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F1 Chinese GP, Fernando Alonso gears up for Indy 500 & the Grand Prix of Long Beach

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 84 -

JT – We haven’t had a chance to chat since before the 2017 Formula One season begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in late March. As always, the first race of the season offered opportunity for those willing seize it.

Ferrari did just that, showing pace on par with Mercedes and taking the initiative with pit strategy during the race. Sebastian Vettel got away from the grid well, just behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. He then trailed Hamilton closely, forcing the Mercedes driver to use his tires hard. Hamilton pitted on lap 17 but Vettel remained on track until Lap 22.

Hamilton emerged from the pits behind Max Verstappen and was unable to pass the Red Bull Racing driver despite being on newer tires. The delay allowed Vettel to build a gap which saw him emerge from the pits well clear of Hamilton and he remained in front until the checkered flag.

The result was a widely applauded surprise and a hopeful sign for the championship. Ferrari has certainly closed most of the performance gap to Mercedes. However, on-track passing was at a premium throughout the field. Very few passes were made even during the opening laps. What did you think of the Australian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ferrari has certainly improved significantly over the winter and they proved it. Mercedes didn’t get their strategy quite right and they paid for it.

More than that, Ferrari’s pace doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan. They were quick in pre-season testing and they backed up the promise from the tests by being right on the pace when they arrived in Melbourne. If anything, it looks like their tire management may be the best in the field at the moment, at least with Vettel.

That goes back to a conversation we had in the blog last year. At the time I said I’d bet that Ferrari would gain an advantage from Vettel’s willingness to be an integral part of all the tire testing Pirelli did in preparation for the new tire rule for 2017. He was the only driver to put aside the time to do that. I said at the time that I guarantee this would pay dividends for him going into 2017 and it certainly looks like it has.

I can’t understand why no other driver was willing to do that. If there’s one simple way to gain an advantage, it’s in understanding the tires and even better if you can have an influence on how they are built. That was one of the main reasons why Michael Schumacher was so successful. He spent every day he could pounding around Fiorano when Ferrari was using Bridgestone and they came out with a tire absolutely tailor-made for his driving style. Hardly anyone else could make the tire work but it suited him perfectly.

Every tire company always develop a kind of philosophy on how they build their tires for a certain type of car or series and if you can have an influence on that philosophy – if you can affect and learn the nuances of the construction they use – it makes a huge difference. You gain just that little bit more confidence in being able attack a fraction harder on corner entry. That affects the performance through the whole corner, the way you set the car up and everything. It might be minuscule gains but that can be all the difference you need to win.

Good for Vettel and shame on everybody else for not committing to that testing.

JT – Mercedes and Ferrari were again the main story at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. This time Mercedes gained the upper hand with Lewis Hamilton dominating the weekend, earning pole position and leading from the start without ever being challenged. Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel had to fight his way to a second place finish. The race began on a damp track with nearly all of the field on wet weather tires. Vettel gambled, pitting for slicks on Lap 2 during a virtual safety car period. Leaders Hamilton, Valterri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen remained on track. They reaped a reward on Lap 5 when Sauber’s Antonio Giovanazzi crashed exiting the final corner, bringing out a safety car.

The leaders then pitted and emerged in front of Vettel. Mired in sixth place Vettel worked for several laps to pass Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Then he tracked down and passed Ricciardo, going outside the Red Bull Racing driver in Turn 6. Verstappen fell to Vettel’s charge on lap 28 after locking up entering Turn 14.

Vettel’s climb back to second provided some drama as did the performance of the Red Bulls on supersoft Pirellis early on. There was more passing at Shanghai - mostly on its long straights with DRS enabling some competitors to blow by those ahead. But the most interesting passing was pulled off in the corners. What did you think of the Chinese Grand Prix?

SJ – The race showed again that there isn’t much between Mercedes and Ferrari. So far the battle between the two is shaping up to be pretty good. Hopefully Raikkonen and Bottas will step it up and be able to challenge for wins too as we get further into the season.

No one really challenged Lewis at any point in China. There was more passing than we saw in Melbourne and it’s interesting because most of the really good passes were almost all two-lane overtakes. That’s something we touched on before the season began. I mentioned that one possibility resulting from the increased grip of the 2017 cars might be the capability to run more than one line through corners.

That seems to be what happened at Shanghai. In the double right-hander that follows the start/finish line there was passing on the outside and the same in Turn 6. The pass that Vettel made on Ricciardo was spectacular and good fun to watch.

But that can only happen at a track where you have extremely long corners, where you’re loading up the car for a long period of time. You’re not going to be able to do that in a traditional corner or a 90-degree corner. At the next race at Bahrain there just aren’t the type of corners that will encourage that kind of passing because one corner follows another pretty quickly. It’s unlikely.

JT – What do you think of the performance of Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen so far?

SJ – Bottas made a mistake in China, no question. But in fairness anyone can do that at some stage, they were tricky circumstances. He’s on the pace or very close it seems, the only difference is that Ferrari is much closer this year, hence the split on grid positions instead of the usual Mercedes 1-2. He certainly did a good job in Melbourne. I’m sure he’ll improve as the season goes on. I don’t think he’ll beat Lewis but I think he’ll be very close.

It’s harder to say how Kimi will do. It seems difficult for him to have everything come together at once in recent years. He’s quick and then when it really matters there’s always some little thing that trips him up, sometimes it’s just bad luck but it seems to happen to him more than it does with Vettel for sure. Time will tell.

JT – While Ferrari and Mercedes top the field, Red Bull Racing falls into a gap some distance behind them but well ahead of the rest of the teams. What do you make of their situation?

SJ – It’s a bit disappointing - for them at least. I think everyone expected more from Red Bull with the changes in the rules. They’ve obviously missed the mark somewhere. They clearly don’t have the speed or downforce to match the Ferrari or the Mercedes on a consistent basis at least. I don’t think the Renault engine is that far behind now but they seem to be lacking some performance in their overall package.

Ricciardo and Verstappen are very close in terms of speed and they’re pushing but the car’s just not there yet. However, with the crazy development curve in F1 I am sure they will eventually be on the same pace as the Mercedes and Ferrari. The Spanish GP seems to be the first race where all the big updates show up, so let’s see what happens after that.

JT – Meanwhile the best of the rest of the teams are anywhere from 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace of Mercedes and Ferrari, and the gap expands quickly as you go further into the field. If you’re not racing with Mercedes, Ferrari or possibly Red Bull, you’re miles off the pace.

SJ – That was to be expected. Every time you have a significant rules change the teams without big resources are going to fall further back than they were before the changes took place.

The way F1 is today it’s very difficult to come up with a great and different idea. The development on these cars pretty much comes down to cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. Every now and then someone gets lucky and get it right straight out of the box, but in the big picture it will take the mid-fielders and the back-markers probably another year or two before they’re able to claw back some time to the front runners. Then the gap will be around a second between those teams and the leaders. This happens every time we have a major rule change.

JT – With rules stability costs should also fall a bit. This time around however one wonders whether the mid-field and back-marking teams can hang on financially until the situation stabilizes? There is work going on behind the scenes by the Liberty Media group to try to get teams to agree to reduce costs and spread F1 resources more equitably but will it actually happen?

SJ – There’s been a lot of talk for a while now about cost reduction and how the money will be distributed among the teams going forward. I don’t think anyone really know how to go about the cost reduction issue at the moment, mainly because there are so many opinions on how to do this and to a large degree it comes back to what I’ve been saying for some time now. If you try to accomplish this in a democratic way, there will never be a good solution, a well thought out plan has to come from the top down and if the teams want to play they will have to follow these rules. As it is currently the teams can’t even decide where to have their meetings let alone come forward with any meaningful proposal on how to accomplish any form of cost reduction.

The distribution of funds is another can of worms that could cause some serious problems going forward. I am sure the teams that are benefiting the most will not be willing to give up those benefits freely. This may end up being one of the biggest challenges for the new owners to untangle.

JT – McLaren continues to have a pretty disastrous start to their 2017 season, having failed to finish with either car at Australia or China. Honda’s underdeveloped power unit is the biggest issue for them and it’s costing Fernando Alonso as he languishes in another uncompetitive car for yet another year.

The upside is that there’s a silver lining for IndyCar and its fans. It was announced today that Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix this year, choosing instead to drive one of Andretti Autosport’s Hondas in the 101st running of the Indy 500. This is big news for IndyCar and should be a massive boon for them.

SJ – Yes, this is the best thing that could happen to IndyCar in my opinion. It’s funny, you and I have been talking about this in the blog over the last couple years – that IndyCar really needed to try and get one of the top guys in Formula One to come over and we always mentioned Alonso as a perfect example.

This is really great news and I personally can’t wait to see him go around the Speedway, I’m very excited.

It’s worked out that he’s the driver most likely to want to do this because he’s in an uncompetitive car again. It’s marketing gold and a huge shot in the arm for IndyCar.

JT – That news must have been filtering through the paddock at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend. It was another great event with some good racing, some foul luck for front-runners like Ryan Hunter Reay and Alexander Rossi, and another big dose of frustration for Scott Dixon.

On the other hand, James Hinchcliffe managed to pull off a win for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, one of the smaller teams in the series. He was followed home by Sebastian Bourdais in second place – the winner of the season-opener in St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Racing - another of the series’ smallest outfits. Meanwhile Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished third.
Scott finished fourth and it was obvious that he could have topped the podium if the team’s strategy had been different. They switched to a three-stop pit strategy during the race.

SJ - Scott really should have won, again. He was far quicker than anyone else most of the weekend, just as he was at St. Petersburg. The team chose to go to a three-stop strategy because of the way they thought the yellow flag was going to fall early in the race. The yellow never came and it screwed his strategy completely.

But as frustrating as IndyCar can be with their closed-pit rule during cautions, the racing is still very exciting and I still claim it’s the best racing out there of any major Championship, certainly better than anything else in single seater racing. The first two races show that almost everyone in the series has a chance of winning and the gap between the top teams and the smaller ones is very tight. It was frustrating for Scott to be on the wrong end of the stick again but that stuff usually evens out over the season.

JT – You raced in the Grand Prix of Long Beach in CART from 1993-1996. What are your memories of racing there?

SJ – I always enjoyed racing at Long Beach. The first race I did there, I think I qualified on the second row. But it didn’t turn out to be a particularly fond memory in the race because Mario Andretti put me into the wall at the hairpin before I even got to the start-finish line!

They waved the green flag, we hit each other coming out of the hairpin and it was over before I even got to the flag!

But Long Beach is a great event and it seems to get bigger each year, the crowd is great and the atmosphere is terrific.

JT – Scuderia Corsa has a good finish in Saturday’s IMSA Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan drove their Ferrari 488 GT3 to third place.

SJ – Everybody did a great job. Christina did a great job starting the race and had a good stint. Balzan was very spectacular in his stint and showed some really good race craft. He passed a lot of cars toward the end of the race. He was driving hard and it was a good finish. And the team did their usual brilliant job on the strategy, we gained something like 5 places with the pit strategy we used. We have one of the best teams out there on the scoring stand.

JT – In other news it appears that Felix Rosenqvist will make his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year with DragonSpeed Racing in their LMP2 Oreca 07 Gibson. He’ll share the car with Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.

SJ – Yes, he tested the car for the first time this week in England and he really liked it. It will be a great experience for him to do Le Mans also. It’s a track every driver should experience, along with the Indianapolis Speedway. They are both iconic race tracks and still as difficult and dangerous to master as they have ever been.

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.