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The Blog

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: recap of the Australian GP & Scuderia Corsa at COTA

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – The Australian Grand Prix is now in the rear-view mirror. It was less than spectacular in many regards. And while uncertainty always accompanies the first race of any Formula One season, last weekend’s event in Melbourne seemed to be particularly fraught. In some ways it was downright embarrassing. What’s your take?

Stefan Johansson – Well, in many ways it’s a sign of the times I guess. If this is the pinnacle of motorsport, as so many inside F1 keep referring to, and they can only get 15 cars on the grid there is every reason to start worrying about the state of affairs. This amazingly complicated technology that we now have is there because it needs to be seen as the “pinnacle”? It makes me scratch my head. Something’s fundamentally wrong. In my estimate the cumulative budget for all the teams currently in F1 is somewhere around $2 Billion, and they can’t get more than 15 cars to start the race. Eleven cars finished the race, and only one of those retired due to driver error or a crash.

No form of racing should have to be this complicated. If a company like McLaren - with all of the resources, knowledge and experience they have - along with a manufacturer like Honda can’t produce a car that is even remotely close to the front, or able to run more than a handful of laps at a time, after having a year to work on it and having the opportunity to see what other constructors did it’s pretty extraordinary.

You have to seriously question if F1 really needs to be this complicated. I have a feeling the desire to be politically correct have completely overtaken the fundamental reasons for going racing. I think there’s a chance this new engine formula could ultimately be the straw that broke the camels back.

JT – Lewis Hamilton was dominant, winning the pole and the race ahead of Nico Rosberg. The two Mercedes drivers were the only competitors with a chance to win. I think most who saw the race would say that Mercedes GP may have an even larger advantage over the rest of the grid than last year. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, I don’t think there’s any question. And it’s not just their power unit. They seem to have done a good job with their chassis as well. Their cars are very agile. But we knew that going into Melbourne. They only ran on soft tires once throughout preseason testing and still were quickest.

Everybody wants the competition to be equal in F1 but it’s not going to be. If you think back to Red Bull’s winning seasons, every time they had an advantage taken away it was because they had gained it by essentially finding a loophole in the rules. The FIA then plugged the loophole and they had to look for something else. I don’t know if it’s the same with Mercedes but I don’t think it is and so it wouldn’t be fair to penalize them or pull their performance back because they’ve done a better job than anyone else within the boundaries of the rules.  

JT – Obviously the weekend simply belonged to Hamilton. Nico couldn’t really keep pace when the checkered flag dropped.

SJ – I thought Nico was looking pretty strong in practice and he might have the upper hand but when it came down to crunch time Lewis certainly did the job both in Qualifying and the race. Every time Nico turned up the wick Lewis was able to respond right away. It will be interesting to see how Nico will respond and if he’s able to lift himself mentally to pose a challenge. Lewis is definitely on a roll at the moment.

JT – Vettel had what we must view as a good weekend with a podium finish. Räikkönen had a good start too but then got baulked in traffic, run into by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and failed to finish after losing a wheel later in the race.

SJ – Vettel and Kimi both did a great job in qualifying as well as the race, Kimi got messed up on the first lap but was definitely coming on strong and I think he would have caught Felipe Massa and passed him at the end of the race if his wheel hadn’t come off.

Ferrari has clearly tidied things up. Sometimes it doesn’t take a wholesale change. As long as you identify the areas where you’re weak or lacking, you can move forward with the right adjustments. Vettel and Räikkönen both struggled with their new cars last year because they couldn’t get them to turn in comfortably. That makes sense because they have similar driving styles. Clearly, they’ve addressed that issue with the Ferrari this year. Both drivers seem to be a lot more comfortable in their current cars. They were quick as soon as they rolled them out of the trucks in Spain for the pre season testing and have been improving ever since.

Obviously, they have also improved the power unit and that’s maybe more crucial now than ever. The engines under the previous formula were all very, very similar. There was probably less than 20 horsepower between the best of them and the worst.

JT – What’s your view on the performance of the rest of the frontrunners?

SJ - It looks like Renault is in worse shape with their power unit than they were last year. Ferrari’s obviously made a tremendous step forward and Williams seems to be there too with their Mercedes power. For the rest, maybe with the exception of Sauber, it’s much the same with maybe some of the teams switching around from last year. Lotus should be a lot stronger than what showed in Melbourne with their new engine package.

Once the season gets underway, development moves pretty quickly for the top teams and hopefully the grid will tighten up a bit. But if things continue like they did in Australia it’ll be even worse than it was last year.

JT – On track, Sauber were true to their preseason form in testing and their cars obviously have decent pace. Despite contact with Räikkönen and Pastor Maldonado, Felipe Nasr finished in fifth place while Marcus Ericsson was eighth.

SJ – Yes, I have to say Nasr was quite impressive both in Qualifying and the race, though he was lucky not to get any car damage from his contact on the first lap. Of course Marcus took the first points for a Swedish driver in F1 since my last point 25 years ago, which was great and about time I have to say. He had a bit more difficulty in the race than Nasr, especially in the early part but still did a good job and I have a feeling he will become stronger as the season goes by.

JT – As you mentioned, Red Bull Racing looks to be in trouble. Ricciardo finished in sixth place a lap down while Daniil Kvyat didn’t even take the start, suffering a gearbox issue on the warm-up lap. Obviously the Renault power unit is significantly less powerful than the Mercedes units and isn’t reliable either. Christian Horner and the team have been rather critical of Renault and speculation is swirling that Red Bull may pull out of F1.

SJ – In some sense that’s the way F1 has always been. Everybody’s posturing and pushing the limit all the time; it’s part of the game. If it wasn’t Red Bull threatening to pull out it might be somebody else. Maybe Mercedes might want the engine rules to be a certain way. Remember it was the manufacturers who collectively wanted to use this hybrid technology and here we are. Someone’s always unhappy, and there’s only ever one guy on the top of the podium and generally he’s also the only one who’s happy.

JT – Speaking of unhappy people, the folks at McLaren and Honda must be wondering how they will turn things around. Although Jenson Button actually ran the full race distance, finishing 11th, Kevin Magnussen didn’t take the green flag due to a power unit problem and both cars were more than two seconds off the pace of the Mercedes GP machines. Where does McLaren go from here?

SJ – They obviously have an enormous amount of hard work to do. It’s pretty extraordinary that Button finished. The most they had run the car in testing and practice was 12 consecutive laps. For them it must have felt like a kind of victory really. Even though they weren’t running the cars on the limit, the amount of data and information they’ll get from running a race distance will be very valuable.

Every single lap you’re able to run these days is valuable because of the stupid testing rules which really limit the teams but don’t cut costs in any way. So any lap under race conditions is critical.

JT – The off-track machinations were just as sordid as some of those on-track with the spectacle of driver Giedo van der Garde suing Sauber over his contract to race with them in 2015. Though the Australian and Swiss courts supported the validity of van der Garde’s contract he decided to back off for the weekend, allowing Sauber to race without having its assets seized. Widespread speculation is that a significant amount of money changed hands.

SJ – I don’t know the full details of the dispute, but I assume that Van de Garde was in the right due to the fact he won the court case both in Switzerland and then again in Melbourne. The whole thing is amateur-hour at its best. The team has clearly just kicked the can down the road, hoping that they’ll find a way to resolve it along the way, then it became a major crisis right in front of all the worlds’ media, one cay before official practice is to start. It seems they have four drivers under contract for this season if we also include Adrian Sutil. To be in that position the day before practice starts, is not exactly an ideal way to start a new season.

It was only because Van der Garde didn’t want to cause any problems or further embarrassment for the series or racing in general - otherwise the team would have been up the creek. I’m not sure this situation is resolved yet. Apparently it’s now been solved with some form of compensation agreed to Van de Garde. I have a feeling we haven’t heard the end of this saga yet.

It’s a sign of the times though isn’t it? All four teams at the back of the grid are struggling. Or really, the teams in the middle as it were. There is no back of the grid anymore. The back is gone. It’s the middle teams who are left and are now all struggling to make it work.

JT – True, although if Manor had actually turned a wheel on track perhaps they could be called the “back of the grid”. Bernie Ecclestone is said to be very frustrated with Manor after the team spent all weekend in Australia building its cars, not racing.

SJ – I’m sure he’s angry, I would be too. It’s a disgrace for the sport and just shouldn’t happen in today’s day and age. Supposedly, Manor has a very substantial payment coming their way from the FOM if they were to compete. But they just showed up and didn’t even turn a wheel. Of course Bernie is going to be pissed off. I’m sure he could allocate that money to better uses.

JT- Apparently Manor have some new investors or Team Owners that are providing the funding to bring the team back.

SJ- Racing in general, and F1 in particular, has gotten so expensive nowadays that you no longer have the entrepreneurs –– the guys who are team principals with a combination of being great wheeler/dealers, with a good idea of what’s going happening on the engineering side and with a complete grasp of the overall situation and the ability to somehow make it all work. The only remaining team principal of that style is Ron Dennis really. Frank Williams is still around but he’s not really running the team anymore, his daughter is. Most of the team principals today don’t own the teams, they are the people ticking the boxes, albeit very competent and skilled at what they do, which is a whole lot different from having the responsibility of being the owner. This is why you get a threat from someone like Red Bull to pull out if they are not happy. The life and livelihood of Mr. Mateschitz, who’s the owner of Red Bull Racing, does not change if he’s in F1 or not, the same with Mercedes or Renault or any other manufacturer for that matter. None of them are first and foremost racing teams, they come into F1 because it serves a purpose of some kind at the time, but they also leave just as easy when their objectives are filled or they don’t see any benefits to continue. We saw this already with the departure of Honda, BMW, Toyota and Jaguar some years back. Often, people who have zero passion for the sport do this decision at board level. Ironically it’s those same people that are driving the costs through the roof.

The top teams have something like 25 trucks carrying just the hospitality units to every race basically to feed, entertain and impress all the journalists. That’s it. For the most part, the only people in these facilities are the media. I’m not trying to put down the importance of the media in any way, but I am also pretty sure they will still get on with their jobs regardless of the fact that so and so teams Hospitality unit has three stories instead of two. The cost of just this one part of their operations is massive and of course they all try and top each other with one unit larger and more tricks than the other. That’s fine of course when you have lots of multi-national sponsors like Vodaphone or other big companies behind you but they’re not there anymore.

The amount of equipment the teams are carting around to all these races is mind-boggling. Most of the top teams have three complete set-ups of equipment for flyaway races. They’re in special containers that rotate. Now that they’re done in Australia that set of equipment will go on a boat to China. Another set-up exactly the same, is already in Malaysia.

Again, the cars have become so complicated now you need something like 30 tons of equipment and people to run them. When you need 50 guys in the back of the garage to stare at computer screens just to monitor all of the cars’ systems it’s bonkers.

JT – Will the racing improve in Malaysia?

SJ – Well, all things being equal it should get better but it’s astonishing to me that the teams have all had a year to improve and things aren’t a lot better generally. But the one thing, which always impresses me with F1, is how quickly they are able to improve or change, so I think every race going forward will get better.

 JT- They announced before the start of the season that drivers are only allowed one design on their helmet for the full season. This is apparently because the fans are having difficulty in recognizing the different drivers in their cars.

SJ- I don’t quite follow that one; is that the best they can do? Who cares? The numbers on the cars are so small you can’t even see them anymore for starters. I don’t think the helmets will help much. To start with, you can barely see the helmet anyway as the drivers are tucked so deep inside the cockpit with the headrest and side support surrounding them. You can only see the very top of the helmet. I’ve always had the same helmet design with very small variations depending on sponsors. That’s a personal thing. I find it weird that they have to interfere with that of all things. The helmet design is a very personal thing for every driver and some like to keep the same design forever; others like to change it for different reasons or special occasions. I personally thought it was pretty cool how Vettel had a different design almost every race, it was very creative and fun in my opinion, and if that’s his choice of expressing himself why stop it. If they really think they’re losing fans because they can’t recognize the drivers’ helmets it’s worrying.

I think a much bigger part of the problem with the fans today is that Formula One isn’t really on the edge in a sporting sense anymore. The cars don’t look that way and it certainly isn’t that way. There’s no secret that NASCAR catapulted itself in the eyes of fans when it contained a greater element of risk. It probably quadrupled its viewership with some of the high profile incidents. Formula One had a similar attraction in the wake of Senna’s demise. As harsh as it sounds, that’s the reality of it. Being on the edge is part of the appeal of racing and it’s just not there as much anymore. The tracks are completely sanitized, the cars have so much grip that some of the classic and most challenging corners are all gone, either replaced by a chicane or they have simply become so easy that they are not a challenge anymore.

JT – On the sports car racing front, the opening race of the season for Pirelli World Challenge at Circuit of the Americas had a very impressive entry and some good competition even though the weather wasn’t ideal. Scuderia Corsa was there with three Ferrari 458 GT3 Italias and performed respectably in what was only its second outing in PWC.

SJ – Yes, everybody’s very positive about it. I don’t think there’s a championship in the world with a bigger grid than what they have there now. There are good cars, good teams and good drivers.

I think they’ve found a great formula. It’s great to see that there is some real health in sports car racing. Most of the other series are limping along more or less with half-full grids in most of the categories.

JT – In endurance racing news, the ACO has recently floated a proposal that would see the P2 category become much more homogenized for 2017 with a limited number of approved chassis constructors (just four) and a spec powerplant in ACO-affiliated series. This would move P2 much more in the direction of spec racing. It’s a controversial proposal supposedly aimed at cutting costs and increasing collaboration between the FIA, ACO and IMSA. Not everyone is enthusiastic about it including some prospective manufacturers.

SJ – It’s hard to understand what their (ACO) angle is. I don’t think anyone will leave P2 for P1. I believe P1 is 100 percent for manufacturers. P2 should be for everything else including Rebellion and the rest of them. What’s the point of Rebellion or anyone else running around being five seconds a lap slower than the manufacturers?

In a larger sense, all these restrictive boxes that have been created in so many series with the goal of controlling costs – I don’t think they cut costs. I think those types of rules actually increase costs. People will spend endless money honing and tweaking components of any kind to find that last half-a-percent of performance. That’s the only way you find an advantage.

If you have more open rules you get much more innovation and you don’t need to optimize everything. If you have something that’s innovative and different and that works well - even if it’s only working to 80 percent of its potential - it’s still going to be quick. The money you’d spend on that is probably a fraction of what you’d spend endlessly refining a spec formula.

I’ve said it before but I firmly believe the way forward for auto racing in general is to get away from aerodynamics. It kills the competitiveness of racing, drives costs through the roof and doesn’t return any real benefit to road vehicles anymore. Instead of having all these restrictive boxes just limit downforce in every kind of car, just as you limit the engine size, or any other performance criteria on the car. Then you could have a much more open rule book for other aspects of the car, which will by default invite innovation in other areas.

JT – Testing of the new IndyCar aero kits from Chevrolet and Honda has been underway at Barber Motorsports Park this week. Drivers report that the cars have much improved downforce and that they are able to carry more speed through corners and brake significantly later. Their debut is being referred to as beginning of a new “Era of Aero”. That could impact the competitiveness of the racing this season. Whether that’s positive or negative remains to be seen.

SJ – With higher loads from the downforce these cars will be way harder to drive physically. They don’t have power steering. It will be interesting to see what the racing is like. No one will really know anything until qualifying at St. Petersburg.

But I think the racing might be worse, honestly. The one thing they didn’t have a problem with in Indycar was the level of competition. They’ve done a relatively poor job of everything else except the racing and that’s going to change now?

It is the best show in open wheel racing, always exciting and down to the wire. I really don’t think anyone cared about the similarity of the cars apart from some anoraks, and I absolutely don’t think the fans they need to attract would even know the difference.

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reviewing Rolex 24 at Daytona and looking ahead to Formula 1 in 2015

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – The 2015 edition of the Rolex 24 was an interesting race. You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa as the team fought hard with its No. 63 and No. 64 Ferrari 458 Italias in the GTD class. Both cars led the class and were near the front for most of the race but misfortunes befell each with the No. 63 finishing sixth in class and 20th position overall while the No. 64 finished fourteenth in class and 34th overall.

Meanwhile, Scott Dixon won the race outright in the No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Ford Ecoboost Riley along with teammates Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. It was the second 24 win for Scott adding to his 2008 title, and he did an amazing job in his long stints. The fight for the overall win and the class battles were close and interestingly, American engine manufactures took victory in every category. What did you make of the race?

Stefan JohanssonOverall, I thought the race was very good. The caution periods with the wave by certainly improve the racing and Daytona usually goes down to the wire since they’ve had these procedures. Whether it’s fair or not may be debatable but generally it’s good for the racing. The battle in the prototype class between the Ganassi cars, the [Wayne] Taylor car and several of the others was great.

Scott did an amazing job as was to be expected but everybody in the team did their part. Scott was really pleased to win and he was pretty mighty that’s for sure, especially in that final stint that lasted nearly four hours. The whole team did a good job really. You have to take your hat of to Chip and the entire Ganassi operation, when you look back at everything they’ve accomplished since they started it’s very impressive.

JT – The Ganassi Ford DPs and Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP looked to have different strengths throughout the race. The No. 02 seemed to be better on the banking than the No. 10. It would have been interesting to see them compete for the win. But the miscue by WTR with Jordan Taylor driving more than four hours in a six-hour period was very costly.

SJ – I think it was due to the fact that the teams ran with different downforce levels – either for speed on the straights and fuel economy or grip in the infield. It was the same in GTD, we (Scuderia Corsa) ran ultra-light downforce and were very quick on the banking but struggled on the infield.

Still, the battle between the Vipers and our Ferraris was great with a Porsche in between here and there. Unfortunately, the clutch started slipping in the No. 63 car (Bell, Sweedler, Segal, Lazzaro) and they basically had to slow right down to keep the car going. I’m actually astonished they made it to the end because the clutch started to slip with about five hours to go. They were running 10 to 15 seconds off the pace at the end but somehow they managed to nurse it home and all of the guys did a great job. Normally it would be just a matter of laps before you’re out of the race with a problem like that.

The No. 64, the Brazilian car (Longo, Serra, Gomes, Bertolini), did great too. They were running one and two in class with both cars but unfortunately the No. 64 spun in the oil from the Magnus Racing Porsche after Andy Lally hit the possum on track and it broke his oil cooler. The No. 64 was the first car to arrive when the Porsche dropped oil, then spun and had a pretty big accident. That put them out of the race. 

JT – Obviously, the biggest mistake of the race was the drive time issue for Jordan Taylor. What did you make of that?

SJ – It can happen. Something similar happened to us at the Sebring 12 hours once – me, J.J. Lehto and Emanuele Pirro (in the Champion Racing Audi R8 in 2003). We led the whole bloody race until one hour to go!

I had finished up my final stint with a bit less than two hours remaining and handed over to Pirro. I was done, J.J. was done. I talked to the engineers then headed back to the motorhome to take a shower and chill out. I showered then had a big steak and a couple of beers. I’m lying there watching the TV, dehydrated from having been in the car all day and with less than an hour to go Mike Peters (team manager) comes running in.

“You’re on! You’re on! Get ready!,” he yells. I go, “What the #*&@@ are you talking about?!”

Apparently, Pirro had got a cramp in his leg and couldn’t drive! Lehto had already maxed out his allowable driving time in the car. So I’m scrambling trying to get my kit on, running to the pits. It’s total chaos in the pit lane when I get there and Pirro comes in. I jump in and they sent me out on used tires, I can’t remember the reason for not putting new tires but I suspect it was to stop us going a lap down.

It’s hard enough to go out on a used set with full tanks even in daytime, let alone at night. It’s impossible to start out a stint with used tires - particularly at Sebring where it’s completely dark everywhere. So I’m in the dark with these tires. If you’re even a foot off the racing line there’s nothing but rubber and debris everywhere. You’re trying to find your line in a sloppy car with used up tires. Eventually I got up to speed and was catching Marco but the race was over by that point.

We finished second behind Marco Werner, Frank Biela and Philp Peter in the Joest R8. I was so pissed I can’t even tell you, another one that slipped away!

JT – As you say, cautions do bunch the field, although I think the nature of the infield road course/banking at Daytona contributes as well. While the cautions do help keep the racing close, I think the way IMSA manages them could be a lot better. Even when a yellow flag is thrown for something as simple as debris, the caution periods take 15-20 minutes with all the classes pitting and the wave-bys. Why is that necessary? Close the pits, clean up the debris and go back to green, I say.

SJ – Yes, I agree. Of course, if there’s a safety issue there’s no debate. But the time taken under the yellows is too much. At Le Mans they wait until there’s absolutely no other option but to bring out a safety car which may be a little bit too much the other way. There’s always a balance.

Aston Marton Crash - Daytona 2015

JT – One notable incident involved the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia and the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin. French driver Francois Perrodo in the No. 51 made contact with another car then spun off in the hairpin during hour eight. He then pulled onto the track right in front of rro. This is something we’ve seen too much from gentlemen drivers.

SJ – Unfortunately, at Daytona in particular, as you can use up to 5 drivers if you wish, there are far too many guys out there like that and there could easily have been even more incidents when you see some of the crazy things they do. You wonder what they’re thinking but of course they’re not thinking. Their brains are so occupied just driving the car that there’s no brain capacity left for common sense or judgment or in some cases even looking in their mirrors. They literally use up every ounce of capacity just to keep the car on the road and maintain whatever speed they’re doing.

You see it on track all the time when you’re in the races. But the longer the race goes on, a pattern usually develops and you sort of know who you can trust and who you can’t. You pay attention around the cars that aren’t being driven well early on and you know can commit with the guys who are professionals. 

JT – Perhaps the most significant on track incident involved the factory-backed Porsche North America 911 RSRs. The No. 911 and No. 912 took each other out of the GTLM lead battle when drivers Earl Bamber and Marc Lieb collided while racing each other. Porsche contended they came together after the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin slowed in front of them but video shows they basically tripped over each other when trying to pass the Aston on either side.

SJ – Yes, I didn’t know who was driving the Porsches at the time but it looks like they really just got it wrong. You always want to beat your teammate but you never want it to get out of hand.

JT – The attrition in the prototype class was mostly made up of P2 cars. None were running at the finish while only one DP dropped out. Aside from the DeltaWing’s gearbox troubles I suppose the P2 woes could be ascribed to the cars being new to the teams or simply new to racing period.

SJ – Yes, running a new car for the first time in any race is tough but when the first event is a 24-hour race, that’s a tall order. They’ll be much better at Sebring with a month of preparation and development. 

Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 - Daytona 2015

JT – One of Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 prototypes did manage to lead a lap during pit stop shuffling early in the race but both were retired before morning. They were also still considerably off the pace after a year of racing and development. I like Mazda but don’t understand why they persist trying to make their 2.2 liter, diesel four cylinder - a street car-based engine – competitive. It makes no sense from a competition perspective or in terms of marketing as they still don’t offer a diesel here in the U.S.

SJ – I agree and I don’t see the point with this engine. It’s sheer physics. The engine will never be competitive. I understand that they may be going that way for marketing reasons and maybe winning isn’t the first priority in this case? Not only that, they’re using a chassis (Multimatic/Lola) that wasn’t much good when it first came out. It really makes no sense from a competition point of view but I’m sure they would not be spending all this money without a justified reason internally.

JT – Testing has commenced for the 2015 Formula One season at Jerez in the wake of most teams launching their new cars at the end of January. Obviously, early season testing won’t reveal too much but what do you think we can take away from this first test?

SJ – First, Ferrari appears to be in much better shape generally this year than last for obvious reasons. This early, you never know of course. If you remember, Ferrari was actually quickest in early testing last year as well. But it wasn’t like they did a last-ditch, banzai lap to go fastest this time. They’ve been consistently quick since they rolled off the truck at Jerez and that’s usually a very good sign. And most importantly, they’ve been able to get down to quick lap times immediately, which means the car is good and the drivers are comfortable and have confidence in the car.

Sauber seems to be in similarly good shape, which would indicate that the Ferrari power unit has improved significantly from last year. They also looked really strong from the beginning of the test to the end. And they’ve run a lot of laps. Again, that’s a good sign. McLaren’s had a few challenges but those are almost to be expected with these insanely complicated power units. There are always teething problems with a brand new package and some of them you can only find out by running the car, no matter how much simulation you try to do. You can simulate this and that but until you actually run the car on track you don’t really know what you’ve got. Still, I think they’ll get with the program pretty quickly once they iron out the usual niggling problems with a new car.

Red Bull [Racing]’s test was a bit of an odd one and Torro Rosso the same, so maybe Renault still has a ways to go in development. Mercedes obviously looks extremely strong, being able to do the amount of laps they did every day. That’s very impressive.

JT – Yes, Mercedes GP and Williams F1 seem ominously quiet. Things look to be going well for both teams.

SJ – Absolutely, I think there’s a reason for that. Neither team ran much with the soft tire at the test. I think it was only Williams that used it. They both ran lots of laps and don’t forget, every 50 kilos of fuel is worth about a second and a half per lap. I think things will get more interesting as time goes by.

The striking thing for me is that every 2015 car looks almost exactly the same. Line them all up and draw a silhouette of their shapes and you’ll see they’re just about identical with the exception of a few details. The length of the noses might vary because they need to pass the (FIA-mandated) crash test but as time goes by they will all come out with a shorter nose, which means more downforce. 

JT – The teams, with the exception of McLaren-Honda, now have a year development with these power units under their belts. Most seem to be saying their cars are better for 2015 and that they’re well ahead of where they were in testing last year. But as you’ve said previously, the cars should be better given a year of rules stability.

SJ – Yes, that’s the nature of the beast, especially in F1 where you’re not regulating a set of bodywork or whatever. Everything is constantly improving – the tires, the chassis, the engine and the aero. Now, they’ve lifted the freeze on engine development and if you use up all of the “development tokens” you’re allowed you can essentially create a whole new engine.

That’s good and more fair I think. Apparently, when everything’s maximized, these power units are capable of producing up to 1,600 horsepower. That’s interesting because back in the day they were able to get 1,500 HP from the 1.5-liter turbo’s we had then, albeit for only a lap before they either blew up or there was oil leaking out of every orifice. The engines were junk after one qualifying run basically, but you just bolted in another one for the next day. Back then at least it wasn’t that expensive to build an engine once the development was done, it was just metal and some machining, if you make 50 pistons or 500 doesn’t make a huge difference in cost so it was actually a very cheap way to go racing with massive horsepower that has never been seen since!

Things have obviously moved on so much since then and the fact that they can make that kind of power again is very exciting. That’s typically the product of the natural development process and keeping the rules stable. If they can stay the same for three years and the development will plateau out, costs will eventually come down and everything will improve with it.

It would be great, even with all the regulations they have now if they could utilize that kind of power for qualifying at least and the revert back to race mode with a sensible fuel consumption etc. to make the car last until the end of the race obviously. Back in the 1980s we certainly couldn’t run 1,500 horsepower in race-trim. We could run 1,000 horsepower at best or maybe a bit less. There was a huge difference between qualifying and the race.

In 1985 when the boost regulations were still free we used to just bolt a plate over the waste-gate for qualifying. Whatever massive amount of boost you had, that’s what you got! It was awesome – dry ice in the radiators and everything you could think of to make it last for one lap.

JT – As mentioned, F1 announced a lifting of the freeze in power unit development at the end of 2014 with teams/manufacturers including McLaren-Honda now able to use a certain number of “tokens” to alter individual components of their power units in pursuit of performance. It’s a confusing system and another element of F1 I think most fans find needless. What’s your view?

SJ – Yes, it’s confusing more than anything. I very much doubt it will save any money in the long run. Everyone’s doing what they need to do anyway. Just let everybody have at it and may the best man win. All of the manufacturers are going to spend money like it’s going out of fashion anyway, they always do until they decide drop out. The only thing having tokens is going to do is hinder a team from bolting all the bits they develop onto a car right away. Development goes on regardless so there’s no cost-saving as such.

As you know, I’ve been going on for a long time about how the cars should have 1,200 to 1,300 horsepower and now it seems like everyone’s on that same wavelength which is great. But as I’ve also said before, it won’t make any difference unless you get rid of all the stuff on the steering wheels. You could have 3,000 horsepower but if you have adjustable differentials and retarded ignition and all the other trick stuff that helps the driver, it still won’t make much difference in terms of driving the cars.

If they got rid of all that stuff, with the increased horsepower and let the drivers be more in control of the handling of the car I think it would be awesome. It would be one more element that separates the good drivers from the bad. With 1,000 horsepower or more you’re going to have traction issues of course and that’s what makes it more interesting again. 

JT – Among the launches was the debut of Sauber’s 2015 car and their new driver line up of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Both have some driving talent obviously but it seems to me their main credential is the sponsorship they bring with them. It’s yet another example of drivers paying to be in F1 – not being paid to be there – and teams which only seem to be able to survive financially when drivers bring sponsorship.  

SJ – Well, frankly I think all the drivers in F1 today are very competent, it’s not like they have no experience or are lacking in skill completely. Yes, maybe it’s unfair to drivers who may have had better results in the junior formula’s but it’s not like any of them does not justify their position. There’s no doubt some of the guys now may not have the greatest results so far in their careers but they’re still very quick and so much of the results in any category are just a matter of motivation and confidence and feeling good in the car, and most of all, being in the right car at the right time. If the car feels good and the times are close to the front your driving and motivation improves along with it, you don’t have to push quite as hard and by being able to relax just a little bit more you become more precise and accurate and all of a sudden the lap times are starting to come down with it. When you drive a shit box and you’re seconds off the pace it’s all arms and elbows just to keep the car on the road.

Maurizio Arrivabene

JT – Maurizio Arrivabene recently made a statement that Formula One needs a revolution, with more sound and speed to make it more spectacular, what are your comments on that?

I did see that comment also and on some levels I agree, but to create a revolution I think it’s very important to know what it is you’re revolting against. I doubt very much if cars with more horsepower and higher speeds alone will make much difference in changing the current state of affairs in F1. No one’s seems to be looking at the fundamental issues, or at least no one is addressing them. Generally speaking, 50% percent of the races are always quite boring no matter what, because you will always have one or two teams that are quicker than the rest. It’s like that now and if you go back in history it’s nearly always been that way. The main reason it’s like this in F1 in particular, is because every team make their own cars, the side effect of this is that most of the time you will have two or maybe three teams at most fighting it out for the championship. Sometimes it’s just one team like last year.

That’s what makes IndyCar unique in my opinion. Literally any team on the grid can win on a given day. That’s not the case in any other category that I know of, yet they struggle to get 50,000 people to tune in and watch it. It’s a mystery to me.

But back to F1, changing the cars won’t fundamentally change that one or two-team dominance. And despite everyone saying how much F1 is in a crisis, the incessant spending on aerodynamics and other elements goes on and on and never stops. That’s where the problem is. If they fail to see that and think it’s still ok for the top teams to spend half a billion dollars per year to win races something’s seriously wrong.

If a winning budget was $150 million and you could compete with say $30-40 million I doubt very much there would be all this talk about F1 being in a crisis and the need for a revolution to fix the problems. The teams have built their own prison in my opinion, and that’s where the revolution needs to take place. And for that to happen I think the FIA needs to step in and do some very drastic rule changes that will eliminate a lot of the R&D and have a hard and close look at all the other areas that are pushing the costs to these levels.

Right now, the clowns that make up the show are spending over $100 million per year just to get to the races, without any hope whatsoever of ever winning a race. We have two teams that are already dropped out and then we have Sauber, Force India and Lotus, they’re all on the limit financially so there are six more cars that are borderline in terms of making the grid. McLaren still don’t have a major sponsor although I’m sure they must have something in the pipeline together with Honda. Part of the problem is that the top teams at least, still seems to think it’s worth $150 million per year to be a title sponsor. If a team could run on a total budget of say $150 million that would be a different story, because most of the budget would already have been paid by Bernie, so the sponsorship would be gravy effectively. The cars would be covered with sponsors because there would be a real value in sponsoring the cars. But the people in the top teams in particular all seem to think F1 should be expensive. It’s the top of the top and should be perceived as such, and they will always spend every penny they have in order to win or get an advantage over the rest.

It’s obvious for anyone to see that the sponsorship on the cars do not reflect the overall expenditure the teams have and as a consequence they have now become more and more dependent on Bernie giving them their handout. I am totally in agreement with Bernie, if the teams spent less money they wouldn’t be in all the trouble they are, they’re all working with an insane business model as is it right now.

Let’s assume your budget is $150 million per year instead of $500 million and you can win races with that kind of budget. If you can still generate $300-500 million per year in revenue from sponsors and FOM combined- well then you’ve got $150-350 million in profit. That’s seems much more sensible than spending $500 million and just break even. This would also create a real value for the all teams if they were one day looking to sell their franchise, much like a NFL or football team, and in fact it’s how it was when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example, that could never happen today.

It seems weird to me nowadays when I go to the odd Grand Prix, all the teams have these massive constructions for the hospitality and pit garages (apparently they need 20 trucks to bring them to each race), yet the only people in them seems to be the media for the most part. I understand the value of the media and the contributions they bring to the sport in general, but I find it hard to understand where the trade off is on return on investment.

JT – Honda and Chevrolet are getting ready to introduce new aerodynamic bodywork kits for  2015 at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. IndyCar says teams will be able to make upgrades to the kits - excepting sidepods and engine covers (fixed for two years) – but are limited to improvements in “three legality boxes in total in a two year period”. This is a bit like F1’s “tokens” and again, seems a bit confusing.

SJ – In the IndyCar format I sort of get it because you can’t keep developing the kits forever. It would be unsustainable for the teams. They’d have to buy every upgrade that came along from Honda or Chevy every weekend. That’s how it used to be in CART. I remember that every weekend there were new bits from Penske or Reynard and the teams were crying about the cost but they had to buy them if they wanted to be competitive. 

NISMO GT-R LM,

JT – Nissan debuted its new WEC P1 prototype, the NISMO GT-R LM, in an ad during the Super Bowl. They’ve touted its front-engine/asymmetric chassis configuration as intentionally daring and different. It does seem to have garnered some publicity but will the car be competitive?

SJ – Well, I’m sure that most of those in the prototype class will have looked at that concept as well and deemed it not as efficient or quick as having a rear-engine configuration. Otherwise, Audi or the others would have already done it. I don’t really get it. If you just want to do it to be “different” and then market around that, ok fine. But I can’t imagine they’ll come close to winning Le Mans or anywhere else with that car. From what I’ve heard so far from the tests they’ve done, they still have a long way to go. Let’s just hope their car is better than the super bowl ad they used to introduce the car…

Read this blog in Spanish here: www.autonotas.tv


Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reflections on 2014 and a look ahead to the world of racing in 2015.

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – As 2014 wound to a close there were several significant pieces of news. Among them, on December 11, McLaren finally confirmed Jenson Button would continue with the team, partnering Fernando Alonso.  That seems a sensible and popular choice. What’s your view?

Stefan JohanssonYes, I think it’s the decision that makes the most sense for a team like McLaren. Jenson has a wealth of experience and anytime you have a new development program as they do with Honda I’m sure his experience will be valuable. With a new development program like this one it’s always valuable to have the opinion from two very experienced and successful drivers. I don’t know enough about either driver but the danger could easily be that Alonso would get a car that suits him but not other drivers, and if a younger driver is there his input may not count as much as an established World Champions do.

I don’t know how much Jenson’s past experience with Honda played a part in McLaren’s decision. He’s probably one of the last hold-outs from Honda’s previous program in F1. I don’t know how many there are left from their previous venture in F1. It’s a fresh start for Honda really and I think for them to go back to F1, this is absolutely the right way to do it rather than trying to be an engine and chassis constructor.

I think any auto manufacturer that has tried Formula One has found what a huge challenge it is to do both the Chassis and the Engine. 

JT – With Button’s confirmation, Kevin Magnussen moves to the role of test/reserve driver for the team. That’s obviously not what he would have wanted but in the long term it could be positive. Many other drivers, including Alonso have done the same thing and gone on to have a great career.

SJ – If you look back at history that’s actually the way a lot of the drivers started out in F1, including Jenson and Damon Hill. I think it’s the way for Magnussen to go as well. It’s certainly not the end of the world for him at the age he is.

It also gives him a bit of a chance to reflect on his first year in F1. There’s no doubt that he’s extremely fast and a great racing driver. I think he’ll come back and he will probably be right with the program when he does.

JT – Funny that you mention Damon Hill. His former Williams F1 teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, spoke out in late December about the signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen (son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen) to Torro Rosso for 2015.

He called the decision an “insult” to F1 and said, “Before you are fighting against the lives of others, you have to learn, and it is not F1's role to teach.” He went on to add that the F1 minimum age – currently 18 – is not enough.

“"It should be 21. You should arrive in Formula One as a winner and with a wealth of experience. F1 is not the place to come and develop as a driver."

Many people agree with Villeneuve. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Really, I don’t think anyone can disagree with him. Things are so different today though. Guys aren’t really even racing anymore truthfully. It’s now about planning your strategy so that you hit the button for DRS or KERS at the right moment and you make the pass. There’s nothing the other driver can do at that point, or is even allowed to do.

So it’s really a matter of driving the car fast and trying not to make any mistakes. The only mistake you can make in normal circumstances today which punishes you is locking up the brakes. If you screw up and go into a corner too fast and miss the apex you end up in the blue part of the runoff area and it costs you time but off you go again.

The race won’t end for you. You may lose three seconds if you really get it wrong but that’s about the extent of it. So, from that point of view, a 17-year-old could certainly be out there. Any of the guys I’ve spoken with who’ve tested the current F1 cars say that they are so easy to drive it’s almost ridiculous. So it really comes down to race-craft at the end of the day.

But how can you tell if a 17-year-old has race-craft? There’s no doubt he’ll be quick but as you can see with Magnussen for example, who’s older but still very young, you can recall that he made some very opportunistic moves in the beginning of the season before he realized that he was racing a different caliber of drivers in F1 than what he had been used to. Many of the moves he tried to pull off early on just didn’t stick.

So, I’m sure Verstappen will be extremely fast but how will he fare when he’s in a dogfight with somebody who’s been around for a while or in the first few laps with a lot of cars ducking and diving? After that, when things settle down and you have a rhythm going, it’s just down to not screwing up and using the DRS and looking after your tires.

I totally agree with Villeneuve’s comment on the age of the drivers and the fact that you should come to F1 with a lot of experience and success. If you give him three more years in other lower formulas and you see a level of competitive consistency that makes it clear he’ll be able to handle whatever situations occur, that’s positive.

You also learn about dealing with teams that may not be the best and so many other variables. Those things have a huge impact.

JT – Yes, those are great points and if we look at a driver like Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been advising recently as he competed in F3 (and won the Macau GP), and compare him to Verstappen – Felix has had to compete and work hard for some time in the lower formulas. It’s clear he is very competitive. As you say, Verstappen looks to be quick but he’s done so little since he left karting that it’s very hard to know how well he races cars.

SJ – That’s true and with Verstappen, he came into F3 this year with no experience in cars really, straight from Karting. But sometimes it’s better when you’re completely fresh. If things go your way it’s going to be great. But you really see the depth of a driver’s skill and his qualities more in adversity than when they’re having success. You see it when they have to dig themselves out of a hole.

Eventually in your career you will have adversity and there’s such a fine line with confidence and making the right moves on track and making them stick. Sometimes you try to be too opportunistic and you make a move and it’s the wrong one and you end up losing a couple spots. All of that makes a huge difference.

I only saw Verstappen at Hockenheim and Macau and he wasn’t bad but he certainly didn’t do anything to impress me in those two races. He finished fifth I think in Hockenheim and in Macau he basically cracked under pressure, hitting the wall when Felix was behind him. Macau is tough and that could happen to anyone but it shouldn’t happen if you’re at the level where someone like him is expected to be. That’s not a mistake that’s acceptable in my opinion.

JT – Building on the comments you’ve been making for a quite a while now, Villeneuve similarly said, “F1 impressed me when I arrived, even though I came from Indy car. But this F1 is not exciting. The cars seem slow.”

“Verstappen arrives, does 10 laps and immediately looks strong," Villeneuve continues. "It seems that anyone can drive an F1 car, while in my father's day the drivers were considered heroes at the wheel of almost impossible monsters.”

SJ – It’s true, it’s just obvious to see. For example, look at the testing in Abu Dhabi after the race final GP with all the junior drivers getting an opportunity. Within 20 laps they’re within a tenth or two of Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo. It just shouldn’t happen.

There’s something fundamentally wrong if the car is that easy to drive that anyone with virtually no experience can just jump in and be even within a second of the regular drivers  – that’s wrong. A proper race car should be an absolute beast to drive. Then you’ll see the difference between who really knows how to drive, who has the car control, throttle and steering coordination to balance the car on the limit, the bravery, all the elements that constitute a great racing driver. And most of all, who can keep it together, on the limit, in a car like that for 80 laps or more without making any mistakes, that’s where the real skill of a Champion driver will show.

Now it’s just about precision, hitting your marks and it seems there’s no reward for pushing hard. The cars don’t respond to that. That’s what I used to hate with touring cars in the odd races I’ve done with them. You kind of hit the limit after a few laps and if you try to go beyond that you just go slower.

Vettel and Räikkönen are good examples of that with these current F1 cars. They weren’t comfortable with their cars all year. In frustration they then tried too hard and they end up going even slower. You have to have a level of comfort and confidence in the car being half a percent under the limit. But if you go over the limit you just go slower. 

JT – That phenomenon together with F1’s current rules makes the racing seem – to me – more like lapping as opposed to when you raced in F1. It seems as if the drivers, even while sharing the track with others, are in their own personal bubbles pursuing planned lap times in isolation from their competitors. They even get orders to turn down the performance of their cars to comply with F1 rules and save energy. It’s antithetical to racing.

SJ – Absolutely, they get orders three or four times a lap concerning what to do with all the switches and buttons on the steering wheels to save energy, tires and everything else. None of that is down to the driver anymore. It’s all controlled by data coming into the pits.

Like I said when I was in the Ferrari pits at Monza listening to the team radio in qualifying, when the drivers are finished with a run there’s not one single comment from them about what the car is doing. The engineer is on the radio telling them what the car is doing. “we can see you have a small understeer at the exit of the second Lesmo, we’re going to put half a degree of front wing in and they say ‘ok’.”

As soon as the dialog starts the engineers are telling them what the car is doing. It was really bizzare to listen to this and it must be a system they use as I am sure in the debrief the drivers will have more input and a lot more to speak about that will influence the direction they are going with the car set up.

JT – The saga at the back end of the F1 grid continues. Marussia (now being referred to as “Manor”) seems to be finished while Caterham is said to be in negotiations on a pending sale.

SJ – I don’t understand it really. The Marussia thing is a puzzle because they have TV money guaranteed. I would imagine that if anyone would be interested in buying a team they would be more interested in them than in Caterham.

It’s strange but I know there are some things brewing with people looking at both teams. How serious they are, we’ll see.

I don’t think these two teams are the only ones that are in deep trouble, I have a feeling at least two more teams are very shaky at the moment as far as being in a position to even start next year.

JT – On the sports car side, again we have to say that the Pirelli World Challenge series is looking very strong for 2015. The recently released roster of teams planning to compete in the GT (GT3) category looks fantastic and includes Scuderia Corsa for whom you are racing director. Apparently the team will field two full-season cars for Duncan Ende and Martin Fuentes and a third for a partial season for Mike Hedlund. Sounds like it should be very exciting.

SJ – It’s amazing how this championship has developed. All the serious contenders are now in that championship. What’s great about it is that they’re keeping it simple. The GT class is GT3 cars based on the global formula so anyone can come and race. There are so many of these cars around and there’s no messing around with complicated rules.

It’s great racing with relatively short races. I think it’s really going in the right direction so far. More and more teams are defecting from the Tudor United Sportscar Series. That’s certainly driven from the lower cost of World Challenge but it’s also clearly a result of a lot of frustration with Tudor.

JT – Scuderia Corsa also has a couple Ferrari 458s entered for Daytona.

SJ – Yes, we’re running the #63 car with Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, and adding Jeff Segal and Anthony Lazzaro. And we’re running the #64 again, an all-Brazilian car. (Daniel Serra, Francisco Longo).

And then we’ve got an entry for Le Mans as well this year which is great. That will be Sweedler and Townsend with a third driver. We don’t know who that will be yet. 

JT – The LMP1 class in WEC will have the potential to be more competitive for 2015 with the addition of Nissan to the grid and Audi’s return with updated/revised R18 e-tron quattros. Audi has complained recently about WEC regulations which don’t favor its turbo-diesel hybrids. Even for die-hard sports car racing fans the WEC formula is a bit complex to follow, don’t you think?

SJ – Yes, it’s getting too complicated again. It was great for a while because you could show up with pretty much any combination you wanted. But when us who are in the business are having problems understanding it, how are the fans going to be able to grasp it? It’s way too complicated.

Part of the problem in racing in general is that engineers and designers have way too much influence over the rules right now. The FIA has all of these committees, an engine committee, an overtaking committee, a committee for this, another committee for that. It’s become a democracy where everyone has a say, and historically this has never worked out well in motor racing. The best series, i.e. F1 and NASCAR was always run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to work great for everyone. One leader who had a clear birdseye view of the direction of the series, it didn’t always please everyone but in the end it worked. Now everyone is having views on everything, and as a result things haven gotten so complicated and difficult to manage, and it shows. 

JT – In IndyCar off-season news, many people are still trying to find rides. Among them is ex-Marussia, ex-Caterham test/reserve driver Alex Rossi. He’s an American with a lot of experience in the lower European formulas and some time behind the wheel of the current F1 cars but relatively unknown here in his homeland. Do you have any thoughts on him?

SJ – I don’t know much about Rossi but my first comment would be that he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. He’s obviously a very good driver but he hasn’t been exceptional in anything he’s done in Europe. He’s been good enough to win odd races but I don’t know how he’s risen to the positions he’s been in. I don’t know if he’s got financial backing or whether it’s come purely from results.

But for IndyCar racing it would always be good to have another American and even better if he’s quick and can win. He’s not well known here it’s true but that’s the risk you take when you focus on F1 which I commend him for going that route as it is way harder for an American kid to make it over there than just going the traditional route of Indy Lights and the Indycar if you’re any good.

I remember when I came over here, having spent ten years in F1. Everyone was asking for my resume, asking what I’d been doing before. Nelson Piquet had the same thing. He won the F1 world championship three times and the teams were asking for his CV! I remember when I met Jim Hall the first time and he asked for me for a resume! I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be an uphill battle!’

JT – The new aerodynamic bodywork package for IndyCars for 2015 is causing lots of speculation and some concern. Some have theorized that the package will bring pack-racing back to IndyCar because cars will be able to follow each other more closely on ovals. The previous period in which that was true for IndyCar/IRL was very dangerous. That should be something to be avoided, correct?

SJ – The problem in general is that everybody’s trying to slow the cars down with less horsepower. IndyCars should really have another 200 hp to make a difference in the racing. When I talk to Scott [Dixon] he tells me the cars now are like driving an Indy Lights car. They’re all about momentum. It’s a very different driving style.

On the ovals I remember getting wheelspin coming out of Turn 2 at Indy in qualifying in the CART era. It’s the same thing I come back to again. The cars at this level should be beasts and drivers should be weeded out accordingly. People always figure out a way to make challenging cars work but if they don’t have to they take the easy way out.

That then leads to situations where teams will go for a driver who’s mediocre but brings 80 percent of their budget with him rather than trying a little harder themselves and finding somebody who has greater skill and that can make a difference. You’ve got teams like Ganassi, Penske and Andretti who eat, breathe and sleep racing and they put the effort in and it shows.

I remember at Indy back in the day when I was racing, literally unless you got lucky and the car was really dialed in, you didn’t try to go flat all the way around until qualifying. It was such a big leap to try to go flat around there at that time. It was really something else and it definitely got your juices flowing, like it should. 

JT – Now for some reflections on 2014 in brief and a look ahead, what are your thoughts on Formula One?

SJ – I think the right man won the championship in the end. I think Lewis did an exceptional job all year. Nico [Rosberg] did too, but Lewis seemed to have a couple tenths in hand when he really needed them in the race and he usually had that in hand for 80 laps. Sometimes he didn’t have it on qualifying runs but there’s always a balance. So overall, I think Lewis deserved to win the championship this year.

JT – Do you think the racing in F1 will be better in 2015?

SJ – I think it will get a bit better. I’m sure that the gap to Mercedes will close up a bit. If they leave the regulations alone for another two or three years it will really close. I’m certain the gap will be smaller next season but we can also be certain that Mercedes will be the favorite again for the championship.

JT – Will McLaren be at all competitive in 2015 or will it be a year of development for them with Honda?

SJ – I think McLaren might be the surprise next year. If Honda is somewhere close with their engine - and having had a year in which they didn’t have to comply with any regulations while working on their engine and seeing what everyone else has done – they ought to be close I think.

I assume they haven’t had to be bound by the rule of having their engine frozen in development until they actually enter competition. It’s hard to say without really knowing the rules but that could give them an advantage. And it should have helped from the point of car development and put them back on the right track after their two or three years of having completely lost their way.

[Eric] Boullier (McLaren Racing Director) has certainly put some good new people in place in the team and they’ve already improved the aero on the car. That even showed at the end of this year. So I think they will be competitive, though it should never really be a surprise when they are – they’re McLaren after all and they have probably better resources than any other team on the grid. And Alonso and Button pushing each other should help as well.

JT – Will the new combination – Vettel, Räikkönen and new Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene – produce better results for the Scuderia?

SJ – Well, their 2015 car was obviously well underway before they made the recent changes so I think 2015 will be a tough year for them. They’ve hired a lot of new people and have some very good people from previous years but the boat for the 2015 car left the dock many months ago. It would be hard to change direction on it now. I’m sure it will be something of an interim year for them. It will be more interesting to see what will happen in 2016 and going forward, how the new regime will work in the long term. It worries me though when I hear the words “experiment” and “gamble” associated with anything in motor racing, whenever you attempt to apply any of those words into any plan, it very rarely works out well. The teams and drivers and that will rely on an experiment or a gamble will generally dig themselves into an even deeper hole.  It always takes some time for a completely new management to find its way. Remember it took the “dream team” with Schumacher, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne five years before they won the first title from when they joined Ferrari. These four guys where the best in the business at the time. The current team is clearly all very competent people from the different fields of business they have spent most of their careers, but none of them have any experience in F1 and they have now been thrown straight into the Piranha Club. Although some of the Piranhas may be a bit older than in their prime, they still know how to bite!

JT – How about Red Bull Racing - will Christian Horner, Adrian Newey, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have what it takes to win?

SJ – If Renault steps up on the engine front, I’m sure they’ll be strong. They still may have had the best chassis this year. If they can get another 40 to 50 horsepower out of the engine they will be closer to the front more consistently for sure. And remember, they still won three races in 2014.

Obviously, Ricciardo was the revelation of 2014. I thought he did an extraordinary job. He didn’t put a foot wrong all year and put Vettel firmly in his place. He did the absolute best that could be done with the car given the circumstances in just about every race. He’s no doubt part of the new generation that will be leading the way in the next five years.

JT – And Mercedes GP, will Lewis and Nico be dominant again next season?

SJ – I think that it will be a matter of which one of them gets it right on race day. They’re so close to each other in performance there’s almost nothing between them. However, their methods of getting that performance are significantly different.

I’m sure Nico has had a chance to reflect on where he was lacking this year. What impressed me with him this year was that every time he had problem or made a mistake he came back even stronger and stepped up and responded. I certainly wouldn’t count him out for the championship next year.

JT – Interestingly, Nico’s father (ex-F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg) generally seems to keep a low profile. I’m sure he’s been of help to Nico. But you don’t see him around the F1 paddock all the time like you do Hamilton’s dad or others. He also seems like the consummate, cool racing driver and a very good guy.

SJ – Keke’s great. I’ve known him since I was eight years old. We raced together forever and he’s just a terrific guy. He understands the business and he’s smart enough to know when it’s time to step in or stay out of the way. He’s been around long enough to see every racing dad and the effect they have on their kids. I’m sure he’s had an influence on Nico.

He’s an old fox too. He knows every trick in the book and then some. I’m sure he’s had a massive influence on Nico’s work ethic and mental attitude. Keke, for me, is the epitome of a racing driver. He’s got all of the qualities you’d want and is the coolest guy ever. When he was at his height in F1 he was off the charts in every respect, the bravest guy you’d ever find on a race track. He really was something else.

JT – How will the rest of the F1 grid fare in 2015? Any surprises?

SJ – It’s really hard to gauge the rest. For instance at Force India, you would have expected Nico Hulkenberg to blow the doors off Sergio Perez but if anything, maybe Perez had a better year than Hulkenberg.

But then he showed his less impressive side when he got a bit heated in Austin, making another knucklehead move. With these cars, some guys manage to find a way to drive them and then there are Vettel and Räikkönen for example, who clearly struggled. I suspect that Hulkenberg probably fell into that category as well.

I think figuring out the braking is the trickiest issue with these new F1 cars. With all the energy recovery and stuff going, if you can’t control the rear under braking, you’re screwed basically. The whole corner is wasted before you even get there. The car’s unstable, you’re not where you want to be on entry and as a result you’re off the power at the wrong point of the corner. Everything becomes a chain-reaction from the braking-point forward.

And as I say, the rest of the teams are so difficult to call in terms of how they will perform given the different levels of funding they have and struggles just staying alive.

JT – Will IndyCar hold any surprises for 2015?

SJ – No one really knows what kind of difference the new aero-kits will make but I think there’s a strong chance that one will come out of the gate better than the other. Who knows who that will be?

It will be interesting to see and interesting to see some different looking cars also. There will inevitably be a level of development for all the teams to get on top of the new aero kits and how to best understand the cars, some will get it right and some won’t. As always, the bigger teams will have a better chance of getting on top of it sooner due to the resources they have at their disposal.

JT – Four manufacturers will now be competing in LMP1 in the WEC with the addition of Nissan. That’s as many manufacturers as Formula One has – and there are more really if you count the GT class. How will WEC be in 2015?

SJ – It’s certainly growing stronger. There have even been a couple defections from Tudor with the ESM and Krohn guys racing in P2 and some teams going to GTE. I think the chances of the Nissan being competitive right away are small, I don’t think they have allocated enough resources to take on Audi, Porsche and Toyota to get to the level they are. In addition I believe their car is quite radical. But it’s still good that they are there and if they have the budget they’ll improve. And with a few more P2 cars, WEC could be a pretty good show. 

JT – To wrap it up, who was the standout driver of 2014?

SJ – Without a doubt it was Daniel Ricciardo in my opinion. He did far more than was expected of him, especially considering the circumstances. Personally I like his attitude too, he seems like a great guy who loves his job and it will be interesting to see how he develops in the next few years now that he’s the “boss” of the Red Bull team so to speak.


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