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The Blog

Max Verstappen's win at the Spanish GP, Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis & the #F1TOP3!

Stefan Johansson

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg offer their views on the first-lap collision that ended their races in Barcelona...

JT – The Spanish Grand Prix proved to be a surprising race. Red Bull Racing’s 18-year-old driver Max Verstappen took the win ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. He drove well and made no mistakes. Impressive as that was however, the most notable thing about the race at Circuit de Barcelona was the shunt between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton which took both Mercedes out of contention on the first lap. What did you make of the incident?

SJ – I really think it was just a racing incident. A combination of things came together in a fraction of a second, literally. I don’t think there was any intent from either driver to do anything particularly sinister. It was a chain reaction triggered by Rosberg’s lack of power.

When you’re in a situation like that you commit one way or the other. It’s instinct. Unfortunately Lewis committed one way and Rosberg committed the same way at the same time. Maybe you could argue that Lewis should have backed off but all of this happens so fast – in a couple tenths of a second at the most.

Without the facts that we now have as to Rosberg being in the wrong engine setting I would have said it was Lewis’ fault. But with the information we have, that changes things.

Rosberg’s move was somewhat aggressive but that’s what you do these days unfortunately since they introduced the rule that you can make one move to block the car behind. But it doesn’t specify how bold that move can be. So you just simply shut the door if you can.

My argument has always been that you race fairly and you should leave at least a car width if someone gets a good run on you. But that’s not the ethic these days. So the nature of racing now means that this can happen. You act on instinct with these rules in place and in this case, I don’t think you can blame one or the other. It was a racing incident.

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

JT – Max Verstappen has been praised for his performance and he’s certainly a talent. But one gets the feeling the hype about him may be a bit out of proportion. What’s your view?

SJ – I think he did a phenomenal job and no doubt, he’s the future of Formula One. But Barcelona is also a track which maybe more than any other track on the calendar lends itself to a scenario like this. Don’t forget, Pastor Maldonado won a race there too under very similar circumstances, when Alonso was chasing him the entire race but could not find a way past.

It’s a track which is virtually impossible to pass on. Your only real opportunity is at the end of the front straight. But because of the way the aerodynamics are with these cars it’s almost impossible to follow a competitor through the last section and be close enough to get on the power and have a good run on the car ahead at the end of the straight - even with DRS. If you are in equally fast cars the turbulence from the car in front will be enough to kill the aero on the car behind and he won’t be able to get close enough to get a run into the braking zone at the end of the main straight. The speed difference between the Ferraris and the Red Bulls wasn’t large enough to make passing realistic. As long as Verstappen didn’t make a mistake – and full credit to him for being mistake-free – all he had to do was drive his own race. He didn’t have to fight for the win the way he might have had to at another track. Still, he did a sensational job.

On the other hand, Carlos Sainz has gotten almost zero credit and he also did a sensational job. He finished 6th in a car that’s clearly not anywhere near as competitive as the Red Bull. But that’s F1. The media build guys like Verstappen way up. Then if they fail, they bury them just as fast.

JT – Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo fought hard with Sebastian Vettel, at one point trying to pull off a pass from well behind at the end of the straight. Vettel wasn’t too impressed with the move.

SJ – It was an opportunistic but pretty low-percentage move. But at least he had a go. It could have worked and you have to hand it to him because he’s just about the only guy out there willing to have a go. Generally, he does it in a good way.

There were two top drivers involved here and therefore there was no accident. Vettel gave him enough room to go wide instead of trying to close the door.

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

JT – Ferrari was able to get two cars on the podium but given that Mercedes fell out of the race completely it might rightly have been expected that they would win in Barcelona. They failed to capitalize on the opportunity. The team and its director Maurizio Arrivabene are known to be under a great deal of pressure. The outcome for them in Spain has to be troubling.

SJ – Yes, not winning wasn’t part of their game plan. The problem is that the top teams around them have made pretty significant progress. Renault has had a history of building race-winning engines. It has taken a while this time around but I think they now understand the current formula and they’ll come on in leaps and bounds going forward.

You can tell Renault has made a big step forward and it’s likely the next upgrade they get will be another big gain.

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

JT – What if Ferrari doesn’t win over the course of the next few races?

SJ – That’s a good question. Who knows what will happen? More heads will roll likely but is that going to help?

When Ferrari was winning everything (1999-2004) they had a dream team that will probably never exist again in Formula One. Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher – these are some of the best guys ever in F1 and they all made a pact to stick together and drive Ferrari forward through thick and thin. That’s what made them successful. They never wavered and always stuck together. But it still took three years before they were winning, and I’m sure during that period there were more than one occasion when their positions were threatened from the people at the top.

JT – With the F1 season now underway in Europe it seems likely that the lower tier teams will fall even further behind. Haas F1 for example, seemed to get a dose of reality at Barcelona. Things didn’t really go their way.

SJ – As I’ve said many times, the first few races of the season are the least difficult to score points in all year. I think Haas will experience that this year just as Sauber did last year. It gets tougher and tougher to get points as the season goes on.

But all credit to them because they’re the only new team on the grid. The fact that they showed up in Australia with a car that was that competitive immediately is a huge compliment to them and the approach they’ve take to F1. Again, it boggles my mind that no one else has taken that same approach. Why not utilize the rules to the maximum and buy the technology and parts the rules allow you to?

JT – Off track, the news prior to the Spanish GP was the promotion of Max Verstappen from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing and Daniel Kvyat’s demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso. There was a lot of comment about the decision both from the press and the F1 paddock. What are your thoughts on this?

SJ – Well, Christian Horner (Red Bull team chief) made some comments about Kvyat being a young driver who is still learning, etc. But I find it mind boggling that a top team like Red Bull would hire a driver that needs to learn. Why?

There are so many good drivers around that’s already been through the learning process. Verstappen is an exception and of course that will spur the same trend even more now. The whole grid will be 18-year-olds before you know it. Take a guy like Andre Lotterer for example, and others similar to him who have so much race experience from doing sports car and other forms of single seater racing. He’s blindingly quick and every bit as good as Kvyat will ever be and probably better. But no one even looks at him.

I don’t understand it. Why on earth would you take a young driver and have him learning to race in Formula One? F1 is the last step, assuming you’re good enough to go all the way, that’s the ultimate goal for any driver, or at least it should be. Where do you go after F1? You should cut your teeth and learn from your mistakes in the junior formulas of open wheel, sports car racing or other categories. When you get into Formula One and get paid to drive you better be ready to deliver every weekend as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t think there’s any excuse for being young and not experienced enough in F1 whether it’s mentally or with race craft. If you’re not capable at that level, you’re not good enough to be there in the first place. At any given time, there are hundreds of quick drivers in different categories of racing, but less than a handful of them know how to race. Why aren’t those guys racing in F1?

JT – A good example of that is Stoffel Vandoorne. It occurred to me that in the hoopla over Verstappen’s win, Vandoorne has been forgotten. He scored for McLaren before either of their regular, world champion drivers this year – with a car not nearly as capable as the Red Bull Renault Verstappen won with. And he absolutely dominated GP2 but he’s not on the F1 grid.

SJ – Exactly, that’s a perfect example. We don’t know yet how he would handle the pressure of racing week in, week out. It’s one thing to jump in a car on a one-off. But when you have to deliver consistently in a top team – that’s when your real quality shows.

But it’s clear that everybody rates Vandoorne very highly. He’s been stunningly fast and won in everything he’s ever raced - from go-karts through GP2.

JT – On the other hand, you are impressed with Red Bull’s ladder system.

SJ – Yes their system, though it’s brutal at times, definitely works now. They’ve produced some pretty spectacular drivers. Vettel, Riciardo and now Verstappen and Sainz – all of them came through that system. It’s the way to develop talent really, and similar to the Marlboro system that was in place when I came through the junior formulas.

You get a little bit of support, enough to keep you going and if you’re good enough you make it all the way. It took a while to get it going in the right direction but Red Bull has done a fantastic job with that system.

JT – A larger and larger group of people are now echoing your view that the current F1 regulations should be left in place. But it appears that the rules will be changed again for 2017.

SJ – It’s clear that they should just leave the regulations alone. Whatever “fixes” they will come up with will only be damaging. They won’t make much difference competitively and they’ll just send costs through the roof again. Everyone will go through the same expensive development process yet again.

We’re now three years into the current format and we’re finally starting to see the grid leveling out. The development curve is tapering off. Why go back to the same arms race again where the big teams will again have a huge gap to the smaller ones at an astronomical cost?

Whether we like the current formula or not, I would leave it alone because if nothing else the rules stability will bring costs down and level out the grid. It’s the manufacturers who are pushing the changes. In fact, Bernie [Ecclestone] recently commented that certain people are plotting his demise but they don’t know what they’re plotting for.

I think that’s absolutely true. They may want to think twice before they take him on. History shows that that may not be the wisest move.

JT – That’s a good point. Nevertheless, Ecclestone will not be around forever. The bigger question is what comes after Bernie?

SJ – I think that’s a big concern for everyone. But I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question. There will be problems for sure.

Having said that, the way F1 is run now is by committee. As we can see, that yields grid lock and any reforms are really only to do with nuances – changes for the sake of changing more than anything else. No one can agree on anything of significance. F1 needs to be run by a very small group of people if not one person like it has been in the past. That group or person has to have a very clear understanding of how racing and Formula One work, commercially and technically. I am not so sure that the people who are most active in trying to dislodge Bernie understand that point well enough.

JT – IndyCar’s fifth race of the 2016 season, the Angie’s List Grand Prix, took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ahead of the Indy 500 last weekend.  Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took his third consecutive win ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. Scott Dixon came home in 7th. As usual there was a first corner pile-up and passing was difficult.

SJ – It just wasn’t a great race for Scott overall, starting with qualifying which was a mess not only for him but for a number of the top contenders. He made good progress at a track which is very difficult to pass on and then he got shuffled back again in the pack during the race with the different strategies playing out. Then he got some front wing damage and it was just one of those races.

Pagenaud is driving impressively, especially with as close as the competition is in IndyCar and as difficult as it is to put it all together and win. It’s a great start to the season for him. Both him and his crew are really on top of things at the moment.

JT – Honda’s engine appeared to be improved in the Indy Grand Prix and looks to be better in last week’s lapping sessions on the speedway. Do you think the Honda-powered cars will be competitive with the Chevy-engined machines for the 500?

SJ – I think Honda has actually been pretty close to Chevrolet all year. Chevy has had the best teams, and overall, they probably have the best drivers too. That stacks the odds in their favor. But it does appear that Honda will be closer. We really won’t know until the race gets underway. It seems to me that the Honda cars so far are able to get their speed much easier than the Chevy cars.

JT – The question has been asked in recent years, what is the importance of qualifying for the Indy 500 these days? How important do you think it will be to qualify well this year?

SJ – I don’t think you have to be on the pole but you certainly want a spot towards the front because with the current aero kits passing has been made more difficult. I haven’t heard what the drivers are saying about passing at the Speedway yet but if the other tracks are anything to go by – Phoenix for example – it’s considerably more difficult and you definitely want to be up front.

The more tinkering IndyCar does with these aero kits - the more downforce they pile onto to them - the worse the racing gets. It will be a shame if the passing we’ve seen during the last few years is diminished because all of this aero. That’s really what Indy is about.


PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

To make F1 a bit more fun and engaging, we've implemented a fun game named #F1TOP3, where Formula One fans around the world have the opportunity to win prizes, including brand new limited edition Stefan Johansson Växjö Watch (valued at $7,500)! It's relatively easy: click on the black button above and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

A quicker alternative is to post on Twitter & Instagram with the following:

  1. Twit/Post a photo and list your top 3 drivers in the correct order along with the hashtag #F1TOP3
  2. TAG:

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Chinese GP, Indycar GP of Long Beach & Alabama, and WEC at Silverstone

Stefan Johansson

Photo by: motorsport.com

Photo by: motorsport.com

JT – Two weeks ago, F1 made the third stop on its 21-race 2016 calendar, visiting Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. The race had more than the usual amount of action due to a shuffled grid and first-lap contact for a number of cars. Lewis Hamilton was forced to start from the back of the pack after mechanical woes in qualifying.

On the first lap, Sebastian Vettel made contact with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, damaging Raikkonen’s car while setting off a chain reaction incident that brought other cars to the pits for repairs including Hamilton. Rosberg started cleanly and vanished, leading flag to flag for his third consecutive win of the season. Hamilton was only able to climb to 7th place while Vettel came home 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen recovered to 5th place. Meanwhile Daniel Kvyat and Daniel Riccardo looked strong for Red Bull Racing finishing 3rd and 4th. What did you think of the grand prix?

SJ – Well it seemed as if everyone blamed everyone else for the start incidents. Rosberg got the job done and it’s funny how the dynamic changes so fast. Now everybody’s on about how Rosberg is dominating. But that’s not exactly the case, just as it wasn’t the case when Hamilton was winning last year. Small nuances always make the difference. This year, luck hasn’t been on Hamilton’s side so far. But we’re only three races into the season.

It’s hard to put the blame on anyone for what happened in the first corner after the start. I’m not sure who hit who at first. Vettel blamed Kvyat for coming from nowhere and left him nowhere to go, but looking at the video replay, the door was left wide open and Kvyat took the opportunity to gain a few places. What happened after that is the normal chain reaction where a driver is either trying to avoid someone else or taking the opportunity to pass someone if there’s a gap left open.

There’s no question that Red Bull has a very strong car. Adrian Newey and his team of designers always comes up with a good chassis and I think things will be even more interesting when F1 gets to some of the European tracks that are more demanding in terms of balance. Shanghai is a horsepower track with a very long straight. Red Bull could definitely be a threat on some of the tighter circuits.

JT – Though Vettel and Raikkonen finished well given their troubles, Ferrari still doesn’t seem be able to put together a clean weekend.

SJ – Exactly, I don’t think we really know the truth of their potential yet. Various circumstances have come up at the races so far that have created challenges for them. There hasn’t been a real apples-to-apples comparison between them and the other teams. That will be worth watching.

JT – If you consider the other top teams, I think it’s fair to say that McLaren-Honda still isn’t progressing the way you would expect. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s substitute for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain, is the only team driver to have scored a point. They may be closer to the pace than they were last year but clearly they still have a long way to go.

SJ – They’re definitely getting closer. It’s hard to say exactly what the circumstances are for the team but I still believe they’ll get a lot stronger and will eventually get things together. It’s just taking longer than expected.

JT – Another meeting of F1’s Strategy Group takes place this week, supposedly the final opportunity to define the rules for 2017 and beyond. Mercedes GP boss Toto Wolff says he doesn’t want the rules to change because “performance between the teams is converging to create great racing.” Other teams want changes, arguing that the racing isn’t that terrific and that Mercedes has an interest in keeping the rules the same given their performance advantage. Do you think anything of substance will result from the meeting?

SJ – I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance. I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.

If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing. Frankly, I think they’re better off not doing anything. Whatever they might decide to do will inevitably be more expensive and we all know that F1’s business model is unsustainable. Rules stability will always bring the costs down and eventually also level the playing field if you keep the rules consistent for a long period of time.

JT –Bernie Ecclestone recently drew criticism for saying he didn’t “know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.”

F1 world champion Mario Andretti offered a slightly different but similar view commenting that, “Formula One has been in existence for what, 66 years, and we've only seen five women try and compete and none have really been successful.… Saying women can do it - bottom line, they have to prove it.”

What’s your take?

SJ – Frankly, I don’t necessarily agree with the fitness aspect because F1 cars today aren’t that physical to drive. I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it. There are, mostly, no hand-outs, no favors, unless of course you’re one of the pay drivers but assuming all things are being equal.

But the second there is a female driver who is good enough to get to F1 on sheer merit they would have a much better chance of getting an opportunity than any of the men would. What’s really important to recognize is that the likelihood of a female getting to the level you need to be at to compete in Formula One is very small because there aren’t enough females pursuing it.

I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it.

My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.

JT – IndyCar has raced twice since we chatted for the last blog with races at Long Beach and last weekend’s Barber Motorsports Park round. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took the win at both events. Scott Dixon finished second at Long Beach and 10th at Barber. Controversy broke out at Long Beach when Pagenaud was warned but not penalized for crossing the line at pit exit in an effort to stay ahead of Dixon in the final stage of the race. The lack of a penalty for the infraction did not sit well with many and highlighted flaws in IndyCar’s new three-man committee of race stewards. Pagenaud finished in front at Barber after a spirited battle with Graham Rahal. No penalties were issued for contact between the two drivers.

Both races ran under green flag conditions from start to finish - impressive and nearly unprecedented, particularly at Long Beach. What did you make of both races?

SJ – Long Beach was interesting and confusing. I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision. As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce. If you cross the yellow line with more than two wheels, you have broken the rule. It couldn’t be more clear than that. There are probably 25 drivers every weekend in some race, somewhere in the world that get’s a penalty for doing just that.

I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand.

At Barber, what can you say? Unfortunately Scott always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time and gets tapped from behind. Every time that happens to him the race always seems to go green the whole way and he had no chance of recovering. It’s frustrating because his pace was definitely good. He was almost a second per lap quicker on his fastest race lap than anyone else. He would have definitely been in the hunt at the end of the race if he hadn’t gone to the back of the field after the contact.

The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist returned to the U.S. to resume racing in the Indy Lights championship last weekend after two races in Europe – both in a Mercedes AMG GT3 – in the Blancpain Sprint Series and the ADAC GT Masters championship. Things didn’t go quite as expected for Felix at Barber Motorsports Park where he finished 14th in race one after contact with Santiago Urrutia and 8th in race two.

In their Sprint Series debut at Misano, Felix and teammate Tristan Vautier were very competitive, running fast laps and holding a podium position in the late stages of the main race before cruelly running out of gas. Rosenqvist finished well at the GT Masters round in Ochersleben, earning 10th in race one and 4th in race two. His schedule is challenging, going between open wheel racing and sports car racing.

SJ – At Barber, I think the team (Belardi) had a bit of a struggle from the moment they unloaded. They had massive tire wear and they were fighting the car the whole weekend. They never really got on top of it. It’s a tough championship. Indy Lights has some very good talent right now.

If you look at racing in America overall, there’s pretty good depth in all of the categories. IndyCar is really quite impressive. Take a guy like Alexander Rossi who was super promising coming out of GP2. He’s running on the last two rows of the grid. I think that says a lot. It’s a very tough field now.

Misano was good because Felix was almost half a second quicker than anyone else and everyone was quite impressed. But unfortunately they didn’t make to the end of the race.

JT – The first race of the 2016 season of WEC took place at Silverstone two weeks ago. It was a rather fraught race for several drivers and teams with Brendon Hartley crashing out in his Porsche 919 and the sister Porsche making contact with one of the Ford GTs. The No. 8 Audi went up in smoke due to hybrid system failure.

Meanwhile, the No. 7 Audi took the checkered flag in first place. However, a post-race penalty for excessive wear on a front skid block led to the car’s exclusion. The No. 2 Porsche 919 therefore took the win. Some saw the ruling as harsh and Audi initially appealed the ruling then withdrew its appeal. What’s your view?

SJ – A rule is a rule. It might seem a stiff penalty but it is what it is. Apparently, the car wasbouncing and wore down the skid block but that’s not the rule makers’ fault. That’s an element that those running the car have to manage.

If you have rules, you have to adhere to them. A car might be 300 grams too light and you could argue whether that was any kind of advantage but if it’s too light, if it violates the rule, that’s it.

JT – Last winter Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested Alfa Romeo might return to F1 as a constructor to gain publicity for the brand and compete at the highest level. When asked if Alfa might consider racing at Le Mans, he said he preferred F1. You differ with his view.

SJ – Yes, he said that F1 is the maximum of technological expression in the automotive world and that’s where Alfa should be.

But that’s actually not true anymore. I think the WEC is significantly more technologically advanced than Formula One is today. At least you have some technical choice in WEC. F1 is incredibly restricted with a complex and expensive engine formula which only allows one approach at a massive cost.

Everybody has to build exactly the same engine and chassis. You’re not allowed to do anything outside of their very restricted little box. Consequently, all F1 is, is optimizing a very strict rules package. There’s little room for innovation. In the WEC there is at least room for a bit of innovation with the freedom to try different versions of the P1 concept.

On the other hand, the P1 cars now require Formula One level budgets and that’s for just six cars and three teams spending stupid money. You can’t really even count the Rebellion non-hybrid P1 cars. Why they’re running in P1 and not P2 is beyond me. And of course, if the VW Group decides it wants to do something different than sports car racing it’s game over for the whole thing.


#F1TOP3

#F1TOP3

The Russian GP is here! Win win win! Don't forget to submit your #F1TOP3!

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Bahrain GP, Scott Dixon Wins Phoenix GP, and #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

#F1TOP3

#F1TOP3

JT – The F1 season is now well and truly underway. The Bahrain Grand Prix offered more action than the Australian GP but the result was similar – two Mercedes on the podium along with a Ferrari. Nico Rosberg turned a perfect start into a dominating second consecutive win. Teammate and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was slow off the line and paid the price with contact from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas at the first corner. He fell to ninth but recovered to finish third. Kimi Raikkonen also had a poor start but rallied to finish second. What did you think of the race?

SJ – There were some interesting battles here and there because teams were on different strategies. It looks like the new system of tire choices has definitely helped to spice up the races some although I actually found it hard to follow the race on TV.

It’s very difficult to keep up with who’s on which tire or strategy, which puts more emphasis on the TV production and the commentators to keep the viewers up to date all the time. There’s so much going on with all the possible strategies and tires, and that’s not really presented on-screen. You almost need a computer next to you with timing and scoring and updates. And for a very good portion of the race you never saw what the leaders were doing. They weren’t on camera. That’s understandable because of the gap but it’s tough to follow.

The new start procedure has definitely thrown a spanner in the works. That’s good I think because there should be a skill element involved for getting a good start. There was quite a technique in F1 at different points in the past to getting off the start line quickly. Then they made it completely automated and now it’s at least halfway back in the drivers’ hands.

I wish it was completely back in the drivers’ hands and hopefully they’ll go in that direction again eventually.

Looking at Rosberg versus Hamilton, Rosberg has had things go his way so far. I think it’s just the way the dynamics go in a competitive team. It would appear that Lewis has dominated the last two years but if you think about how close it’s been both years it comes down to nuances. Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and in many cases over the last two years things could have just as easily gone Rosberg’s way, but they didn’t.

You only need one little hiccup to fall behind. Before, it was Rosberg who couldn’t get off the start line. There were times when he qualified in front of Lewis but blew the start consistently. Now it’s the other way around. That’s the way it goes and they’ve been so close to each other every year since they became team mates.

JT – Drama took place even before the start with Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari blowing an engine on the formation lap. Raikkonen lost an engine at Australia, Vettel doesn’t even make the grid in Bahrain, and they’ve had other engine problems in testing and practice. Could it be that the failures are the result of Ferrari pushing the performance envelope of their power unit very hard in an effort to catch Mercedes?

SJ – We’re certainly seeing more reliability issues than we’ve seen in many years in general terms so it’s hard to say. But it would not appear that the failures that Ferrari has suffered so far have been catastrophic - small things that unfortunately have had big consequences.

JT – Williams F1 had another disappointing race. Their strategy seemed to be wrong and though Bottas made a good start, things went downhill from there. I think that many expected more from a team that has finished third in the constructors championship the last two years.

SJ – It’s a bit odd really. I don’t know how they got the strategy that wrong in Bahrain. You can alter strategy during the course of a race but they didn’t really. To be fair, it seemed like everyone was struggling on the medium tires. Maybe that had something to do with it.

JT – On the other hand, Haas F1 surprised the entire paddock again with good qualifying and race pace from both cars, good strategy, and a terrific drive to fifth place from Romain Grosjean. Esteban Gutierrez looked to have good speed as well until his car experienced a mechanical failure. Apparently Haas’ competitors are now complaining that the new American team is really a Ferrari “B” team.

SJ – They’re very impressive. They’ve shown everyone that Australia wasn’t a fluke. As in Australia, they had real speed in Bahrain and executed their strategy and pit stops pretty well.

It begs the question, why aren’t more people in F1 doing the same thing? Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money to build every single part on a car, why not do a deal for a good portion of the package or as much as the rules will allow you with one of the major teams that have all the resources for R&D? Instead, focus on doing the best job you can with the race team and then have the potential to finish in the top 10 consistently. 

If you look at Sauber, Force India, Manor and the rest who sit at the back of grid and rise or fall a little bit every year and wind up being similar at the end of day, you have to ask why? What Haas F1 has done seems to me to be the obvious way to go.

But you hear people like Pat Symonds (Williams’ technical director) who I have a huge respect for. He was my engineer on a number of occasions over the years and is one of the best guys in the paddock. They worry that Haas’ model is going to change the world of Formula One, or question if it’s in the spirit of what F1 is all about. Well, something has to change. When the bottom teams are spending close to $100 million per year, something is seriously wrong. Everyone in the paddock is well aware that the model is unsustainable, yet everyone seems shocked at what Haas has done.

Haas has been very smart and done their homework well - shame on everyone else for not adopting the same idea.

It makes absolutely no sense to me to continue on with this “constructors” model. It’s an outdated concept that does not fit with the direction a modern F1 is made. A full budget for a winning team in the 1980s was something like $35 million per year. Now it’s close to $500 million. So it makes sense to do what Haas has done. What difference does it make if you can brag that you made a cleverer braking duct than anyone else? In the end, F1 should be about good racing - about the best drivers racing each other hard.

What we have now amounts to nothing more than “engineering porn”. That’s what I think of when I see these endless updates and aerodynamic elements and this and that and the other, with teams flying in crates of new parts every weekend. No one except the people inside the business can even appreciate or understand any of this. You can line up every single car next to each other and paint them white and hardly anyone will know the difference. So what’s the point of being a “constructor” when there is zero innovation allowed anyway? The whole idea is flawed.

JT – While Grosjean had a very impressive race, so did Stoffel Vandoorne, filling in for Fernando Alonso at McLaren. Surely, this raises his stock even further in terms of securing a drive in F1 in the future, right?

SJ – Vandoorne did a fantastic job. He’s the real deal no doubt. He’s beaten everybody in every championship he’s ever competed in. Throwing him into Alonso’s seat like that, he couldn’t have done more than he did really. That was a perfect job all weekend. It’s always a sign of a great driver when he can step up and grab the opportunity with both hands on the one chance he might get.

JT – Max Verstappen also drove well, finishing in sixth. His outburst on the Toro Rosso team radio at Australia was in the rear view mirror.

SJ – Well, his frustration in Australia was entirely understandable. The guy’s only 18 years old and everybody has to blow off some steam at sometimes. The bigger point though is that the second year in F1 in any team is always tougher. You come into F1 and there’s no real pressure, no huge expectations. You sort of just do your thing.

Last year he managed to pull off just about every move he made but it’s another season now and it’s very easy for things to go the other way - against you, as we saw in Australia. If you remember, Grosjean had a great first year and then got into all sorts of problems the second year although I don’t think he necessarily did anything much different. Things just didn’t go his way and once doubts start you tend to over analyze everything instead of just making things happen. Then you make the wrong move very easily.

JT – Force India’s performance was decidedly less impressive. Nico Hulkenberg started eighth but finished 17th while teammate Sergio Perez finished 16th.

SJ – Yes, I was surprised at how they just fell back in the race. They clearly went the wrong way on tire strategy like Williams did. It’s also unfair the way the tires are allocated. Grosjean didn’t want to be in the top eight in qualifying because it allowed him to have an extra set of super soft compound tires for the race.

I think that’s completely wrong. You shouldn’t be punished for out-qualifying other competitors and lose a set of tires. Everybody should be allowed to start with the same allocation for the race. It goes back to the qualifying saga actually. 

I don’t see what was wrong with the qualifying format that we used for years. You had an hour to qualify and three sets of tires. You just went out to qualify whenever you wanted to, using whatever combination you liked. At every single race, the last ten minutes were electrifying.

Senna or Prost would go out with two minutes to go with a new set and it was always a game of chess at the end of qualifying. Maybe the weather conditions were changing. What were the competitors doing? I think that was way more exciting than even the format they want to go back to now.

Or, if you were allowed to turn the power units up to their highest output - it would be awesome to see them with 1200 horsepower just for qualifying. 

JT – Lamentably, F1’s failed qualifying format was still in place at Bahrain and is still a point of contention for everyone in the sport. Qualifying didn’t improve the second time around with the new format and yet the teams, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone seem stuck. Your view is that there’s more to the story, right?

SJ – To me it’s clear that all this has nothing to do with qualifying. I don’t recall a single person complaining about qualifying previously. Everyone was quite happy with it, and this is pure politics, unless everyone has completely lost the plot, which I really don’t think is the case.

My theory is that this is a political move from whatever the source is to destabilize the F1 Strategy Group (F1’s rule-making body which includes the FIA, FOM and six teams). I think the ultimate goal is to get rid of it or break it up somehow. Since the group was formed, nothing has happened. It’s been a disaster from day one.

To repeat what I’ve been saying forever, if you have the teams involved in the decision making nothing will ever get done. They can’t even agree on when to have a meeting let alone what they should talk about. They’re so suspicious and paranoid about each other.

If the goal of all this is to eliminate the Strategy Group, it’s a good idea in my opinion. Doing it all publicly shows that nothing can get done as long as this group exists. It’s the old trusted “divide and conquer” idea. The fact that you have this committee that has to approve any changes instead of simply saying - “That didn’t work, let’s go back to what we had before” – shows how broken it is.

This is a move to shake things up and force changes. When things don’t make any sense - which this one clearly doesn’t - you know something is up.

JT – Following the Australian race where the qualifying format proved to be a disaster, the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association) issued a public letter declaring their displeasure with the current governance of F1. What was your reaction to this?

SJ – I think it was a very bad idea. First of all, why is it necessary to issue a public letter instead of dealing with this matter behind closed doors? Anyway, all the letter did was state the obvious and I love the way Bernie dealt with it. Essentially he agreed with them but corrected their spelling and grammar, which only underlines the respect and reaction it got from the people it was meant to be addressed to.

As long the voice of the drivers is not one of the top guys, I don’t think anyone will give two hoots about what they have to say. Their current president is not even an active driver anymore. Judging by the various comments from various teams and the governing bodies, I think they did a good job at shooting themselves in the foot - that’s all.

 

JT – The second race on the 2016 IndyCar schedule also took place last weekend. Scott Dixon overcame strong competition and a track on which it was difficult to pass to win the Phoenix Grand Prix. While it wasn’t the most action-filled event, Phoenix did prove to be a safe race and Scott gained valuable points. He now sits second in the championship, five points ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya who he battled for the title last year. What’s your take?

SJ – From Scott’s point of view the race was fantastic. To have the points he has now is great because he’s normally not very far up in the championship at this time of year. It’s a good start to the season. He’s hard to beat when he gets going. He’s like a machine nowadays.

But a lot of credit has to go to the team also. They did a phenomenal job on all the pit stops and the strategy to not only get him to the front but also to keep him there. A lot of his main opponents pitted at exactly the wrong moment and went a lap down with the yellow flags coming out as they were either in the pits or just rejoined.

As a whole though, the race was quite uneventful. No one could pass other than on the restarts. Everyone was just stuck on one racing line and there was never an opportunity for a second line to open up. That limited most of the passing to whatever spots you could gain on the pit stops.

But at least it was a safe race and that was good. With the huge aero (downforce) they have on the cars it could have been pretty tricky and some people including myself were quite nervous that it might be another crazy pack racing event like we saw at Fontana and a couple of other places last year. That’s not the way to go.

Everyone knew the first two or three laps of the race and the restarts were really the only opportunity you had to pass. Hunter-Reay was pretty far back at the start and knew he had to take a few chances. He made some great moves, as did Tony Kanaan. They are both very experienced and aggressive drivers and it was impressive to see.

I know I’ve been talking about it for a couple years but you’d think IndyCar would realize that, just as in Formula One, big aero downforce is ruining the racing. It’s as simple as that.

The evolution of the new aero-kits has really resulted in nothing. We’re at greater levels of downforce now than we were a few years ago when these new cars were introduced. Again, I’ve said it before – theoretically, they could have stayed with what they had in 2014 and the racing would be better.

Now, if you get too close to a car in front it’s almost impossible to pass – same as in F1. If you got stuck behind a car that was on the end of the lead lap, as we saw, there was nothing you could do. You’re stuck at their speed and everyone was running around doing exactly the same lap time. I just hope at some point the penny will drop and everyone will have a major rethink on the philosophy of what a modern race car should be like. The way it’s going right now is not helping the racing at all.

JT – Another side effect of the downforce and the horsepower IndyCar powerplants make currently is that if you make a move on a competitor ahead, particularly on an oval, you lose nearly all momentum. That makes you vulnerable to those behind immediately.

SJ – Exactly, no one dares take the risk to pass – or rarely anyway, because of that. Their frustration just keeps mounting as a result and that’s when stupid things happen.

Maybe things will be different at Long Beach but it did surprise me that at Phoenix there was such a difference between Chevy and Honda again. I would have thought Honda could have closed the gap a bit. But the gap seems almost bigger than it was last year on ovals.

JT – IndyCar rookies Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi both did a good job at Phoenix. Chilton finished seventh but ran as high as fifth while Rossi ran in the top ten as well but was caught out by a yellow flag while in the pits – the same fate that befell Hunter-Reay twice.

SJ – They both raced well. Rossi would have had a great result if they hadn’t pitted when they did, and Chilton had a great result in his first oval race in Indycar.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist made his first-ever start on an oval in the Indy Lights round at Phoenix International Raceway. He qualified 13th and finished the race in 15th position. Not satisfying for him I’m sure but a great learning experience nonetheless and he’s still third overall in the championship.

SJ – Obviously not the result he would have wanted. But it was a great learning experience for him and I’m sure he will come back to the next oval mentally prepared and determined to get the job done. With as little preparation and practice as they had before this race, I think he just started out a little too cautious and that carried on through qualifying. Once the race got underway, track position was everything, not one single driver passed under green except on one restart. So he was basically stuck where he started all race.

JT – This was also the second weekend you ran the F1TOP3 competition on your website. Can you explain in more detail what that is?

SJ – Basically, it’s a very simple competition where we invite people to guess the top 3 in each Grand Prix in the correct order. If anyone gets it right three times or more they have a chance to win one of my watches that retail for $7500. Plus there’s a number of smaller prizes at each race like Headsets and T-shirts. Click bellow to participate: