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Scott Dixon dominates at Watkins Glen, Mercedes wins at the Italian GP & the future of Formula 1

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar returned to Watkins Glen in early September, the first time the series has run there since 2010. Scott Dixon absolutely dominated the weekend, winning the race by over 16 seconds (his 40th career win, moving him to 4th in all-time wins in IndyCar) and smashing the qualifying record by 5.6 seconds for his 25th career pole.

Scott has performed well at Watkins Glen in the past, having won three times there but looked even better two weeks ago. What did you think of his performance?

SJ – It was a very impressive display in every respect. I can’t remember anyone dominating to quite that level for quite some time. It was like he was in a different league all weekend. He dropped back a few places for the restart (on Lap 42 after a caution for a collision between Will Power and Charlie Kimball, and pit stops, Dixon restarted 4th) and within less than two laps he was back in the lead.

Everyone else was struggling to pass anywhere on track but it was amazing how Scott just pulled off passes with his incredible, fluid driving style which is just perfect on a track like that.

It’s been a strange year in that I think he’s been driving more strongly this year than any that I can remember and yet he’s come away with less than almost any year before. Even reliability issues have stopped him at places like Detroit and Road America, where it was almost certain he would have won both races.

JT – The win moved Scott to 3rd in the championship standings but it wasn’t enough to keep him in championship contention. Leader Simon Pagenaud finished 7th at Watkins Glen, putting him 104 points clear of Dixon. Even with double points (100 total) on offer for this weekend’s season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma, Dixon cannot catch Pagenaud. Only his Penske teammate Will Power has a chance. Power would have likely been closer to Pagenaud points-wise if not for the accident with Kimball. With a 43-point lead over his teammate it looks pretty good for Pagenaud to capture his first IndyCar title. Do you agree?

SJ – The IndyCar championship is all about racking up points at every race - being consistent. Last year Montoya kept racking up points and he was on top going into Sonoma. You never know - look at what Scott did last year, particularly with double points available - but it’s most likely that Pagenaud will score well enough to win the championship. Still, if Power wins and Pagenaud gets involved in any incident... well, that could be enough. What is amazing though is that we are again going into the final race with the championship still open, I don’t remember if the Indycar series ever had the championship decided before the final round.

JT – With the offseason rapidly approaching, speculation about the IndyCar driver-market has been plentiful. Josef Newgarden seems to be the main focus of conjecture. He could go to Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing or elect to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing. Depending on what he chooses to do, other drivers might have to adjust. Do you think we’ll see much movement?

SJ – I don’t really know what will happen but I’d be surprised if we see a huge amount of movement among the drivers.

JT – Unsurprisingly, Mercedes won Formula One’s most recent round the Italian GP at Monza. In this case Nico Rosberg, starting from second position alongside teammate and pole winner Lewis Hamilton, made a perfect getaway and won while Hamilton stumbled, dropping to 6th place on the opening lap. He eventually recovered to finish 2nd behind Rosberg. As we’ve said in recent blogs, the result of nearly every grand prix this year has hinged on who got the better start – Rosberg or Hamilton.

If Rosberg starts cleanly, as he did early in the season, he wins. If Hamilton starts cleanly, as he did mid-season, he wins. It’s basically as simple as that, and again the Italian GP didn’t offer much exciting racing. However, just two points separate Hamilton and Rosberg heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

SJ – Yes, that’s basically what it comes down to. Whichever guy – Hamilton or Rosberg, as they are the only two with a realistic chance of winning all things being equal - gets off the line best and manages to scramble through the first few corners, it’s pretty much job done.

This last race made the championship closer and everyone keeps talking about how Mercedes might struggle again (Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won the 2015 race, followed by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari-teammate Kimi Rakkionen) but I can’t imagine that they won’t have dug deep enough and found out what their tire problems were last year. They’ll be better.

On that note, that’s one of the ironic twists of F1. All the teams are spending copious amounts of money on car and aero development in particular yet every race it basically comes down to the tires and who can manage them best for optimum grip, especially with the crazy pressures they’re required to run now.

I keep joking about it but at the sharp end of the grid they spend well over $300 million a year, of which most of it is development. Then they bolt on a set of tires for a couple of thousand dollars and that makes more difference than just about anything else they do with the car. If you can get a second from the tire by being able to get the most out of it, and manage it correctly over the stint, it’s probably equivalent to $50-100m worth of development on the car to gain that same second!

JT – Ferrari managed to get one of its cars on the podium at Monza with a 3rd place finish from Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen finished in 4th place. The team seemed to be pleased with the result and team manager Maurizio Arrivabene stated that while Ferrari has “failed to achieve its target” this year, the team is making progress and the atmosphere inside Scuderia Ferrari is “very positive”. With the departure of some of its key personnel and Ferrari’s inconsistent performance something about Arrivabene’s comments rings hollow. Do you agree?

SJ – It’s a difficult situation for them at the moment, and I don’t envy Maurizio Arrivabene for one second as he was basically thrown in the deep end with all the wholesale changes that took place when Montezemolo left. As we have seen with almost every team at some stage, once you loose the momentum it takes years to gain it back to a point where you can consistently be challenging for wins. Mclaren is a perfect example, Red Bull has had their slump and they were both dominant teams not that long ago. Ferrari still have a lot of challenges ahead, there is no doubt about that, let’s hope that the people at the very top of the company will stay the course and make the right decisions going forward.

JT – The biggest news for Formula One was made off-track last week when it was finally confirmed that Liberty Media, an America conglomerate which owns the second largest U.S. cable television company and has holdings in Sirius/XM radio and Live Nation, a large event promotion company, will acquire F1 from current majority owner CVC Capital Partners.

Bernie Ecclestone will continue in his role as F1 CEO but will now work under Liberty Media’s umbrella. There seems to be some optimism that Liberty can bring more energy and direction to the series and attract more viewers globally. What’s your take?

SJ – I don’t know anything more than what has been covered by the press but one would hope that they’ll look at the business more pragmatically. I think that’s already starting to happen and maybe they’ll bring more of a clean sheet approach to it.

Let’s not forget that F1 is still a hugely popular sport globally, but I think they know they can make it significantly more popular. With the speed at which the world moves today in terms of social media and other digital platforms there are definitely ways to monetize those outlets. Bernie says he’s never made any money on the Internet but I don’t think he’s been dealing with the right people. Certainly not if you look at the F1 website which is full of broken links and quite clunky in general, you can tell that very little effort has been spent in this area.

You see others doing well in that area. NASCAR, for instance, is doing very well in that space. They’ve figured out how to monetize the digital side of their business and they’re making money.

Liberty has already made noise about offering the opportunity for teams to buy into Formula One. I don’t know exactly how that would work but it could potentially be a good move. If you look at other sports, certainly football and soccer, every franchise is worth a fortune. They also spend big money but F1 is still in the stratosphere in terms of the resources associated with it.

If the series, together with the FIA can work out a way to control costs by focusing on areas of development which are prohibitively expensive like aerodynamics and maybe standardize some components, it will immediately be on a better business footing.

For example, the other day I was visiting a new racing simulator here in Los Angeles. There was a two-year old Williams chassis there that a group bought to transform for the purpose of making it into a simulator. They were showing me simple things like the car’s power steering rack. It’s an absolute work of art. That piece alone probably required 50 people to engineer and build. It’s absolutely exquisite, but for what?

I don’t see why you couldn’t just use a standard steering rack that all teams would have to buy from one single supplier that is the same for all the teams. It would cost a tiny fraction of that custom piece Williams built. That piece alone probably cost them more than a million dollars all told. And that’s just one component of the car – a piece the fans will never ever see or understand.

Look at the insanely complicated brake ducts the teams create now… for nothing. Why can’t the teams all agree on standardizing some components and save themselves millions of dollars?

IndyCar has great racing with a basic, standardized package. The best teams still work their butts off and find an edge over their competitors by refining the components they have to work with. Why make every single piece of every car a custom-made item? I’m not saying that F1 should copy Indycar, because I personally think Indycar has gone to far in the other direction where you basically can’t do anything to the car anymore, except the dampers. But, there are several things on any racecar that is just a pointless and extremely costly exercise to make in house, assuming the parts were available to buy off the shelf. To make this work there needs to be firm rules in place otherwise every team will still go their own way even if the parts were available to buy off the shelf, because the engineers are very competitive by nature, just as the drivers, and everyone thinks they are more clever than the other, and that their solution is much better than anything else out there.

The teams all seem to be addicted to their toys, even the smaller ones. It makes no sense. Each team will apparently be receiving something like $100 million from F1 in the next year or two. If you can’t run a team for less than $100 million, something’s fundamentally wrong. If you bring spending down to more sane levels, every F1 franchise should be worth serious money, just as they were for a brief period when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example. Nowadays most teams that are potentially for sale are lucky if they can walk away with new owners clearing their debts.

There are extremely clever people in F1 and the cleverest will still produce the best results even if the series goes to a much more basic formula. Just start fresh. As Flavio Briatore says, F1 is so complicated now that no one understands it, not even the people in the business.

The fact that Bernie [Ecclestone] will stay on is positive. Some people gripe and moan about him from time to time, but deep down, everybody loves Bernie. He’s like the grand-daddy for all of us in the business in one way or the other. Everyone knows that without him F1 wouldn’t be anything near what it is today. I believe that 100 percent. He’s laid every single brick in that business and has a personal relationship with every promoter, TV Network, sponsor, team owner, driver, you name it. There is not one deal going down that Bernie does not have his hand in. I think he should be applauded for what he’s done, not just for F1 but for motorsport in general, because everything filters down from Formula One.

JT – In other off track news, McLaren announced that Jenson Button would be taking a “break” from F1 in 2017 but that his two-year deal with the team means that he could drive again in 2018. He will be replaced next year by GP2 sensation Stoffel Vandoorne. Team principle Ron Dennis insists that Button’s “deal” is not a “retirement”. But everyone understands that Button is basically leaving the sport. Why does McLaren not want to state the truth? Their version of this sounds nuts. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, If Jenson now suddenly feels “like a kid again” because he’s effectively been pushed aside or whatever you’d like to call it then you obviously have to question why he didn’t make this decision on his own rather than wait until he was basically told he’s not driving next year. Can someone please fire me! I want to get fired too, if that’s how it makes you feel. Joking aside, it’s just seem like a very odd statement to claim that this is a new and innovative solution to effectively fire one of your drivers, or at least demote him to reserve driver. It’s good news though to see that Vandoorne has a permanent drive based purely on merit, he deserves it, and the timing could be perfect for him as it’s almost certain that McLaren will be back fighting for wins in the next few years. I am sure he will be one of the superstars of the next generation drivers that are now filtering through.

JT – Much has been made lately of the new, wider tires the 2017 rules will allow for F1 cars. Together with other changes this should give the cars more interesting appearance and may make them significantly faster but as you’ve already noted, it probably won’t improve the racing.

SJ – I would say it’s almost a certainty that it will make passing even more difficult than it is now because the cars will be so fast in the corners and even slower on the straights because they’ll have more drag from both the increased downforce and the wider tires. This will result in even less difference between mid-corner speed and top speed on the straights. Braking distances will be even shorter and grip levels will be much higher. So in other words, the exact opposite of what you want to make the racing more exciting. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.

The cars will look much better though, lap-times will be much faster but once you get used to watching the cars cornering a lot faster then everything will be back to normal again.

It’s been interesting to follow the tire testing for the 2017 cars that has been going on, or at least the little information that’s been made available. The teams doing the testing will without a doubt have an advantage next season. Tire testing is the key to performance. In every team I ever raced for where we were able to do a tire test before a race, or where the designated test team, we were always much better off for having done it.

Just the sheer fact that you’re running a car helps already as you’re always picking up little bits of information every time the car is on the track. Even if a team isn’t told which tire it’s testing – the fact that you’re running on a tire of the same general specification to what you’ll be using next year will already be a big advantage. Watch this space, there will be a lot of moaning about this by a lot of the teams as the new season unfolds.

Bottomline though, overtaking will only get harder next season.


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Indycar at Texas Motor Speedway, F1 Belgium GP & Max Verstappen controversy

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar staged the continuation of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend.  Suspended due to weather from its original June date, the race was very exciting, producing the closest finish ever at the Speedway. Graham Rahal edged James Hinchcliffe by eight-thousandths of a second with Tony Kanaan just .0903 seconds behind in 3rd place.

Unfortunately, Scott Dixon didn’t see the checkers due to contact with Ed Carpenter. Dixon spun after coming together with Carpenter’s left rear wheel with his right front. He hit the Turn 1 wall and his race was over. It’s another setback for Scott and with the DNF he falls to sixth in the championship standings, 132 points behind championship leader Simon Pagenaud who finished in 4th place.

What did you think of the race and the outcome for Scott?

SJ – Yes, it wasn’t a great race for Scott obviously. It just seems to be one of those years when everything that can go wrong will go wrong. He didn’t have a great car all race and was just hanging in there but not really in a position to fight upfront.

The show at Texas is always good and this years race certainly did not disappoint. There just isn’t any more exciting racing to watch, although it’s nerve wracking to watch.  Those last laps were just awesome and crazy at the same time. I couldn’t think of a better show in any form of racing, period! If there was ever a finish like that in F1 people would go absolutely crazy.

Can you imagine if you had anyone of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen – the pure, good racers from Formula One out there duking it out with the IndyCar stars. It would be massively popular, incredible.

JT – Watkins Glen is the penultimate race for IndyCar. With the track’s recent repaving, it should be fast and challenging. The championship looks like a battle between the Penske teammates, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power but with a maximum 158 points available between the Glen and the final race at Sonoma, Scott still has a very slim chance for the championship. Amazingly, eight other drivers are still in mathematical contention.

SJ – Apparently the grip is just insane now with the repaving combined with all the downforce the current Indycars have. When the series tested there a couple months back the guys went quicker than they’ve ever gone before.

Pagenaud and Power, either one could win but with all of these guys still in with a chance... I mean, eight drivers! Remember, no one with two races to go even thought about Scott last year. It’s still do-able – highly unlikely but do-able.

JT – Formula One returned from their summer break to race the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg took the win ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Lewis Hamilton. The race had moments of drama, mainly due to incidents, but was otherwise not very interesting.

Max Verstappen drove erratically and in the first corner of the opening lap dove inside the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Running over the curb right next to the wall, Verstappen made contact with Raikkonen who was forced into his teammate. Vettel spun. Raikkonen and Verstappen had to pit for repairs. Later, Verstappen aggressively blocked Raikkonen. What did you think of the race and Verstappen’s driving?

SJ – Really, the main thing to talk about from Spa is the Verstappen controversy again, and the various incidents that unfolded at the beginning of the race. I have to say, I thought it was a bit rich for Verstappen to blame the Ferrari guys for ruining his race.

He blew it at the start effectively, he got passed by the two Ferrari’s going into Turn 1 and then tried to recover by a very, very low-percentage move on the inside that had virtually no chance of succeeding.

There’s always a bottleneck into the first corner at Spa. It’s a fraction-of-a-second decision and he was understandably frustrated from making a poor start and trying to gain back the ground he lost on the drag into the braking area for the first corner. I’m sure Vettel turned in on what he thought was the right line outside. There’s no way he’d try to squeeze Raikkonen there. Kimi had to straighten up a bit when he saw Verstappen in his mirror. Then he got into Vettel who was on his line and the rest is history. These things happen and it seems more common than not at Spa that at least a few cars get into each other at the start. But to put the blame on the Ferrari guys and claim they somehow collectively ganged up on Verstappen to squeeze him out is a bit far fetched to say the least. As is often the case, the one who’s busted is often the one who screams the loudest.

But for me the worst part is the blocking. It’s outrageous that no penalty was handed out this time. At what point do you draw the line? If a driver has to hit the brakes on a straight to avoid contact something is clearly wrong. It’s sad to say and I’ve mentioned it before but this is typical of the new generation of open wheel racers. They think this is completely normal it seems – like it’s ok to completely turn into someone when they’re coming alongside on a straight. The fact that this is their mindset is sad.

The argument was “well, I was just defending my position”

You defend your position on the entry to the corners, in the corners and on the exits, not on the straights. If you’re slower entering a corner and you leave the door open wide enough for the other guy to have a go it’s fair game, or you can choose to defend the inside line, which will normally result in a slower exit which will then allow the opponent to accelerate out of the corner faster than you and by doing so outdrag you on the following straight into the next corner. This is basic stuff. Now it suddenly seems acceptable to just pull out right in front of the car that’s significantly faster than you and by doing so force this car to effectively lift or even worse, hit the brakes in order to avoid hitting you. That’s like allowing a boxer that’s on the ropes to pull out a knife to stop his opponent making the knock out hit.

If a guy behind you is quicker and he’s come out of the previous corner with a better exit speed, at some stage you have to be able to pass.

I know for a fact the same thing happened in F3 a few years ago, at more or less the same spot where the driver trying to pass him had to apply 100lbs of brake pressure in order not to hit him. It would be very easy for the FIA to pull the data from Raikkonen’s car to see if the same thing applied this time too. If you have to brake because someone’s blocking you on the straight then something’s fundamentally wrong, especially when they stewards let you get away with it.

More than anything, this is now a philosophical problem that I believe needs to be dealt with swiftly. This is not something that is unique to Verstappen only, although Max is the poster child for the new generation of drivers and as such is getting all the publicity for obvious reasons. If you look at the Junior Formula’s this stuff goes on in almost every race, and sometime with some horrifying accidents as a result. I’m a huge proponent of drivers being brave and being willing to risk their lives to get the maximum out of the car. After all, that’s the essence of what a great driver has always been perceived to be and what it’s all about, but when you purposely put other driver’s lives at risk then it becomes the exact opposite of that. Blocking has nothing to do with racing. There is zero skill involved. There is nothing good about it. It requires no skill, no race craft, no bravery. It’s just an indication where the drivers moral compass is as far as I’m concerned. It’s just dirty, dangerous tactics that should be penalized immediately and consistently until it stops. I urge Charlie Whiting, the FIA and all the so called experts up in race control to go to youtube and watch the battle between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979.

This is real racing, between two real men giving it everything they’ve got, but still giving each other enough room, not once did either of them try to block each other. It’s pure hard core racing between two of the best ever. No one ever thought of blocking then. This is something that gradually crept into the system by some of the best drivers in history, and sadly, because of this the generations that followed now think this is the way to do it and it’s become the norm and completely accepted.

I personally think that Lewis Hamilton and Alonso are maybe the best and purests racers out there, and you never see them pull these kind kind of stunts. But if you open the door by half an inch to wide they will take the gap immediately, every drivers knows that and both respect and admire them for it, even if they will never admit it in public. Verstappen is potentially every bit as good as both of them, maybe even better, time will tell. I just hope he will at some point understand that you don’t need to win every battle to win the war.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, here we go again with a different race and a different steward in race control who has yet another different view from the one in the previous race, and on and on it goes. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but until you have a guy who is 100% dedicated to the job, with a strong character that can handle the pressure of the job, is current with the modern F1 cars, is respected by his peers and understand what’s going on at the track, this saga will just continue and cause more and more frustration among the drivers and the fans. Some of the ex drivers that show up for this job I frankly don’t think have a clue what they’re doing, or even care about it. They’re just there to add this job to their portfolio or use it to give themselves some added credibility in certain circles. I have no idea how the selection process works but it seems to be more or less “who’s around this weekend” when you look at some of the names. Considering how important their decisions ultimately are, it’s almost irresponsible on the part of FIA to not be more selective in whom they place in this role.

 

Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Felix Rosenqvist impresses everyone & F1 German GP 🏁

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar’s most recent round, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, was an interesting race but very damaging for Scott Dixon in the championship chase. Dixon collided with Helio Castroneves while attempting a pass in Turn 2 on lap 15. Scott tried to go inside Helio but Castroneves shut the door, squeezing Dixon until contact was made.

Scott’s left front suspension was broken and his race was effectively over even though his Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was repaired by the team and ran a few more laps before retirement. He finished 22nd. Castroneves’ car was damaged as well but he continued to finish 15th. This dropped Scott to 5th in the standings, 127 points behind leader Simon Pagenaud. What did you think of the incident?

SJ – Well, a weekend that looked like it was going to be pretty much a home run turned bad as soon as qualifying started. Obviously there was a bad call on strategy during qualifying, a miscommunication really that turned out to be very costly. (Light rain was present on part of the track and the team decided to bring Scott into the pits waiting for it to pass. They were confident that Dixon’s previous laps were quick enough to keep him in the “Fast Six”. Dixon had wanted to stay out. With the track drying, lap times fell and Dixon fell back to 11th where he would start the race).

Strategy-wise, they did the right thing for the race (Scott made an early pit stop to go off-sequence) but it put Scott in proximity to Helio. He had managed to pull off the same move with three other guys before trying to pass Castroneves, who slammed door shut on him after leaving it open just enough to make a dive on the inside and then finding there was nowhere to go once he had committed to the late brake move. The door was definitely open wide enough to have a go, but the Helio did a Helio and just slammed the door shut and that effectively ended the race for both of them.

It was a costly loss of points for both of them. The championship will be even tougher now but there are still four races to go with 250 points on the table. So it’s still possible to win it. Scott wasn’t in a much better position last year at this point. You never know.

JT – Simon Pagenaud had a good race, starting on pole then passing Penske teammate Will Power in the late stages to take the win, his fourth of the year. He’s driving at a high level and has momentum.

SJ – I think Power and Pagenaud were pretty close in terms of pace. Power went offline and picked up a bunch of rubber on his tires that killed his pace. He had no grip in the last corner before the pits and that set up the move for Pagenaud. But Pagenaud is doing a terrific job. If he keeps finishing well consistently like he has all year, it will be very difficult for anyone to win the championship… but not impossible.

JT – Recently, I was watching a few of the CART races from the 1988 season for research for an article I’m working on. It was fun to see those races in part because I was a kid when I first saw them and because it was striking to see how little downforce the Lola, Penske and March chassis had in comparison to the Dallaras running today with Honda and Chevrolet aero kits.

The CART chassis of 1988 look like they were running less downforce on road and street courses than the current cars run with on ovals. It’s a kick to watch them moving around under braking and on corner entry and exit. They look much less nailed down than the Honda/Chevy Dallaras and in many ways they’re more exciting to watch.

SJ – The current Indy car is probably close to being the highest downforce-producing race car ever. They’ve got over 5000 pounds of downforce. It’s crazy. But that’s the way it is with the cars in almost every category now. It goes back to what we’ve been talking about for years now. They keep increasing the downforce and decreasing horsepower. It’s a vicious circle.

At the same time everyone is complaining there is not enough passing. All this high downforce does is make the racing about mid-corner speed and momentum. There is not enough power to pull the cars down the straight so minimum speed mid corner is what determines the laptimes. The cars are just planted now in everything from F1 to sports cars and it’s all the same.

With all the downforce the cars generate today you have to adapt a very strange driving technique. You have to focus on carrying speed through the middle of corners and the only place you can make up time is through the slow corners. You can have the biggest balls on the planet in the fast corners and if you gain one tenth of a second it’s a miracle.

In the past you really had to pucker up and use all your courage because you could make up close to a second by balancing the car on the limit in the faster corners.

I notice the engineers in F1 are already excited about the new style cars as they already generate a lot more downforce than the current one’s. They are talking about 25-35% more, which is a massive increase, and the braking distances subsequently getting even shorter than they are now and they predict the laptimes will be smashed on every track by 3-4 seconds according to their simulations. My question is, how on earth is that going to improve the racing, they are already almost in the corners when they hit the brakes, the speed midcorner is already very high, so where is the passing going to take place? Maybe I’m missing something but I can’t see how the racing will improve if the cars will have even more downforce, regardless if the downforce is generated from the top or the bottom of the car. I hope I’m proved wrong.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist tested with Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio prior to the race, driving Scott’s Dallara-Chevy. Apparently the test went quite well. He also had a stand out performance at the 24 Hours of Spa, driving a Mercedes AMG GT3 with AMG-Team AKKA ASP. Felix drove several stints, including the run to the checkers, finishing in 2nd place behind the winning BMW M6 from Rowe Racing.

SJ – The IndyCar test went extremely well. He impressed everyone there and definitely put his name on the radar for the IndyCar series. Everyone in the team, including Scott, really went out of their way to make sure he was well prepared.

At Spa he did a terrific job too. He was by far the quickest Mercedes driver. And remember they got docked two laps or five minutes before the race started (one of six Mercedes to serve five-minute stop-and-hold penalties for a technical infringement that stripped the manufacturer of its 1-6 qualifying sweep). They made it all the way back to the lead lap then had a puncture and lost a lap again with only a couple hours to go. Felix drove 12 hours out of the 24, and did the qualifying in his car, so I think he’s introduced himself into this category of racing very well by now.

He’s definitely got his mojo going and as I told him before the season began that he should drive anything he can get his hands on because whatever car he jumps in he’ll be dialed in instantly. That’s exactly what’s happening. I went through the same thing in the early years of my career and it helps massively jumping in and out of different cars and being able to get right with the program in very few laps.

JT – Formula One is on summer holiday currently following the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Lewis Hamilton took the win, getting away from the start cleanly while pole-sitter Nico Rosberg stumbled when the lights went out. Hamilton led into the first corner and was never challenged thereafter. Rosberg fell to fourth behind the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Yes, obviously with the start Hamilton was able to pull off the race was almost over by the first lap. Lewis definitely has the bit between his teeth right now. I think it will be tough for Nico to change the momentum, but maybe the break is what he needs to be able to regroup and come back fresh for the remainder of the season. Lewis had a monster month of July, that’s for sure!

Getting the start right is so important, especially if you are on the front row. When Nico had the edge earlier in the season, it was for the same reason if you remember. Everyone was totally writing Lewis off because of his lifestyle and this and that, and most of the time is was only because he couldn’t get his starts right, exactly the same that is now happening to Nico. It’s the little details, the minor nuances that make such a big difference. If one of them gets even something minor just a little bit more right than the other, that guy generally wins.

JT – As we’ve mentioned previously, the current format of Formula One exaggerates those small details. Given the configuration of most of the modern circuits F1 races on and the level of downforce the current cars generate, if a driver gets a good start and is able to take the lead in clean air though the first lap, opportunities to overtake that driver on track are exceedingly scarce thereafter. That means many, if not most F1 races, are currently decided in the first corner. That can’t be good for the sport.

SJ – Absolutely, it’s a problem for all the reasons I have already mentioned above and for the past years now. And with the new rules going forward, it’s not going to get better most likely. I don’t know when the penny will drop for the people that write these rules that more aero grip is not the way to go, when in fact, the exact opposite is the right direction. All we know is that the new rule changes are going to cost each team a fortune and yet again, despite the added costs, which by the way very few teams can afford, there will probably very little change to the racing or the pecking order.

JT – Nico Rosberg received a five second penalty for forcing Max Verstappen off track in the hairpin while trying to pass the Red Bull driver. In this instance the penalty might have been warranted. What’s your view?

JT – It did look a bit weird I must say. I don’t really understand the whole thing, normally what you do if you out-brake someone is make sure that you turn in just a little bit later than you would if you weren’t overtaking. That’s typically enough to take the edge off the other driver being able to turn at the same time that you turn and by doing so they have to lift just a little bit longer than they normally do which is just enough to give you the preferred line on the exit of the corner. So the intention of the move was exactly as you would expect.

In this case he really came from nowhere. I couldn’t believe he actually tried the move to begin with because he was three to four car lengths behind Verstappen coming into the braking zone. It was a very late move and I know that if you brake right on the limit you’ll lock up as soon as you turn the wheel. So you want to try to keep the wheel straight as long as you can and slow the car as much as you can before turning the wheel, so maybe this is what contributed to the extremely late turn in to the corner.

But it’s weird with Nico right now. It seems like it’s either too much or too little when he makes a move in a racing situation. In all the confrontations he’s had with Lewis he’s either backed off a bit too early or stayed with a move for too long. It seems like he’s having a hard time gauging his moves in the right way. Again, it’s tiny the nuances that make the difference and it’s easy for me or anyone else to sit and comment in front of the TV about these things, it’s a whole different thing when you’re in the car of course.

Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. When you have the confidence and everything is going your way you always put the car exactly where you want it and the move sticks. But once you start having a little bit of doubt you’re never quite sure where you want to be. It’s the same if you’re a golfer or a tennis player. If you don’t know what to do simply by instinct, if you have to think about it, it’s very tough. It’s that grain of doubt that can be enough to hamper you.

Then with the penalty we have the same dilemma I’ve been talking about for a while now. You have a different driver-steward in the control tower at every race. Had there been a different driver-steward they might have said Nico’s move was fine. It’s that endlessly variable scenario with the stewards and rulings that’s making it very difficult both for the driver and also for the fans. As a driver, you never know if you’ve gone too far when there’s no consistency in applying rules.

In the past, there were no driver-stewards and things sorted themselves out.

I don’t envy Nico for one second as most of the on track confrontations are with Lewis by nature of the two being in a different league at the moment, and the added fact that Lewis is basically using the same playbook as Senna used. He simply goes for the gap no matter what, so it’s either a matter of the car he’s trying to pass giving enough room, or there’s contact, there is no middle ground. Nico knows this and that makes it extremely difficult for him to gauge where to place the car. Had it not been for Nico giving the room in many instances there would have been even more contact. This will continuously play with your head of course.

JT – As you’ve said previously, if modern tracks had more prominent physical limits much of this would be resolved naturally. If you or a competitor have a strong likelihood of contact with a barrier or of spinning out when exceeding track limits, you’re bound to be more careful, more calculated when you make a move.

SJ – Track limits have become a big subject now and there’s divided opinion. But if you look back over time, how many really bad accidents have been caused by curbing that you wouldn’t want to go near except to lean on them just a bit here or there – curbs that you’d never attempt to go straight over, or cars ending up in the sand trap?

The argument for lower curbing heights was that higher curbs were dangerous for motorcycle racing. So they flattened all the curbing at many of the circuits. But surely there must be a way to bolt reasonably high curbs to the ground firmly so that they could be used for cars and then removed for bikes when they race. They do this at street circuits like Monaco and Macao and I would imagine you could do the same thing on a permanent road course without to much trouble?

That way you could allow the bike guys to race with the flatter curbing then bolt on the higher curbs for auto racing. It’s either that or as Toto Wolff suggested, just let the guys run whatever line they want – no track limits. It’s kind of ridiculous and lap times will be probably two to three seconds quicker depending on the track but I’d love to try it at a place like Austin (Circuit of the Americas) where you have those esses (Turns 3-9) and just straight-line the lot of them.

You would probably change up a gear instead of downshifting and you end up at the end of the five corners by going behind the curbing at all of them. I’m only joking of course, but you could do that there theoretically because of the massive run off areas they have there. It’s a silly thought but that’s the point things have gotten to unfortunately.

Personally, I can’t see what was wrong with grass at the edges of a track. Even if you only had grass for ten feet and then asphalt runoff, that would prevent guys from stepping over the limit because you lose all grip immediately. At places like Mid-Ohio or Road America you still have grass and there’s no problem at these tracks. They’re great and when people go off the track they stay off generally and go into the runoff areas, and that’s the end of that.

Most of the really bad accidents that’s happened in racing have been freak accidents of some kind. Those kinds of accidents can never be prevented. Every now and then they will happen no matter how much you try to eliminate them. But what happens every time is the knee-jerk reaction that follows, often not very well thought through and with the end result even worse than what was there to begin with.

JT – Red Bull Racing now appears to be solidly second in the championship. Ferrari has fallen to third in the standings and doesn’t look like it will be able to raise its performance for the remainder of the season. They finished behind Red Bull at Hockenheim.

SJ – Yes, it looks like they most likely will finish third now. They have a lot of challenges right now and that’s not going to get easier anytime soon. The loss of James Allison is obviously huge and is not going to be an easy one to replace. They are now talking about a McLaren style structure in the design and engineering department, which may or may not be the way to go. But regardless, any major change in this regard inevitably takes a long time to implement. Let’s hope they have the direction already in place so there won’t be any major delays in getting back on track after the Allison departure. The battle for fourth place should be interesting though. McLaren actually might have a say in that too (McLaren now sits 7th in the championship, 54 points behind Williams in 4th place). Their performance is getting closer and closer to the others, and they have the resources to out develop the teams they are fighting against, so let’s see how that turns out, there are still a lot of racing left this year.