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Scott Dixon and Lewis Hamilton Win their 5th Championship, and Scuderia Corsa enters IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 98

JT – Let’s begin the blog with recognition of Scott Dixon’s amazing fifth IndyCar title, second only to AJ Foyt in number of championships. He clinched the title at the Sonoma Grand Prix finale, beating championship runner up Alexander Rossi by 57 points. Dixon scored three wins in 2018, a number equal to the three wins taken by Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. But Scott finished in the top-five in 13 of the season’s 17 races.

Photos via: @ScottDixon9

He now has 44 IndyCar wins, third on the all-time list behind Foyt and Mario Andretti.

“To do that in this era of racing with reliability the way it is, the evenness and competitiveness of teams, is unbelievable. It's amazing to think of what he's accomplished,” said Sonoma winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The mayor of Indianapolis declared Monday, September 24, “Scott Dixon Day”. And there’s a feature-length documentary on Scott called “Born Racer” that debuted on October 2. 

 Image by:  @BornRacerMovie

Image by: @BornRacerMovie

You’ve been with Scott, as his manager, for all of the 18 seasons he’s raced in IndyCar and beforehand when he drove for your Indy Lights team in 1999. What are your thoughts on Scott and his accomplishments?

SJ – It was an amazing end to a very tough season. Scott, like all the great drivers through history, has the obvious natural talent to be fast, but the raw talent will only get you so far. It’s really how hard he works that makes the difference.

scott-dixon-gym-bw.png

Scott is relentless in chipping away at being the best he can be, at going after championships and always looking at the bigger picture. Whatever weak area he feels he’s got left he just keeps working on it. He’s in the gym like probably no other driver in the world. Every little aspect that can make him a little better he just keeps working on them. It’s extraordinary to have that level of motivation, especially after doing it for so many years. Each year after a Championship win it becomes a little harder than the one before, and remember he’s been in the hunt to win the Championship every year for the past 10-15 years now. If he’s not in the top 6 after qualifying he’ll be the last guy to leave the track in the evening, digging through the data with his engineer until they find why they’re not faster.

Michael Schumacher was the same. Senna was the same. Prost was the same. They might have five percent more talent than the others to start with, but they’d put in 20 percent more work than the rest. Michael, instead of cruising around on a yacht in the Mediterranean like the rest of the drivers in the summer, he was at Maranello testing. All the great guys are the same, in any sport, it’s the work ethic and the mental attitude that makes the difference, not the raw talent.

And it’s true, it’s an amazing achievement what Scott’s done, particularly given how difficult it is to win in IndyCar now. Back in the day (CART), IndyCar was a little bit more like Formula 1 in the sense that one chassis usually wound up dominating when there were multiple chassis available. That’s not the case now, today it’s virtually impossible to have that dominance you could sometimes achieve by being in the best car and the best team. As we can see from the results every year, it’s impossible for one driver or team to dominate. This is why every year it’s down to 3-4 or more drivers fighting for the championship all the way to the final round.

JT – Do you think there was one turning point for Scott this season that really put him on a path to the championship?

SJ – The season started pretty badly if you remember. He was nowhere until we got to Detroit where he won the first race and then won again in Texas. In the span of a week the whole thing turned around. He was like fifth in the championship until that point and then all of a sudden he was leading it.

Photos via: www.scottdixon.com

Sometimes you have to be lucky too, like he was at Portland. But how many times was it the other way for him when he could have locked the championship up but then something happened. But even there he had the presence to keep the engine alive instead of stalling and was able to pull away without going down a lap.

But what really clinched the Championship this year more than anything was the consistency and perfect execution. Even in the races when where he was “nowhere” he still scored strong points and that all adds up at the end of the year.

JT – Lewis Hamilton was also crowned champion recently, taking his fifth title alongside the only other F1 drivers to achieve that feat - Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Despite lackluster performances in the last couple races, Hamilton’s 4th place finish at the Mexican GP was enough to earn him the 2018 world driver’s championship. What do you make of his success?

 Photo via:  @LewisHamilton

Photo via: @LewisHamilton

SJ – I think it’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and it rightfully put’s him in the company of the greatest drivers in the history of our sport. I have always claimed that there’s never been a World Champion that did not have the best car, but this year it is arguable if Lewis did not win it more on his own then because he had the best car. Much like Scott, if I’m allowed to make a comparison between the two, he’s honed his craft to a point where he’s nearly flawless in the execution and that’s what makes a champion. He made less mistakes than anyone else and made the bad days as good as was possible, scoring big points when he should normally not have been able to. Formula 1 should be thankful they have him as he is truly a Superstar in every sense of the word and people love that. He’s got his own style and his own thing going and he delivers every time he gets in the car. As long Mercedes stay committed there is no reason why he could not beat Schumacher’s records before he’s done racing. It’s almost a certainty that Mercedes will always be challenging for the Championship as long as they stay involved given the resources they have compared to the other teams.

JT – With the 2018 season in the rearview mirror, IndyCar is carrying some very positive momentum into the off season. New teams will be on the grid next year, as well notable new drivers. The 2019 race calendar was recently released and a new addition to the schedule is Circuit of the Americas on March 24.

This has created more excitement and is of interest to fans as Formula 1 also races at COTA. Many have said IndyCar should race the track using the same configuration as F1. But you have a different take.

SJ – I think it’s great that IndyCar is going there, it’s without a doubt the best venue in North America and it makes perfect sense that Indycar is racing there also, and not just F1.  But I actually think they should experiment with the track layout. IndyCar has an opportunity to make it a track that has great racing by eliminating a couple of the corners and getting rid of the go-kart track nature of the Tilke design which only ruins the racing and contributes nothing to the overall experience except adding a few unnecessary corners.

I think they should cut out the twisty section between the end of the back straight (Turn 12) and the fast right-hander (Turn 16). If you just made it a longer straight you would arrive into the fast right hander with one gear more speed which would make the entry much more challenging and you would then carry more speed into the second part of the corner which would make the whole section more difficult.

 Image from Google Maps

Image from Google Maps

Likewise, the last one of the sweepers going downhill from Turn 1 – all of the left-right-left-right stuff – get rid of the last one (Turn 8) because it ruins the rhythm completely and you would then carry a lot more speed to the top of the hill (Turn 11). It will be spectacular to watch when the cars come over the brow at the top of turn 11 because they’ll be carrying a lot more speed and you’d really have to aim into the corner, and the cars will probably get light as they cross the top of the brow. Plus, an IndyCar has significantly less downforce than an F1 car so that would add up to be very challenging and a lot of fun to watch.

Whether they’d do that or not is another question but I think there’s an opportunity to do something that could make the track really special and spectacular to watch.

JT – You’re involved with one of the new teams that will be on the IndyCar grid next year. IMSA sports car racing stalwart Scuderia Corsa will expand its operations to compete in IndyCar in 2019, joining the series for 13 rounds of its 17-race calendar including the Indy 500. Ed Jones will drive for the team which will be an affiliate of Ed Carpenter Racing.

It’s exciting news for Scuderia Corsa coming on the heels of the team’s win at Petit Le Mans earlier this month for Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Daniel Serra in the No. 63 Weathertech Ferrari 488 GT3.

Photos by: Scuderia Corsa

SJ – Yes, the stars lined up perfect and it ended up being a very good situation for everybody – for Scuderia Corsa, for Ed Jones and for Ed Carpenter. Everybody’s happy and it’s very exciting.

Road Atlanta was a great win for the team. Daniel Serra who was brought in as the Pro driver did a great job, along with our regular drivers Cooper McNeil and Gunnar Jeanette, and it was good to come out on top finally. It was about time, we had a tough year for a number of different reasons.

JT – There has been some reporting lately that some current IndyCar teams may be considering some of the likely refugees from Formula 1 for next year. Marcus Ericsson has been confirmed to drive with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2019 and Brendon Hartley has been mentioned as a possibility for a seat if his Toro Rosso drive ends this year. It’s another indication that IndyCar has momentum and is an attractive alternative.

SJ – It’s not surprising that the teams might talk to those guys but that doesn’t mean it would be easy to put together a deal. I know there’s a lot of interest in Indycar from many of the F1 guys, they can see how good the racing is. They talk a lot about how fun the cars look to drive and the fact that you have to drive them hard from start to finish, no driver aids to speak of and proper race tracks that punish you if you make a mistake. This is what any driver worth their salt is looking for.

It's exciting to see that Indycar has now become a real alternative to F1, with Alonso also showing serious interest earlier in the year, although it doesn’t look like it will happen for 2019 anymore.

If you look at the cost of IndyCar, it’s spectacularly affordable compared to almost any other premium series. And it’s so hard to win in IndyCar compared other series because there is so much competition and no one can get an edge on the rest because of the way the rules are written. You just never know who might come out on top depending on strategy, caution flags, the quality of the drivers and teams, all of that stuff.

I think the car count will go up a lot next year. I think we might end up seeing maybe four to six more cars. IndyCar is really on a roll at the moment. It’s getting stronger and everyone is starting to realize how good the racing is and how it makes more sense financially than other series. There are a couple of sports car teams from Europe looking at it, a couple of Indy Lights teams that are going to move up and maybe a few others. I think manufacturers are starting to pay attention to it as well.

It would be ideal if they could get one more manufacturer to come and share the load of supporting more teams with both engines and technical support. I think both Honda and Chevy are on the limit with their engine supply and support budgets to the teams that are currently competing. With more competition comes more spending, which is good for both the teams and the top drivers as each manufacturer will do what it takes to win.

JT – Steve Letarte, a former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who’s now part of the NBC NASCAR television broadcast team, made a great point during the race at Richmond a few weeks ago. Referring to Brad Keselowski leading the race at one point even though he didn’t have the fastest car on track, Letarte said, ‘it’s a race, not a speed contest”.

That struck me as a terrific observation and it’s a big problem for Formula One where a lack of racecraft among drivers and the absurd amount of money it takes to compete with the top teams exaggerates F1 as a “speed contest” with very little actual racing. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, it’s a very good observation. Racing is a speed contest, of course, but only to the point where you obviously have to go fast in order to win, but it won’t help if you don’t know how to race. Qualifying is a different story of course, but unfortunately, race craft seems to be a skill that most team owners have almost forgot about. I don’t know exactly what the teams in F1 specifically are looking for in the young drivers they’re bringing in but for the most part, it certainly isn’t adding to the end result.

If every team owner were looking for the best racer rather than the driver who could set the fastest time over a lap, it would be a whole different scenario. It’s long been the case in F1 that whoever does the quickest lap time in a shoot-out test ends up getting a drive – at least 95 percent of the time or more. But most often that’s completely irrelevant to race results over the course of a season and where they eventually end up in the championship. There’s been hundred’s of really fast drivers over the years in F1 that never accomplished anything except being fast over a single lap, but it’s extraordinary how they were able to hang on to their drives for this reason alone.

We can see it clearly. I don’t know if it’s the nature of the cars or whatever but in every single race, people are taking each other out in the first couple laps. If this is supposed to be the highest level of motorsport none of this makes any sense. It’s unforgiveable that very highly-paid professional drivers, supposedly the best in the world, can’t make it past the first two laps without constantly driving into each other. Unfortunately, F1 has evolved into more of a speed contest rather than pure racing due to the nature of the cars and also the tracks to a certain extent. The cars are getting more and more aero sensitive when you follow another car which prevents a driver getting close enough to have a go, hence the DRS system to help overtaking. This helps overtaking but it doesn’t help the racing as the driver in front is more or less a sitting duck. So, instead we now have a committee of people at each race determining what is legal and not when a driver is defending his position by blocking the guy behind who’s got his DRS system wide open. It’s a bizzare situation that sadly seems to get worse and not better with each passing year.

I’m not saying that driving a race car fast is easy by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than racing well. F1 is a bit unique in that unless you have the best car there’s not a lot you can do. You’re basically circling within a three or four-car segment of competitors at best. But Alonso, for example, has certainly shown that you can haul an underperforming car up to places where it shouldn’t necessarily be. It shows that if you’re a good enough racer you can make a difference.

I guarantee you that many of the drivers in F1 now, if they came over to race in IndyCar, they’d struggle to get results, at least initially because in IndyCar it’s all about execution. If you make one little slip up, if you’re too slow on an in-lap for a pit stop, you lose three spots. Every little detail has to be right. That’s how Scott won his championship this year. He simply made fewer mistakes than everyone else.

That’s how racing should be. Not only do you have 20 other cars you theoretically have to beat on speed on any given weekend, you also have to be error-free or you’ll pay for your mistakes.

JT – You also make the point that – weirdly - teams seem to be trying to develop the very young and comparatively inexperienced drivers they’re recruiting in F1 itself, rather than bringing in drivers who’ve gained considerable experience lower formulas.

SJ – Yes, it’s a very strange situation. Apparently you’re finished by the time you’re 23 years old these days, too old for F1. They’re bringing in guys who are 19 or 20 who have been in a lower series for a year or two maybe. When did Formula 1 become a development series for drivers?

I always thought the whole point of F1 was that you hire the best drivers in the world. How the hell do you know if a guy who’s 20 years old and has very little experience is going to be good enough? Fast enough, yes, but getting the job done on Sunday afternoon, no one knows at that stage of their career until they’re thrown in the deep end.

Verstappen is an extraordinary exception, but even he with all his speed and natural talent has had to develop in F1. He’s certainly made errors that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a driver in F1.

And now they’re giving Kvyat a third chance at Toro Rosso. Apparently he is now in a much better place and is “very calm” compared to how he was when they fired him a year or so ago. How do they know that if he’s not even done one race since he last raced in F1?

It’s one thing the be calm and in a “good place” over dinner, it’s a whole different matter when you sit on the grid and the red mist starts to rise, it’s only then you can really judge how good a driver is. Let’s hope they are right but I’m having a hard time understanding how a driver can become a better racer by not doing any races? It all seems a bit odd to me.

JT – Since we last chatted, Scuderia Ferrari announced that F1 rookie Charles Leclerc would leave Sauber Alfa Romeo in 2019, taking the seat Kimi Raikkonen has held for five years. Meanwhile Kimi announced that he would return to Sauber next year where he began his F1 career in 2001. He’ll be joined by Antonio Giovinazzi. What do you make of the changes?

SJ – First, I think Kimi has done a very good job this year. I don’t think anyone could expect a huge amount more in the circumstances. Leclerc is clearly a star of the future but as Ferrari is sort of in control of Sauber I would have thought it would make a lot more sense to keep the momentum of the dynamic they have between Kimi and Vettel because it’s a pretty strong relationship and they’ve been able to develop the car in a pretty positive direction.

 Photo via:  @Charles_Leclerc

Photo via: @Charles_Leclerc

At the same time, they could have left Leclerc to hone his racecraft a little bit more and get the inevitable silly mistakes out of the way. If you make one silly mistake at Sauber and it doesn’t work out it’s like “Oh that was ballsy, what a shame it didn’t work out this time.”

But if he does the same mistake at Ferrari, the press will be all over him like a ton of bricks. It’ll be the usual, “He’s finished, it’s over. He can’t handle the pressure, yada, yada, yada…”

That’s just how the F1 press is and especially the Italians, and sooner or later, that’s going to happen. If you look at Verstappen in year one he was pretty spectacular. In year two he started to make one mistake after another. Year three was a bit of a disaster and now he’s sort of getting a bit of momentum back. It’s inevitable that Leclerc will go through the same thing. That’s how it goes when you make these moves with very young inexperienced drivers.

And of course, the dynamic within Ferrari is going to change. Vettel’s going to have to defend his territory now. Leclerc is going to come in young and fresh and try to blow the doors off him. I don’t think it’ll be happy days necessarily. I think there will be some politicking and other stuff that you don’t have going on at the moment.

JT – On the other hand, some would say that even with a relatively harmonious relationship between himself and Raikkonen, Vettel has been making quite a few mistakes this year. Maybe a teammate who can push him might make him a bit better? What do you think?

SJ – In the case of Vettel I doubt a team mate that can push him would help. It’s not exactly as though Kimi is not pushing him. They’re very close to each other pretty much every race, so it’s not a matter of speed in either case.

It looks to me that a lot of the moves he’s made are just coming from being a bit impatient and we’re talking tiny margins which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, very similar in fact to Verstappen in that one race every move you make will stick - the next race you do exactly the same and they don’t. But in the case of both drivers, the moves have been very low percentage and that is subsequently what happens, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s not a way to win a championship no matter how you look at it.

I don’t know anything about Vettel’s situation in terms of how he’s set up with the people he has around him, but he apparently doesn’t use a manager and instead does all his own deals.

Knowing from my own experience and working with both Scott, and more recently with Felix and some of the other drivers I work with, we talk quite a lot about all the things going on both before and after the races. The teams, the technical stuff, the races in general and about the other drivers they’re racing against.

scott-stefan-01.png

At least if I view it from my own perspective, it’s always good to have someone who first of all you can trust 100 percent - who’s “your guy” - someone who you can just blow off some steam and frustration with every now and then. Or someone you can discuss differences you may have with your team – how they may be focusing on one area when you think there’s something else that needs to be addressed.

Whatever it is, just to have someone to bounce things back and forth with that actually understand all the little nuances of racing and all the different aspects of it is important I think. Racing is an incredibly complex sport with so many layers of different information and issues that constantly need to be dealt with, which makes it even more difficult than most other sports to be consistently on top. I think maybe Vettel is missing some of that. Maybe he has someone who he talks with like that but I don’t know that he does, and maybe he doesn’t think he needs to. Every driver is different. Personally I think it can be quite helpful at times.

JT – The other moves in the driver market that transpired this summer, beginning with Ricciardo’s switch to Renault for 2019, make it clear that not only are the barriers to entry for F1 somewhat ridiculous but there are unforeseen barriers to staying in the series - even if you’ve “made it” as a driver.

Consider Estabon Ocon. He’s caught between a rock and hard place – one made more difficult by outside factors. As always, money is a big part of the equation and in this case, even his Mercedes management hasn’t been helpful. It seems counter-productive for F1, to the point that people like Mercedes’s Toto Wolff have suggested F1 constructors run third cars to accommodate more drivers. But how can that be a solution when even more resources will be required?

SJ – It’s really becoming evident now that the junior programs for drivers that the teams have been obsessed with aren’t working that well. One team starts a few years back and then everybody has to follow. It’s always the way. Red Bull had Verstappen come through the ranks and he’s been successful and become an asset but that doesn’t mean that everyone who comes out of a junior program is.

Now, Mercedes has got all of these guys locked up. There should be a natural culling system but the problem is that because everything is so expensive, even in the junior formulas now, it’s gotten completely screwed up. Most of the young drivers that are any good are part of a junior program of some kind, whether it’s McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.

But very few of them ever get anywhere because they’re stuck in these programs. Their options are limited to literally those programs. What are the chances that one of those maybe 10 guys will filter through? It’s almost impossible. Once they’re discarded you don’t even hear of these guys anymore. Most of them end up out in the wilderness – lost, gone.

Mercedes has now released [Pascal] Wehrlein. He was the great hope for a while but he’s now out of the system. It’s definitely counter-productive and as usual, money is the problem. If you don’t have the right backing, particularly in the junior categories, you’re not going to go forward. Money is always the problem and no one is taking their foot off the gas in terms of trying to diminish the costs of running these cars.

 Image via:  @MickSchumacher

Image via: @MickSchumacher

JT – Looking beyond Formula 1 at its junior categories, Mick Schumacher, Michael Schumacher’s son has been dominating European F3, winning rounds at the Nurburgring and the Red Bull Ring, taking poles for six races in a row and winning five of them. Lewis Hamilton recently remarked that he’s 100 percent sure Schumacher will make it to F1.

In fact, Schumacher’s performance has improved so much recently that Red Bull’s Daniel Ticktum said he finds it “interesting” how Schumacher and teammate Robert Shwartzman are dominating Prema's other three drivers, and the rest of the grid.

Ticktum added, “I appreciate I have lessons to learn still! I’m not denying that. You don’t know the real story because you are not at the track looking at everyone’s data. Unfortunately however I am fighting a losing battle as my last name is not Schumacher.”

SJ – I don’t know anything about Mick really but Felix tested with him in F3 and he thought he definitely had potential then. That was two years ago when he was very green and new but I think something must have suddenly clicked in the second half of the season because now he’s really on top of his game and leading the championship. Obviously people are starting to take notice.

Needless to say if he did make it to higher categories it would be a fantastic thing. It’d be a lovely story if he could carry his father’s legacy on. He’s obviously got tremendous pressure living up to the legacy of his father but he’s done a good job so far. I don’t know what the next step is in his career but if he keeps this trajectory we will probably see him in F1 very soon.

JT – Toro Rosso head Franz Tost said recently that he thinks cost caps could work in F1 despite the long stated skepticism from some teams that they cannot be policed. He says F1 already does a good job of policing its technology rules so why not costs? Do you agree?

SJ – Well, if history is anything to go by the teams will spend exactly the amount of money they can get, whatever that amount is. As long as the engineers have free reign the spending won’t stop. If you gave every team a billion dollars I guarantee you they’d find a way to spend every penny, it’s just the nature of the beast, everybody wants to win and they will spend whatever amount available to do that. The engineers will always dream up some new development program that will give them that extra edge they are all looking for.

And if you’re going to talk about costs, I don’t understand why the rules have to be changed again for next year. What is the logic behind that? This will just add more spending yet again to what are already exorbitant budgets. I can’t even remember the reasoning behind this latest rule change.

Times change, this whole argument that everyone’s been holding onto for the past 60 years now, which says if you make standard parts for the cars you lose the DNA of F1 is ridiculous. At some stage you’ve got to make a decision. As long as you have the responsibility or freedom to design the major parts of the cars, you’re always going to have a big separation between the level teams can compete at. When the brake budget alone for a top F1 team is equivalent to a winning Indycar budget you have to stop for a moment and think. Who cares if they run a standard brake system for all the cars?

Over the whole history of Formula 1 there have been at most three teams that could win in any given season. Most of the time it’s only two teams with a chance of winning and often only one. Ferrari had their years of domination, McLaren had theirs, as did Red Bull and now Mercedes. Eventually one or more teams catch up competitively but then in their infinite wisdom the powers running F1 decide to change the rules again and you end up with one team dominating for a while again.

It’s a cycle. The gaps narrow and what do they do? They change the rules again. Rules stability is historically the best way to close the gap between the front and the back of the grid and to lower the R&D costs. With new rules it will always be the teams with the biggest resources that will come out on top.

JT – Additionally, as you’ve said previously, when the rules are changed in Formula 1 they seem to address the wrong issues or even make changes that lead to further issues.

SJ – Yes. Most of the time it seems like it’s a knee jerk reaction to one specific item that bothers them for whatever reason and they end up tinkering with the cars and do all kinds of things with the aerodynamics to either slow them down or make them faster depending on what bothers them at the time. But why not fix the tires before they fix anything else?

How can we have a situation where Formula 1 has one tire manufacturer and they can’t make a tire that lasts a race distance without blistering? That means everyone is just cruising around the whole race saving their tires and no one can have a proper go for the full race distance. The whole situation is just bizarre.

Aren’t we supposed to have the most spectacular cars that you drive as fast as you can all the time? Even qualifying is almost pointless now to watch. Half the teams don’t even try. Apart from three or maybe four cars having a go at the pole, and not even that many sometimes because they have an engine penalty or there’s some other pointless rule that prevents them from running hard. There’s hardly anything to watch.

I think we’ve almost reached the point where they should just throw out the rule book and start from scratch with the main focus on keeping things simple and understandable. They need to look at what’s really important in the bigger picture, from a lot of different aspects - starting with the competition, then the economics, followed by entertainment and relevance. At the moment I don’t feel they’re ticking any of those boxes anywhere close to the way it could be done. However, in order to achieve this, there needs to be a complete philosophical recalibration of how a race car should look and behave and this will never change as long as the engineers are allowed to be a part of the rule making process.

JT – In sports car racing news the WEC, FIA and ACO announced that the new Hypercar class the WEC has proposed for the 2020/2021 season will have a revised/lower budget target of €20 million or just over $23 million for a two-car team per season. That’s down from the previous estimate of €25-€30 million per season.

The series’ goal for lap time at Le Mans for the class is in the 3 minute, 25 second range. This means that LMP2 class cars will have to be slowed to allow the Hypercar class to be the top category. Performance targets for each area of the car that cannot be exceeded will be set. There will, for example, be maximum downforce and minimum drag numbers specified in the rules. Testing and development will be limited. Upgrades of homologated designs will only be allowed between seasons in the name of safety and reliability. What are your thoughts on the emerging rules?

SJ – I’m having a hard time understanding the point of it all. The hypercars will look like souped-up GT cars to me so why not soup up the current GTE/GTLM cars and take off all the restrictions they currently carry under the BoP regulations. Let every manufacturer build the best car they can, which is exactly what will happen with the Hypercar.

Let’s say they make every manufacturer homologate a GT car for that category with unrestricted engines. Most of the road car versions of the current GT cars are nudging 800 horsepower now so it would be relatively easy to get 800 horsepower from them to begin. Give them 10 percent more aerodynamic downforce and one inch wider tires and some wider wheel arches. The cars will look a lot more aggressive and racy and the lap times will be in the low 30’s very soon and eventually they will creep into the 20s.

Every manufacturer would simply build a car without BoP and all of that nonsense, a proper racing car, like the Ford GT is now for example. If you took all the restrictors of that car it would be flying around Le Mans. We know what the waitlist is for the road car version of that car and I’m sure there would be a three-year waitlist for every one of the other cars from every manufacturer that decide to compete. All of the manufacturers are already there, more could be attracted and nobody would have to spend stupid money on developing entirely new cars.

They could then sell the same cars to private teams that would run with either pro drivers or gentleman drivers if they so wish but everybody would compete with the same cars. The grids would be full at every race without a doubt and fans can immediately relate to the cars they are watching.

On the other hand, some of the things they mentioned for the new class are very good. You put a limit on the amount of downforce and a minimum limit for drag. That’s a step in the right direction for sure. If they limit some areas rules-wise, hopefully that will encourage people to find different areas to develop instead of keeping all of the focus on aerodynamics.

Silly Season for Drivers and Teams

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 97

JT – It’s been a few months since the last #SJblog. Since then, the IndyCar, Formula 1 and sports car racing calendars have marched forward. We find ourselves in the middle of the summer break for many series and of course that means it’s silly season for drivers and teams figuring out who will be driving where in 2019.

Formula 1 has made the most news recently with driver shuffles kicking off in early August when Daniel Ricciardo made the surprise announcement that he was leaving Red Bull Racing after four seasons with the team. What do you make of Ricciardo’s move?

SJ – It’s interesting, I don’t think too many people saw that one coming. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye behind his decision to move obviously. Whatever the reason, it’s a major loss for Red Bull.

If you look at it historically, Renault has always won eventually when they’ve been involved in Formula 1. Of course, there’s completely different people at Renault now compared to the past but the commitment is there it seems. Just the fact that they’ve hired Ricciardo tells you the commitment is there. They’ve certainly got some good people in the team and I’m sure they will keep adding more. I am sure they must have given Ricciardo’s pretty firm guarantees that they are prepared to allocate the budget and resources required to win the championship. I see no reason why they would not fight with Mercedes and Ferrari eventually.

This situation is different but it’s not entirely dissimilar to when Lewis Hamilton left McLaren, which was then a winning team, for Mercedes who weren’t winning anything at the time. I’m sure he was shown the big plan and the commitment they had to winning the Championship. Interestingly, Mercdedes also had this driver called Rosberg, that no one was completely sure how good he really was and it ended up being a few of years with epic battles between the two. Renault has Hulkenberg that has shown great promise and great speed but never delivered the results, now he will be paired against a proven race winner, will he be able to step up and finally deliver on the promise or will this be the end of his career? I think he will keep Daniel honest and this dynamic could be great for the team if both of them push each other all the time. I don’t think this is a bad move on Ricciardo’s part, he would have always had to deal with Verstappen being favored at Red Bull, at least if what we’ve seen until now is anything to go by. Now he’s the team leader which makes a big difference also psychologically for a driver. I think there’s a good chance that Renault will eventually be on the pace of the top three, maybe not next year, but if you take a three or five year view I feel there is a very good possibility they will. There are always shifts that will come if the rules stays the same for long enough, history shows that everybody will eventually catch up. The new rules won’t be wholesale like it was when the new engine formula came in to play, where everyone’s been playing catch up to Mercedes until this year. Even when you dominate or win, like Mercedes, every year it gets a little bit harder to stay on top. So I think at some point it’s likely that Mercedes will end up with a car that isn’t the best and the dynamic will change. Ferrari is already as quick or quicker in many places.

It may take longer because a lot of things are different in F1 now. One is the massive amount of resources required to be competitive. That’s the main reason why Mercedes and Ferrari are at the front. They’re simply spending more than anyone else.

I can only assume that Ricciardo has been given pretty strong guarantees about the depth of Renault’s effort. That must have been one of the contributing factors otherwise I doubt whether he would have made the jump. He’s obviously seen what the five-year plan is.

At the same time, I also think Red Bull will be very strong with Honda power in the next five years. I think Honda is on the verge of cracking it, and when they do they are normally unstoppable.

Image by: Red Bull Racing

I think the next few years could become very interesting with both Renault and Honda catching up to Mercedes and Ferrari, it has a good chance of being more competitive than we’ve seen in a long time. I just hope they won’t tinker to much with the rules as we’re now on the verge of everyone catching up which will allow the competition to be much closer. But we should never count on the wisdom of the rule-makers, they seem to be experts at making changes where none are needed.

We all know the current set of rules are far from ideal, but at least we have gotten close to the point of diminishing return on R&D and when that happens the racing is always getting better and closer as the gap from the front to the back keeps getting smaller each year. Let’s hope it will stay this way for a while until everyone has figured out  the bigger picture of what really needs to be done. That is a subject for a whole other conversation and it’s obviously a big topic. I am actually working on a big document on that very subject which I should have ready in a couple of weeks, it’s very radical and will require a complete rethink but I hope people will like what I have in mind.

JT – Less than two weeks after Ricciardo’s announcement, Fernando Alonso announced that he would be retiring from F1 for 2019. In comments on his departure Alonso indicated he could still return to F1 if a good opportunity arose and if the series changed enough to produce a good competitive environment.

Alonso added that racing in F1 is no longer enjoyable on track, stating that the predictability of the racing was far too high with little chance to actually compete. He concluded that most of what is talked about in F1 focuses on off-track polemics and politics, not actual racing. What do you think of his decision to leave the series and the reasons behind it?

SJ – I can certainly sympathize with a driver of Alonso’s pedigree, everybody knows he doesn’t belong where he’s at, but that’s the nature of the beast in F1. It doesn’t matter how good the driver is, if you don’t have the best car you will never win or get close to the front. It’s tough to be motivated when you know before the season’s starts that you’re going to be somewhere around 8th to 12th in qualifying and get the odd point here or there.

There’s also this current obsession in Formula 1 with young, fast teenage drivers or drivers around 20 year old. For sure they’re very quick. There’s no doubt about their speed, but we don’t really know how good they are. F1 has turned into a place where driving fast is just about the only criteria that seems to matter. You can see it very clearly in the races. On Lap 1 and Lap 2 there’s more contact and debris flying off the cars – broken wing-endplates and stuff – than there is at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch every year.

There’s very little racecraft and very few of the drivers who have any racecraft. Alonso is obviously one of them, one of maybe five or six. The rest, even some of the experienced guys, I won’t mention any names but it’s pretty obvious by now, just should not have the amount of unnecessary accidents they do. As I’ve been speculating, maybe it’s something to do with these new super long wheelbase cars but it strikes me as very strange that these drivers who are supposed to be the best in the world can’t get past the first two laps without three or four cars per race getting damage in pretty much every single race.

I think one of the problems with F1 is that it’s simply too good. What I mean by that is everything is so well done from the engineering to the simulation of the races that there is literally nothing left to chance, there is no unpredictability left, except if there’s a sudden shift in weather conditions or something else that could not be planned for before the race started. We normally get 2-3 races a year like that and everybody is jumping up and down over what a great race we just had. That should tell everybody something right there. But unfortunately, it’s the engineers that are running the show now as far as the technical rules go, and they won’t back down, it’s just more and more of the same. No one’s willing to give up their toys.

JT – Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc are candidates for other drives. With Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull Gasly is now seen as strong possibility to be a teammate to Max Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc has been mentioned in connection with Ferrari for some time. Each is an example of the youth movement you mentioned.  Neither one has even completed their first season in F1.

SJ – There is no doubt that both of them are very good, I think they are future stars for sure. Just as with Max Verstappen, every now and then we get someone exceptional that pops through that little hole at the bottom of the funnel and I think both these guys are that kind. However, I think it would be foolish to throw them in the deep end with a top team this early, for the same reason I mentioned earlier. They would both fare much better where they are and gain another year of experience in a team with much less pressure and scrutiny than they would get at either Ferrari or Red Bull. If you don’t perform at your very best in every session and race the media is all over you and then the doubt start to creep in and it all goes sideways very quickly. There’s loads of examples of great drivers who never made it once they got the opportunity in the big teams, simply because it was too early in their careers. This works both ways, I don’t understand the rush from Ferrari to put Leclerc in one of their cars at this stage of his career, it will be much better for them to keep him at Sauber and let him gain more experience before they put him in the main team.

JT – In IndyCar news, Scott Dixon resigned with Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott has driven for Chip since 2002, scoring 43 of his 44 IndyCar victories with the team. He seems very content with the decision to stay at Ganassi despite offers from others including Andretti Autosport and the team McLaren may be forming. As his manager, you played a role in the negotiations. Obviously some work was involved despite the fact Scott elected not to change teams.

 Photo via: @scottdixon9

Photo via: @scottdixon9

SJ – Yes, there was a lot of talk and a lot rumors, I don’t know where some of these guys get their stories from but it was very amusing to hear some of it. So far from the truth that you have to wonder where the rumors started. Scott certainly had some strong offers but continuing with Ganassi made sense. You know Chip will always put a winning car on the grid, and that is in the end all that matters, the rest kind of falls into place. There’s obviously a huge amount of respect between the two of them and the great success story will hopefully continue for a while longer. And yes, there was a lot of work associated with it and it was quite stressful at times but as a manager you’re there to try and be objective and look at the bigger picture – all the different factors that come into play and I believe Scott made the right decision in the end.

F1 Azerbaijan GP, the latest on IndyCar & Racing Etiquette

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 95

JT – Formula 1 made its third stop of the season in Baku last weekend for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a street circuit event that has become a wild-card on the F1 calendar. The race didn’t disappoint, providing plenty of action and even some racing.

Lewis Hamilton inherited victory after teammate Valterri Bottas ran over debris while leading the final laps. Sebastian Vettel had dominated at the front until stopping for new tires just after half-distance. Bottas stayed out on his original tires longer and led but was expected to drop to second when he finally pitted. However, a collision between Red Bull Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen brought out the safety car with 12 laps to go. Bottas took advantage of the safety car and retained the lead even with his pit stop.

 Photo via @lewishamilton

Photo via @lewishamilton

With Vettel running second and Lewis Hamilton in third, the race looked to be between Bottas and Vettel. On the restart Vettel tried to dive under Bottas at Turn 1. But he locked up and barely made the corner. Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen got by and Vettel ultimately fell to fourth, struggling with flat-spotted tires that allowed Force India’s Sergio Perez to pass him for what became the final podium spot.

There was plenty more to talk about – from Force India’s Esteban Ocon clash with Raikkonen at the start to Fernando Alonso’ drive through the field in his heavily wounded McLaren. But the biggest talking point was the crash of teammates Verstappen and Ricciardo. Fans are already referring to Verstappen as “Vercraschen” and most observers are blaming the Dutch driver for yet another incident.  So, take a breath and tell me your thoughts about Azerbaijan.

SJ – Well, first I think it’s a great track. Every year since they started racing there we’ve seen plenty of action and unpredictable results. As I’ve said many times before, I think street circuits generally are the way to go. There’s more unpredictability than you have with the modern road courses with their big run-off areas and generally quite boring layouts. When you go off-line or completely miss a corner on a modern road course you can carry on without any real punishment whereas at a place like Baku, you get punished immediately if you make a mistake. We need more of that I feel, generally speaking most of the street circuits around the world, Monaco being the exception, produce exciting racing and unpredictable results. The atmosphere is great because you bring the race to the people rather than to a track miles away where people have to drive in order to get there. All the City tracks around the world have by far the best ambience, it doesn’t matter if it’s in F1, Indycar, Formula E or any other series.

The long straight in Baku, especially with the DRS, really encourages drivers to have a go, as we saw there was plenty of action in the braking zone. Tire wear wasn’t much of a factor in this race and if the teams weren’t required to make a stop by the rules, many of the drivers would have probably just carried on without any stops. What’s interesting is that at this race and most other races recently is that everyone goes for it like it’s a Formula Ford race on the first lap. I assume they all go mad because they’re all aware that’s their best and sometimes maybe the only opportunity to overtake during the whole race.

It’s extraordinary how many, what can we say…. more than opportunistic moves were made. People were banging wheels everywhere. You have to say, if these are supposedly the best drivers in the world and most of them are getting paid accordingly, it’s marginal at best. I mean a lot of guys just threw the race away almost before it started. There’s no excuse for putting the car in the barrier only a few laps into the race when you have a potential top-six car. Unforced errors at that level are hard to justify, I think. The track conditions were not easy for sure, but that is still not an excuse for throwing away a great result. I can understand if it happened with one of the rookie drivers but in some cases these are drivers with nearly a 100 GP’s under their belt. Not acceptable in my opinion. It’s interesting to note though that it’s almost the same in every series, where you have plenty of very fast drivers, they can all produce great lap-times and qualify well but there’s still only a handful that know how to race well, that have the race craft to win races and championships.

Lewis was fortunate to win this time, but the way he drove is how you win Championships. He didn’t try to force it when he knew he had a bad day but instead let the race come to him. He could easily have tried a move down the inside just like Vettel did but he didn’t and even if hadn’t won the race which of course was lucky, but regardless I think he made the best of what was for him a bad weekend. If Hamilton was lucky, then poor Bottas was extremely unlucky, as was Vettel who dominated the race until the safety car came out with 12 laps to go.

Talking about Ricciardo and Verstappen, frankly they could have easily crashed several times well before the accident if Ricciardo hadn’t given more than adequate room to Verstappen every time where close earlier in the race. It’s the same thing I mentioned in regard to Verstappen’s driving in China and Bahrain. He’s been getting away with his moves for the past three years. But now the tide has turned because every one of them is so marginal, so low-percentage. Eventually, the odds catch up with you and you can’t get away with what you’ve been getting away with forever.

I think almost every driver has been through this at some stage in their career. You do the same aggressive thing one year and you get away with every move. If you look back at all of the moves Max has made it’s been extraordinary that he hasn’t been caught out before and instead it’s been whomever he was dicing with that ended up with a broken wing end-plate or got run off the track or whatever else might have happened but Max always seemed to come out on top. But then things turn around and every move you make goes the wrong way, although he’s not doing anything different, but the tiny margins he’s dealing with all the time are now not in his favor anymore. Part of the problem when you’re constantly cutting it that fine, with one extremely low percentage move after another, is that you’re leaving your own faith in the hands of the guy you’re racing against, and none of the guys at this level will accept to get bullied forever. And, so here we are, all the “genius” moves from the past years now suddenly look clumsy and poorly executed.

At some stage I think the penny is going to have to drop for him. You’ll never ever win a championship driving like he does. He’s still young and I’m sure these past races have taught him that you don’t have to win every battle to win the war and he will no doubt win several more races and championships. But he’s got to realize that he cannot keep doing what he’s doing and hope to get away with it every time.

In this case, the crash was 110 percent Verstappen’s fault in my opinion. Once you’ve made a move in defense you can’t move again, especially not if you’ve opened the door slightly, which is what he did by swerving to the right. At that point, Ricciardo is 100 percent committed to the move on the inside, before then you could see that he was going to either go late on the outside or dive on the inside depending on the line Max chose. Once the door is open and he’s hard on the brakes at the very last moment there’s nothing he can do at that point but continue in the trajectory the car is going. If there’s suddenly an obstacle in front of you, you’re going to hit it, it’s as simple as that. And of course, Verstappen knows that, or should know that. He’s pulled the same trick several times before on other drivers, and it’s always been the guy coming from behind who got the short end of the stick, this time both were out immediately.

What I would do if was Christian Horner or Helmut Marko, instead of constantly protecting him, I would have him sit and watch every video replay of every incident or accident he’s had where he got away with it and make him see how lucky he’s been in the past. Now circumstances have changed a half-percent in the wrong direction and he’s not just costing someone else a front wing or a lost race, he’s costing himself and the team DNF’s and extremely valuable points and not getting away with what he was before. Sooner or later you will run out of luck.

JT – As a matter fact, Verstappen’s two moves in the braking zone are a violation of the FIA’s rules. And yet, the FIA stewards did not penalize him, only reprimanding Verstappen and Ricciardo, apportioning blame to both. Apparently, you’re correct. The FIA will not enforce its own rules. On the RBR team side, it seems they wanted the drivers to share blame so that Verstappen would not rack up any more points on his Superlicense.

The FIA is weak in enforcing the rules. This has been a problem for a long time now and continues to be a problem. When they issue penalties they often issue them for the wrong reasons. But when it really matters and could make people understand that “this is where we draw the line”, nothing happens. I don’t believe in the system of having a different ex driver at every race. It needs to be a consistent and well respected small group of people that are objective and firm in their decisions so the drivers always know where the line is drawn. It’s far to random the way it is now.

It’s the same on the technical side. They write a new set of rules and then three years later you have cars which have aero appendages that were never part of the spirit of the  agreement. Everyone knows this but when every team has, literally, armies of people scouring the rule book to find any loopholes and the FIA doesn’t enforce it strongly enough or soon enough, it eventually gets out of hand and then we get what we have now.

JT – One of the downsides of the race at Baku is the track organization. There were several instances where track workers looked overwhelmed trying to clear the track of cars or debris. Ultimately, the FIA’s laxness – there was a large tree branch on track for several laps, for example – cost Bottas the win.

SJ – I agree, to me it’s a mystery that Formula 1, this super-sophisticated, highest-level racing series in the world, does not have a dedicated team of track marshals that travel to all the venues. How much would it cost to do what IndyCar has done for decades where you have a well trained crew and a pick-up truck with a small jet engine on the back which they use every time there’s a safety car to make sure the track is clean and free of debris? How much would it cost to ship that to every event?

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 2.49.33 PM.png

In particular with modern F1 cars, it’s literally like an explosion when they hit each other. There’s carbon debris everywhere and that stuff is like a needle, the threads of that carbon-fiber. Bottas was the first one to arrive where the collision had occurred and he was screwed. You’re traveling so fast by that point that even if you see something - by that time you’ve already hit it. If there’s any piece of debris left on the track there’s no way you can avoid it.

It’s now 24 years since Senna had his accident in Imola… It’s a theory but I am convinced that he ran over the debris from the start line accident (J.J. Lehto stalled his Benetton on the grid and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus). There were shreds of carbon-fiber everywhere. It was the same thing as it was this time, some marshals picking up the debris by hand. I think he got a slow puncture which caused him to bottom out when he went through Tamburello and that’s what caused him to go off the track and into the wall. I don’t think anything broke on the car.

This is just my theory but that’s very much what it looked like to me. The point I’m trying to make is, nothing has changed in 24 years. To see a bunch of marshals running around like headless chickens at Baku, picking up debris by hand does not look good.

JT – Sebastian Vettel admitted that his attempt to pass Valterri Bottas on the late race restart wound up costing him but said it was a move he had to try. That seems a fair assessment. What do you think?

SJ – I think he knew that was his only option and in a way I admire it. I know as a driver, if you didn’t have a go, you would lie there all night replaying the video in your head wondering why you didn’t try.

Any driver worth his salt knows that if a win is possible, you have to go for it. His case was different from Lewis as he knew he had a winning car rather than just soldiering on trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

The thing is though,  the tires are so marginal these days. It’s the same point I made after the race in China. I don’t think any driver really knows where the limit is on the tires at any given point, especially not on a restart or leaving the pits. They’re hard to warm up, the pressures come up differently and there’s so many factors that come into play. You can see it throughout the races, even the cars from the same team act differently, if for whatever reason one of the cars get the tires lit up, they run super competitively for that stint and then for whatever reason the next stint the tires does not work they’re nowhere.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again, it’s ironic that teams are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on sophisticated aero, simulations, CFD and on and on. Yet on the day it just comes down to who can get their tires to work, after all that money has been spent, it literally comes down to a pound of tire pressure or 10 degrees of tire temperature on a set of tires that probably cost less than $5000 for a set. It seems like one car can make its tires work and the other can’t. Suddenly the Toro Rosso with Honda Power can hang with the top cars. This has nothing to do with either the car or the driver, but is purely down to how well the tires are working on the day. The car doesn’t suddenly improve by seconds, nor do the drivers, it’s purely down to the tires.

JT – One of the elements that makes Azerbaijan a wild card race is attrition. There were teams, from Force India and McLaren to Sauber and Torro Rosso which might not have expected a good result. But with some retirements and good driving, they were rewarded.

SJ – Yeah if you look at the results some of the drivers definitely benefitted. In Alonso’s case, yes that helped but don’t forget he is arguably still the best racer out there. What he does with the equipment handed to him is pretty miraculous. He has the ability to really maximize every situation. When he was with Ferrari, he carried the car on his shoulders and nearly won the championship with a car that was not really a championship winning car at the time.

JT – I think seeing Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber score points is satisfying to fans because of the frustration they feel with the fact that the majority of the F1 grid never seems to make much progress. People ask, why can’t they get it together and compete for wins?

 Photo via @schecoperez

Photo via @schecoperez

SJ – They can’t get any closer for a simple reason – the cubic dollars it takes to be at the top. The more you spend, the faster you go. It’s nothing to do with innovation or cleverness anymore, it’s just having an army of people grinding away at spending money on wind tunnels and simulations, and honing and tweaking tiny percentages on the cars. That’s the only way to gain performance, because the rules prevent any radical thinking and everyone is stuck fine tuning what you’re allowed to do within this very narrow box. The only team that have been consistently punching above it’s weight year after year is Force India, which they showed again in Baku, getting a podium finish with a car that was definitely not a top three car.

It makes you smile when you hear the constant argument that spec parts becoming parts of the cars will cause F1 to lose its DNA or creativity. There’s been no creativity in F1 for over 20 years now, except innovative developments in the areas where the rules allow it to be, but as far as any new concepts nothing has changed.

In comparison, this is where IndyCar has the technical side so right. And because of that, every team has a chance to get it right on race day and actually win. If you have a top driver, some clever engineers in theory any of the teams could win.

There’s not much you can do to the cars in IndyCar but ironically, it’s very much the same in F1. The big difference is that every team in F1 has to be responsible for making everything on the car on their own. But there’s so little that you can do to the cars by the rules in F1, in terms of any new concepts, that it’s become like a spec series in many ways in as much as all the cars eventually end up looking the same as the rules don’t allow the teams to go a different route even if they wanted to. The engine rules are the same for everyone in that there’s only one concept of engine and every manufacturer have to fine tune and hone every aspect of that one concept in order to get an edge on the competition.

JT – The F1 rules for 2021 continue to be hotly debated. Recently, the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission agreed to increase the race fuel allowance from 105kg to 110kg in 2019, in order to help drivers “be able to use the engine at full power at all times”.

It’s part of F1’s effort to increase overtaking and apparently the teams are also helping with “extra CFD research”. It seems ludicrous that F1 would need to conduct CFD research to understand how it might increase overtaking. A common sense reduction in downforce would surely help and be a simple low cost solution.

As a first initiative, this past week a new aerodynamic rules tweak for 2019 has been implemented which is meant to help cars following each other and improve the overtaking situation. Is this another knee jerk reaction and if so, do you feel this is a move in the right direction?

SJ – Yes, I agree it is very much a knee jerk reaction after only a couple of races into the new season.  You can see recent illustrations of that if you look at F1 going to this higher downforce formula last year to make the cars go faster because it was decided they weren’t quick enough at the time. In part, it was a reaction to the fact that the GP2 or F2 cars’ lap times were getting too close to F1.

 Photo via @autosport

Photo via @autosport

So what happened? Collectively they spent probably $100 million per team across the board – if you figure it’s $300 million for the top teams to maybe $30 million for the back of the grid - to develop cars for the new rules with more downforce. So in total it cost the entire F1 paddock close to a billion dollars for this new car to make it go about 5 seconds per lap quicker just so they have a faster lap time than a GP2 car, or to get closer to the lap times they did some years before the Hybrid Formula started.

Consider instead, if you had put a smaller front and rear wing on a GP2 car that probably would have cost less than $50,000 per car which would slow them down by 3-4 seconds per lap. So basically you’re talking a billion dollars to make the F1 cars go faster for that purpose or a couple million at most to slow down the entire grid of GP2 cars.

And in the end, who cares, the difference is completely irrelevant on track. It’s complete and utter madness. Yet no one seems to want to  budge, no one’s backing off. The part I don’t understand is if the money flowing into F1 stays the same as it is now - and there’s no reason why it can’t be - but everyone spend a third of what they’re spending now surely the other two thirds would be profit.

That would have to be good thing in my mind, and the valuation of every team would go up accordingly and actually make the teams worth something again.

JT – IndyCar returned Barber Motorsports Park for what was unfortunately, a rain-delayed race. Josef Newgarden pitted from the lead early for wet tires and that proved to be the right move. He eventually regained the top spot when late stoppers like Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Dixon couldn’t survive anymore on slicks in increasingly wet conditions.

SJ – Yes, Scott was on the right strategy and had it not started raining more heavily, both he and Bourdais would have been looking pretty good for the win.

JT - A week before Barber, IndyCar ran the Long Beach Grand Prix for the 35th consecutive time. Alexander Rossi dominated for Andretti Autosport, winning from pole position. As usual the crowds were large, proving that the event remains a highlight on the IndyCar calendar.

 Photo via @scottdixon9

Photo via @scottdixon9

The race wasn’t as positive for Scott Dixon who finished 11th after starting from 4th. Scott ran 3RD and 2nd for much of the race until past halfway when a car hit the wall in turn 10. Dixon and Sebastian Bourdais immediately ducked into the pits but according to IndyCar they entered pit road just as the yellow flag flew. Bourdais was told to drive through the pits and continue around. But Scott was called in and stopped for service. That broke the rules and he was issued a drive-through penalty.

What did you think of the race and Rossi’s dominant performance?

SJ – Long Beach is always terrific. There was a great vibe in the paddock. It’s really become the number two race of the season next to Indianapolis. So many people come out for the race and the crowds are great.

The new cars are racing well and everything I hear in the paddock is very positive about them, from their looks to the sounds they make. Everything is going in the right direction in that area I feel.

Rossi has obviously done a phenomenal job so far this year. He’s got things dialed in very well right now. It’s interesting, with the new car some people seem to have found the magic bullet and others are struggling a bit more than what we’re used to seeing.

The pit stop for Scott was obviously a disaster. The sequence of events did make it difficult though. You had one second to make a decision basically with a lot of factors to consider. It was extremely unlucky both for Scott and Bourdais. The yellow came out literally as they were turning to enter the pits. They really had no choice because they were both on fumes at that point. Scott couldn’t have done another lap if he’d wanted to. Bourdais went through and had to come right back for tires but they pulled Scott in and put tires on. So he got a penalty. It just didn’t work out. If the pit stop had gone as planned I think he had 2nd place locked up.

JT – You’re part of the history at Long Beach. Your first race there was in 1993. You qualified 5th and started alongside Mario Andretti who was 6th. The field was 28 cars! That must have been amazing. What’s your memory of your first Long Beach GP?

 Photo via @sjohanssonf1

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

SJ – I loved the track from the first time I drove it. I’ve always liked street circuits but particularly these kinds of circuits (including Monaco) where there’s a lot of precision and you need to find just the right spot where the grip is, which is not always on the correct racing line. Once you find the right rhythm and the right places to be fast you pick up so much time. It’s a really fun track to drive and race on.

Yes, there were almost 30 cars out there. But at that time a lot of the IndyCar races were like that. It was great. Unfortunately Mario and I collided before we even got to the start line. I was so bummed too because we tried a really wild thing in the morning warm-up. It was something we used to do when we raced at Hockenheim before they had the chicanes in F1. We’d take the Gurney flap on the rear wing and reverse it so that you put it behind the main flap on the rear wing. It gave the car just a little more lift on the rear which didn’t affect the low speed grip that much but made it a lot faster down the long straight.

We didn’t lose much grip in the corners but the car was like 7 MPH quicker than anything else on the straights. I thought, ‘I’m gonna win this race!’ There was no question about it and what happened? I didn’t even get to the start line!

SJ – Finally, let’s talk about racing etiquette a bit. For fans, it’s fun to wonder about some of the fine and not-so-fine points of racing on and off-track. Few people race professionally and fewer still do it at the top level like you did.

Great pressure and great fun come along with that but like in any profession there’s a certain etiquette about how you handle a range of situations. Let’s start that conversation in this blog with this question:

How do you handle a situation in which your car, through no fault of your own, experiences a mechanical/electrical/software failure during a race and cannot continue? What’s the etiquette for the driver?

Do you throw your hands up in the air, pack up and bolt away from the track as quick as possible without a word to anyone? 

Do you stay and commiserate with the team/owner for a while?

Or do you find a convenient lawn chair and get a sun tan trackside like Fernando Alonso during the 2015 Brazilian GP?

 Photo via Sky Sports

Photo via Sky Sports

SJ – Usually you just want to get out of there as soon as you can and get home. That’s what you normally try to do. But I always made sure I thanked every person in the team individually before I left the track. It depends on the schedule of the race and other things but I remember when I drove for Ligier in F1, for example.

 Photo via @sjohanssonf1

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

The car was such a dog that you never knew what weekend would be like. I used to have three different flights booked at every race. One was on Saturday evening in case we didn’t qualify for the race,  another was on Sunday afternoon if the car broke down early in the race and then one on Monday morning if we managed to finish the race!

Of course everybody on a team is bummed and pissed off if something like that happens and I think everyone just feels the same way – you just want to get the hell out of there. Then you regroup on Monday or Tuesday afterwards and you go through everything and analyze what went wrong and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

JT - To make this extra fun, let me ask a related question.

Let’s say you’re co-driving a sports car, maybe a prototype at Le Mans, and a co-driver wrecks the car in the Porsche curves – just wipes it out. What’s the etiquette for the driver/s who were not driving in that situation?

Do you commiserate with the co-driver then leave?

Do you want to strangle him and then leave?

SJ – Ha! No… absolutely you commiserate generally, although it depends a bit on the circumstances. I’ve had some teammates who you just want to strangle of course but at the time you give them the benefit of the doubt at least.

Every driver on the grid is a different individual, a different personality. Some guys are just great and we’re all trying hard and accidents happen from time to time. Less often you have a teammate who’s arrogant and blames everything and everyone around them, and it’s never their fault. So there’s no fixed code for that. But I’ve certainly had occasions where I’ve felt like strangling my co-driver and I’m sure there’s been times where they felt the same about me! But in the end, I’ve been lucky to have been teamed with not only some of the greatest drivers in the world but also some really good human beings in general. The camaraderie when you share a car at Le Mans for example is something really special and those moments is something I will treasure for all my life.