get within those parameters. Make the engines powerful and not just efficient. If they can get 1500hp by only using the allowed criteria of energy consumption that’s great. Allow any technology that people want to try, remember the turbine Lotus in the 70’s, pioneering stuff that is also exciting and interesting for the fans.

Make the cars spectacular looking and difficult to drive, a car with 1500hp and half or less of the current levels of downforce will be a beast to drive, and that’s what the fans and the drivers want. 

Again, in that kind of competitive environment there would be new engine technology pioneered or developed that could be infinitely better than any hybrid or electric power plants that are currently being mandated as the only option for a power plant. Changing this focus will bring on new innovations that no one has thought of yet just because they have now been challenged to think of them. Motor racing in general and F1 in particular is the most competitive environment you can find, and if you unchain these guys and really allow their creativity to come out I guarantee you that we will see some incredible stuff in the future. 

There are more scientist and engineers alive in the world today than have lived in all previous human history put together, this is an important fact. In the past 20 years there have been literally new discoveries in Science and technology every week and this is increasing at an exponential rate. Radical new technologies are coming into existence all the time. If the emphasis of F1 or motor racing in general is to stay relevant, maybe it’s time to do a reset and allow some new and radical thinking instead of rehashing the same old Aerodynamics concept over and over at an astronomical cost each time there’s a new rule change. 

JT- With the announcement that Audi is pulling out of WEC we are now down to two manufacturers racing each other for the Championship and the overall win at Le Mans. What are the likelihood of more manufacturers joining the series and what effect do you think it will have on WEC going forward?

SJ- It’s hard to say, but I find it nearly impossible for a new manufacturer to join in the current situation and with the current rules the way they are. LMP1 is now on a level of F1, maybe even more in some aspects. The budgets are certainly very close to a top team in F1 and for a new team to join with a genuine attempt at winning would be a monumental task. We may see some half serious attempts like the Nissan project last year but I would be very surprised to see any manufacturer mount a serious effort at winning the 24 hours under the current system.

Much like F1, the development of the cars have reached a point where the racing is not very interesting any longer, the GTLM and LMP2 categories are far more interesting to follow than the LMP1 is now, with great drivers in both categories and great teams running the cars. It’s hard racing all the way.

I personally think we’re at a point now where we could take the GTLM cars and make them the main category. The goal for the ACO has always been for the fastest cars to be in the 3 min 30sec laptime bracket, they seem to think this is the safe area to be in for overall laptimes. The GT’s are in the low 50’s now and if you took of all the restrictors they would gain a significant amount of horsepower which could translate to a laptime somewhere in the mid 40’s probably. Allow each manufacturer to then develop the cars bit further, add some wider tires and wider wheel arches which would make the cars look a lot more cool and aggressive and the laptimes would be in the 30’s in a couple of years. The racing would be awesome with a whole grid full of the same cars essentially. The manufacturers would be going for it and the customer teams could buy the same car as the one winning the race. They wouldn’t be as quick, but not that far off, certainly not 10 seconds or more which is currently the case between the manufacturers and the privateers. The fans will be watching the same cars they can buy in the showroom and we would probably have 7-8 Manufacturers represented, maybe more. If you take away the BOP restrictions, it’s up to each manufacturer to make a road car that is good enough to compete for overall victory. We would see some incredibly cool looking cars, that will then also be available for people to buy. Like we have seen with the Ford GT, there will be a line of people wanting to get their hands on these when they become available to the public.