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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

The Blog

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. 


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:

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.

----- SJ Blog #50 -----

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler about Lewis Hamilton’s triumph in Abu Dhabi, the surprising replacement of Marco Mattiacci at Ferrari, and Felix Rosenqvist’s win at the Macau GP.

Stefan Johansson

Lewis Hamilton - F1 Champion 2014 - Abu Dhabi

Jan Tegler – Lewis Hamilton triumphed in Abu Dhabi, winning the final race of the season and his second world championship, beating rival and teammate Nico Rosberg for the title by 67 points. He scored eleven victories over the course of the season to Rosberg’s five wins.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix wasn’t a very interesting race particularly once it was clear that Rosberg’s Mercedes W05 Hybrid was malfunctioning. What did you think of the race?

Stefan Johansson – Yes, it was a bit of an anti-climax given the whole build-up over the season. But in the end though, I think it was a fair result.

Can you imagine if the result had been the other way around and Lewis’ car had broken down? We would have never heard the end of it, “Oh my god, it’s the double-points. It’s the most unfair thing!” So, for the sake of peace and quiet going into the off-season it was probably the best thing and at least kept the media from getting completely out of hand. There’s already been enough negative stuff written all year.

JT – Clearly, Mercedes GP did the best job of figuring out/coping with the new 2014 regulations, winning both the constructor’s and driver’s title easily. That’s to their credit but I didn’t find the season to be exciting. There were some interesting races here and there but for the most part, Mercedes GP simply dominated. This is an opinion expressed by many F1 fans. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I would tend to agree, it’s been about one team the whole year. But don’t forget, the previous four years were pretty much all about Red Bull Racing. In some respects, that’s just the way it is in Formula One.

It’s down to the fact that you’re always going to have one team that finds the “magic bullet” when the rules – though comparatively restrictive now – change as much as they did for this season. In recent years, the biggest difference performance-wise was on the chassis side but this time it was certainly the engine/power unit. It’s hard to overcome the enormous horsepower advantage that the Mercedes engine/power units clearly have.

JT – There is perhaps one difference in the 2014 season compared to the last two decades of F1. Over those 20 years we saw domination as you mention - Red Bull Racing most recently. But even when Red Bull was dominant, the championship was decided between different teams – not as an inter-team rivalry.

Red Bull battled Ferrari (Vettel and Alonso). In the years of Ferrari domination, the battle was between McLaren and Ferrari (Schumacher and Hakkinen, Coulthard) or Renault and Ferrari (Schumacher and Alonso). In 2014 it was Hamilton versus Rosberg. While it’s always hard to compare eras, I’m betting most would say the last major inter-team fight for the championship – between Senna and Prost - was more dramatic.

SJ – Yes, the last similar season to this involved Prost and Senna as teammates at McLaren. Those two were totally dominant and the fight was between them for every race. Whichever – Prost or Senna - managed to keep their car on the track or running was going to win. And I’d agree, the battle between them was more interesting than Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry this year.  

Marco Mattiacci replaced at Ferrari

JT – On the day following the Abu Dhabi GP Ferrari caught just about everyone off-guard, announcing that Marco Mattiacci was out as team boss just eight months after he replaced Stefano Domenicali. Many, including Kimi Räikkönen, thought he was doing a good job for Ferrari. What do you think of this development?

SJ – I think it was a big surprise to everybody including Marco. Sergio Marchionne (Fiat CEO) certainly doesn’t mess around, he doesn’t bark, he just goes straight for the bite. Without knowing very much about the details I have a sense it was a political move. It’s most likely also part of the fallout from Montezemolo leaving earlier in the year. As Mattiaci was put in place by Luca, it’s likely they simply wanted a clean sweep moving forward.

JT – One would imagine this upsets the apple cart at Ferrari to some degree. What do you think this might mean for the team’s progress going forward from a technical and sporting point of view, and do you think Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel are worried by the turmoil?

SJ – Yes, it’s definitely attention-getting for both drivers. Poor old Kimi, he was just starting to make some progress with these new cars and now who knows how things will go? As for Vettel, Mattiaci is probably the only guy he really knows inside Ferrari at this point, so he must be questioning his decision to leave at this point.

The interesting part for me is the guy they’re replacing Mattiacci with (Maurizio Arrivabene, a senior executive with Phillip Morris and member of the F1 Commission). He’s not exactly the most experienced guy in running a racing team either, so on many levels he will have to go through the same learning curve that Mattiaci did, the advantage he will have is that he won’t get thrown in the deep end mid season, but will at least have the winter to get the hang of things.

He also does have the advantage of having been around the F1 paddock for a very long time. I remember meeting him already when I drove for Ferrari and he was with Marlboro already back then.

I thought Mattiacci did a really good job in the circumstances. He got the hang of it pretty quick and made some good hirings and navigated the Alonso saga incredibly well. He didn’t get intimidated early on but instead put the wheels in motion in case it wouldn’t work out with Alonso. He almost immediately had a strong backup plan in place (Vettel), which I thought was quite impressive.

Improving or changing any F1 team takes time. There’s no such thing as an overnight change and he had really just got going. Bottom line though - none of us really know the ins and outs of the situation. It’s hard to say what any new changes might be or what it will mean for continuity.

Having said all this, the 2015 car will be well under way already and a new team leader will not have that big impact on the performance level in the short term, so whatever they have in the pipeline will most likely remain what it is for next year at least.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Power Unit.

JT – Looking ahead to 2015. There seems to be a prevailing view that given the domination Mercedes GP and the Mercedes power unit showed this year, things won’t change much next season. Mercedes GP and the Mercedes power units are likely to dominate again. Do you agree?

SJ – Unless the freeze on engine development is lifted I don’t see how things are going to change much. The other teams may gain a little bit here or there but effectively the manufacturers are not allowed to touch the engine so I don’t see much that can be done.

It’s such an odd thing. If you’ve frozen engine development, why not freeze the chassis too, or the other way around? There are so many contradictions and enigmas in F1 now that it is becoming insanely confusing just to keep up. It’s hard to understand the logic behind much of it.

The engine manufacturers have all spent several hundred million Euros developing these engines and now they’re frozen for all new development. So, basically it means that unless you got it right first time out, you’re screwed for the next couple of years. But the chassis can be developed or updated continually. What would happen if the Aero package you present at the first race would have to remain the same for the next 2-3 years? Apparently Mercedes GP had something like 75 different front-wing configurations this year. I’m sure the other teams had just as many.  That’s just one of many components that are constantly being worked on, there’s new floors, rear wings, winglets, suspension parts, on and on it goes, every day, all year round.

Crates of new parts fresh from the factories are being delivered to the teams every day during race weekends. There’s endless chassis development and it’s costing exorbitant amounts of money. I don’t understand how that cost can be allowed to be infinite but you then can’t touch the engines in order to control the costs?

Then everyone complains about the cost of F1. It seems to me that despite the whole cost-cap idea, no one seems to want to get to the root of the problem – the root of what it is that cost so much money. Unless you prohibit development across the board the increase in costs will never stop. Typically, the two biggest line items in the budget is R&D and payroll. The top teams are now close to 1000 employees.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the teams should just be given a front wing mandated by the FIA. That’s it. They can only use that FIA wing with whatever level of downforce it produces. Around eighty-percent of the aerodynamic efficiency of the cars is generated by the front wing. Everything else is a byproduct as the air goes backwards down the car.

The downforce generated in front of the front wheels determines the aerodynamic efficiency of the car and that’s why the teams endlessly tinker with the front wings. Every race car in just about every series these days is developed around aerodynamics. This is where the majority of any race cars performance is coming from. And, at the end of the day, who cares?

Aerodynamic downforce, except to a certain and quite minimal level, is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle on anything except a racing car.

I really think it’s time for a complete rethink on the whole design concept of an F1 car and for that matter just about any race car.

Let’s say you set the downforce limit for a car at 2,000 pounds – that’s just an arbitrary number I’m using. You could measure that very easily with the strain gauges on the suspension pushrods. If you go over 2,000 pounds the car is illegal, simple as that. Then you could work on other more relevant efficiencies like optimizing drag, maybe increased downforce at lower speeds and other parameters.

Seemingly, it’s very important for the manufacturers in F1 to have engines that can be linked with the engines in their road cars. If so, then why not downplay the importance of downforce, so the manufacturers could work on developments like drag reduction which would have applications for their road cars? Less drag will aid fuel efficiency and you might also develop tires with less drag. There could be all sorts of developments that could be realized.

Make the tires and the mechanical grip more important and increase the top speed of the cars. Aim to get back to the same lap times as you have now, but do it by decreasing the minimum speed mid-corner and instead increase the top speed in a straight line. Unless something breaks or falls off a car, no one’s ever had a big accident on a straight as far as I can remember. And if something does come off a car it’s not going to make much difference whether you’re going 400 km/h or 350 km/h, but it would certainly make the cars a lot more spectacular to watch and it would give people something to talk about when the cars are doing close to 400kph in some places.

JT – As you have said before, that would make the racing would be better as well.

SJ – Exactly, that’s the whole point. Right now, the cars are on rails basically. I bet anything that if the cars had an engine producing 1300 horsepower with half the downforce that they have now and bigger tires and none of the driver aids they have now - all the pointless stuff on the steering wheel – the cars would be power-sliding around corners and it would be spectacular to watch.

That much power, which is absolutely not unreasonable for a car at the level of F1 with the carbon brakes that we have today, would be much better for racing. You’d be 30 to 40 km/h faster on the straights. The braking areas would be a lot longer because of the increased speed and less downforce and that will of course open up passing opportunities.

With much lower mid-corner speed and more power on hand, combined with the lack of driver aids, it will be much trickier to get a good exit out of the slow and medium speed corners. That will put more emphasis on hand, foot and throttle control. Whoever has the best car control will get a run on the car in front and be able to pass going down the straights without DRS and all the gimmicks, just a good exit and slipstream and better braking will be enough to make a pass. A good driver will really make a difference with this type of car. The cars will move around a lot more in the faster corners due to the loss of downforce, this will allow for a different quality of driver skill, some bravery and commitment that everyone used to love to watch. Nowadays, the slowest guy in the field is flat through Eau Rouge on his third lap, it’s barely a corner anymore, and it used to take a whole weekend to build up the confidence to take it flat.

Simplify everything; everything is so complicated now that it’s killing the racing. The cars would also look cooler instead of being like F3 cars on steroids.

Marussia & Caterham F1 Cars

JT – Again, looking ahead, many F1 observers are wondering whether the grid will be full next year. With the departure of Marussia and Caterham, and other teams on the brink financially, with the threat of boycotts etc, will the car count be down? What do you think?

SJ – – Well, we’re at the point now that everyone has feared for a long time. I think the problems are rooted much deeper fundamentally than the revenue share and who gets what. How many times have I said that when you change the rules, costs never-ever go down? The budgets always jump - sometimes by quite a lot - with every major rule change. The longer you can maintain rules stability the costs will eventually taper off, the trade off between R&D and performance will taper off each year and the smaller teams will eventually catch up to the bigger one’s.

This year the costs jumped hugely because all teams had to re-do literally everything. These are completely new cars with new engines, or power units as they are now called, re-gen systems and so much incredibly complicated stuff. Is it really necessary for F1 or racing in general for that matter- whether its 22 or 18 cars - to be that environmentally conscious? For me, it’s the best drivers in the world supposedly – brave young guys driving their tails off with very fast, spectacular, powerful racing cars – putting on a great show.

Apparently the manufacturers don’t think so and these new rules have come about because of this, and the costs hit everyone hard, especially the smaller teams although none of them wanted these new engines. They all have to buy these completely new power units at a much larger cost than before, in addition to having to build a new car that is now so complicated to operate that it doesn’t compare to anything they’ve been used to.

That’s just one part of it. Then there’s all the development and increased costs to run the cars, more people, on and on and on - and for what? When a small team needs a budget of close to $100 million just to be one of the clowns that make up the show with no hope of ever winning a race something’s seriously wrong. The top teams now have budgets of $500 million-plus.

What’s crazy is that no one in the top teams in Formula One seems to feel that there’s anything wrong with that. They say F1 should be the top. It should be the highest level. I believe it will still be at the highest level even if the biggest budgets were $100-150 million.

And the other problem for F1 teams is that every single part of the car has to be designed, manufactured and tested by the team itself. Most other race cars are offered as kits you can buy off-the-shelf. In Indy-Car for instance, you don’t have to make every single part of the car, in fact you’re not allowed to make anything yourself anymore, everything has to be bought directly through the series. That’s probably going to far in the extreme in the opposite direction though.

Every component of an F1 car is like a work of art, so beautifully made. But is all that really necessary? The big teams have a thousand people just to build a car - a thousand employees, seriously?

If the front wings on all the cars looked the same, would anyone really care? There are so many components on the car that could be standardized and no one would notice any difference, but the cost of manufacturing would come down drastically, and it would be the same for everyone, without having to enforce a cost cap, it would become a natural cost cap by simply not allowing each team to make each and every component on the car themselves.

I doubt there will be a full grid. I mean, who would try to buy either Marussia or Caterham at this point? There will be another year (2016) before Haas F1 joins the series so I’ll be very surprised if we see a full field. If anything, there are two or three other teams that are right on the limit. I think there will be a lot of drama before everything’s settled. However, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if there’s only 18 cars, as long as the racing upfront is great I really don’t think anyone cares.

JT – Certainly, F1 has experienced periods of expansion and contraction in the past but the current situation seems very serious.

SJ – It was bound to get to this point. The cost of Formula One has been unsustainable for quite some time. I’ve heard the arguments about the distribution of revenues but I can see Bernie’s (Ecclestone) previous points about the situation. Okay, teams like Sauber that have been in F1 for years and have been committed – that’s one thing. They deserve more than they have gotten, I think. But also, don’t forget they’ve done a lousy job the last couple of years with their cars and because of this they are now facing the situation they are in.

But when you look at Marussia and Caterham for example, it’s a different story. They’re basically some rich guys who fancies owning an F1 team but they are not really committed, or they jump into it without doing their homework before they commit. It’s one of several projects they are working on or own; Airlines, Soccer teams etc. They’re just dabbling. Like I have said many times before, owning a F1 team is not for the faint of heart, and it requires a total commitment on every level not only to be successful, but also to merely survive.

Compare the Marussia and Caterham owners to Ron Dennis, I doubt very much that Tony Fernandez net worth is any less than Ron Dennis for example.  The difference is that over the years Ron has put every penny back in McLaren to make it better, more competitive, a winning team. He’s hired the best drivers, the best people, invested in new facilities and equipment, never compromising. As a result he has of course become extremely wealthy in the process but it certainly wasn’t that way in the beginning. I don’t see that with Caterham for example, and certainly not with Marussia.

For Bernie, why should he bail those guys out? I am sure he feels they’ve got to pay their dues, and I agree 100%. That’s always been the case in Formula One. It’s the top of the top, and the bottom teams always come and go, either because they didn’t do their homework before they got into it, or they did a lousy job of it while they were there.

Stefan Johansson - McLaren - Mexican GP 1987

JT – Surprisingly, even now in early December, the driver silly-season continues. As we chat, Jenson Button still does not know if he will remain with McLaren for 2015 as no announcement has been made. I understand McLaren’s desire to cross their ‘”Ts” and dot their “Is” but leaving him in limbo isn’t terrifically professional. You had a similar experience with McLaren didn’t you?

SJ – Yes, I was in that same situation in 1987, being kept waiting forever while the team brought Senna in. It’s the old adage – it’s not about the driver, it’s about the team, which is completely understandable, it’s their business and the driver is one of many employees, and in the end it’s up to the owners of the team to make the decisions they think will serve their company the best. Jenson I think has done an excellent job, but clearly not good enough to make it a slam-dunk decision, and as such he’s in a position where he’s just going to have to wait.

Jeson Button - McLaren - F1

JT – Some have speculated that Button could be picked up by one of the factory P1 teams now racing in the WEC. Porsche recently finalized its driver line-up so there’s no open seat there. But, with Tom Kristensen retiring, there is an open seat at Audi. In addition, there are rumors swirling about Audi Sport leaving sports car racing and going to Formula One. One wonders whether it would be better for Audi to leave for to F1 where they might get more exposure or stay in the top echelon of sports car racing, a category they have basically owned. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Well, it’s hard to say with Button. As we’ve seen it’s not easy to make the transition from F1 to these hybrid P1 cars. Every car is so specialized these days and it’s very difficult to rise to the level where you’re able to extract that last five percent of performance. I know one thing for sure though, it would be an eye opener for him and he will love the racing in sportscars.

Why would Audi go to F1? That’s the question. You have to ask really, what is the best category of racing today?

Now, we’re at the point where each category has its own appeal and traits that aren’t so appealing. But I don’t think it’s the be-all or end-all to be in any one of them. If you do have the choice to race in any series – which very few manufacturers have – the decision should be based on whatever works best for you. There’s the financial side and the pressure of the racing side. As for Audi, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Le Mans experience have served them extremely well not only on the sporting side but also commercially, the question is, would an involvement in F1 have made that situation any better, I doubt it very much.

From a drivers perspective, like Jenson for example, I’m not sure Formula One’s the most fun anymore. Listening to all the drivers, I don’t hear too many happy campers – guys who are actually enjoying the driving part of it. They enjoy their jobs and the perks that go with them but I don’t think they’re too excited about the actual racing anymore.

Felix Rosenqvist - Macau GP Podium - 2014

JT – On the domestic sports car racing front, Pirelli World Challenge seems to be gaining even more strength with the recent revelation that Andretti Autosport may be entering the GT category with a Nissan GT-R effort. Meanwhile IMSA seems to be losing momentum.

SJ – World Challenge is definitely becoming a pretty impressive championship. We’re (Scuderia Corsa) going to run two cars next year (Ferrari 458 GT3s). The format is good with short sprint races and the racing is great.

JT – You just returned from Macau and the Macau Grand Prix, a race you finished second in in 1984. You were there to support Formula 3 driver Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been aiding in his career. Felix won the race, F3’s biggest, most famous round. Overall, the Macau weekend including the GT3 race that runs there now, has really become a renowned event.

SJ – It was a great weekend and mainly to do with Felix of course. I went to a couple meetings with him there and took a look at things in general. It’s a critical point in his career right now, having spent probably one year to many in the same category it’s time to move on and look at the opportunities that are available, generally speaking, for any Junior category driver aren’t that many unless you have a significant budget to bring with you.

His result in Macau obviously did the job though and it has opened up a lot of new possibilities for him. He knew what he had to do before he got there and he did exactly that in the race. I was impressed with how he dealt with the whole weekend, knowing before he got there he only had one option to leave the place and that was to basically clean up. He’s had a rough season and a win in Macau was really the only thing that could salvage a bad situation going forward. It’s always a good sign when you see a driver that can knuckle down and stay focused and drive with the level of confidence you need to win, especially at a place like Macau where there’s basically no room for error. That makes a big difference.

Macau has a great atmosphere. Every year it gets bigger and bigger. It’s a top class world event now, very impressive – the whole organization and the build-up to it. The media exposure is huge too.

----- SJ Blog #48 -----