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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

The Blog

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: Vettel brings joy to Ferrari fans, an unfortunate crash at Nurburgring & WEC bans grid girls

Stefan Johansson

Vettel-Ferrari-Malaysian-win

Jan Tegler – The Malaysian Grand Prix proved to be a pleasant surprise for most fans. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari stole victory from Mercedes with good race pace and terrific tactics. Given Mercedes domination to this point, Ferrari’s performance must give the team hope.

Stefan Johansson – Yes, Ferrari beat Mercedes fair and square. Everybody faced the same circumstances. There were no mechanical failures and no external drama that allowed Ferrari to pick up the pieces if you will. It was a great win.

I wouldn’t say yet that Ferrari will have that kind of performance in all the races ahead. I think the stars lined up perfectly for them in Malaysia with the high temperatures and other conditions and there’s no question they picked the right strategy. Staying out and getting to the front when Hamilton pitted was a good call. It was the obvious and in some ways easy thing to do because it’s always tougher when you’re leading - as Mercedes was - to make the right decision.

If you’re behind you can roll the dice, especially if you don’t think you’re going to win. It’s easier to gamble and hope things will fall in your lap. Running up front was the obvious thing for Ferrari because they didn’t have to deal with traffic. I think that - more than anything else - hurt Mercedes.

A, they’re not used to that and B, you saw how dirty the track was offline. If you had to deviate even two feet away from the racing line in some places you’d pick up so much rubber that it would take you a good four or five laps to clean the tires, or they might not ever get cleaned properly.

Stefan Johansson - F1 - Ferrari 1985

JT – When you were racing in Formula One there were periods during which multiple tire suppliers were in the series. Was spent-rubber just offline as much of a problem then?

SJ – Yes, it was bad. That was as big a factor then as it is today.

JT – While Vettel triumphed for Ferrari Kimi Räikkönen looked very quick as well, coming from the back of the pack after being hit by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr to finish fourth. Had he not suffered contact Kimi certainly looked as if he could have challenged for the podium.

SJ – Yes, Kimi would have been a threat as well no doubt. Even in Australia he was extremely unlucky. In both races he got clobbered by Nasr who was extremely lucky to get away with it in Australia. Of course he destroyed his own race in Malaysia basically (finished 12th) with the contact.

That’s two races in a row with contact in the first few laps for him. That’s not very impressive. But as is often the case the true quality of a driver will illustrate itself over a season. It helps to be young and up-and-coming because nothing’s expected of you. Had he been in a Ferrari or a McLaren for example and had the same two incidents, people would have been all over him.

Marcus Ericsson’s off looked like over-exuberance more than anything. He got a blinding start and picked up a couple spots immediately but he was probably so eager to do well it just caught him out. There was plenty of racing left and I think he was just very keen to do well and full of confidence after a great qualifying performance.

Checo Perez - Malayaisan GP - F1

JT – You were surprised that the collision of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez resulted in a penalty for Perez, right?

SJ – Yes, I can’t believe Perez got a penalty. Anytime you try to make a pass on the outside, as Grosjean was, you have to consider it a low-percentage move. In that particular corner at Sepang you have no choice but to rely on the guy you’re passing to give you enough room to make the pass stick. And no matter if you’re on the inside or the outside, you need all the room you can get in that corner even as a single car, let alone with two cars abreast.

I can’t see how it could possibly have been Perez’s fault that he drove into the side of Grosjean. Where was he supposed to go? When they turned into the corner Perez was ahead so by default he owns the corner. At best it was a racing incident. If anyone should have been penalized it should have been Grosjean in my opinion. Besides, Perez tires were completely shot, so all Grosjean would have to do is wait for two more corners and he would have had a straight shot under braking for the next turn. He would have lost a second at the most.

JT – Looking at the big picture, the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and everyone in Formula One, aside from Mercedes perhaps, has to be happy with the result at Sepang. F1 needed a different winner like it needs air.

SJ – Absolutely, anybody beating Mercedes would have been great but there’s nothing like Ferrari winning. Everything gets magnified. Whatever anyone says, Ferrari is critical to F1. They have the most loyal and biggest fan-base worldwide. So their victory is a shot-in-the-arm for the Championship, no question.

JT – Really, even Mercedes may be not so disappointed. They can now claim they have someone to fight against.

SJ – Yes, I think they may be slightly worried about Ferrari but at the same time, they’ve got plenty of powder left in their bag before they need to be too concerned. But at least if Mercedes do have problems you know that Ferrari will be there to keep them on their toes. That’s what Ricciardo and Red Bull did last year. Also, this will effectively mean that all the complaining and moaning by some of the teams that Mercedes need to be slowed down and there needs to be more parity among the teams will have to stop as they have now been beaten fair and square by one of their competitors. Time for the rest to get back to the drawing board or to have done their homework better in the first place.

Ferrari has a good momentum now and there’s no question the car is good. It was quick right from the moment they rolled it off the truck in winter testing. The car’s obviously a lot easier to drive and the drivers are comfortable with it, which is very important. Typically, if a car is easy to drive and the lap-times come relatively quickly it generally means it has a big window of performance. Even if a car is quick in race situations, when it’s peaky any change in conditions or the wrong tire will throw its performance off. But if you have a larger window you can maintain good pace in changing conditions even if the set-up is not absolutely spot-on. That looks to me to be one of the strengths of the Ferrari at the moment.

Ferrari win at Malaysian GP - F1

JT – As has been mentioned elsewhere, the 2015 Ferrari’s improvements are in no small measure due to the work of Marco Mattiacci who led the team between April and November 2014 when work on this new car had begun in earnest. Maurizio Arrivabene, the new team director, and the team have certainly benefitted from the work Mattiacci did and the changes he made.

SJ – I really feel for Mattiacci because the improvements are not something that happened in the last few months. Quite impressively for a guy who hadn’t any great experience in racing, Mattiacci put together a very good package. He orchestrated the whole Vettel deal and he put faith in [James] Allison (Ferrari technical director). Had he been around he would have been a hero now, it’s funny how life works sometimes. That’s not to take anything away from Arrivabene, he’s clearly done a great job getting the motivation back in the team and it seems they are moving forward as one unit. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to rattle the Mercedes guys as the season goes on.

JT – The team from which Sebastian Vettel jumped – Red Bull Racing – continues to have drama with its engine-supplier, Renault. There’s a very public split with Red Bull complaining that Renault has actually taken a step backward from 2014 with their power unit. Meanwhile Renault has intimated that Red Bull’s desire for them to shortcut development in pursuit of performance is the reason they are now so far behind.

SJ – You can see extreme frustration and shock on both sides in the realization that they’re probably less competitive than they were last year.

But I find it comical in F1 in general that everything is aired in the open these days via the media. Nothing seems to happen behind closed doors anymore. You hear Force India complaining that they needed a hand-out before the Australian GP and now this with Renault and Red Bull.

I can’t see how it helps anyone. In Force India’s case, I’m sure they’re having conversations with Bernie. Why does the media need to know this?

I also find it amusing that Cyril Abiteboul (Renault F1 managing director) doesn’t back down from anyone, calling Adrian Newey a liar.

Red Bull Racing Renault - F1 2015

JT – Abiteboul has also said that Renault has never been given enough credit for Red Bull Racing’s success.

SJ – That’s true. Every time Red Bull won the championship it was all about how good the team is but Renault barely got a mention. But I also think that is to a large degree their own fault for not being more active in promoting this. Cosworth used to be the same, does anyone know it was not that long ago they were the most successful Engine builder in F1 history, and it was only at the end of the Schumacher era with Ferrari that they managed to pass them.

JT – As poorly as things have developed for Red Bull, McLaren continues to be the biggest under-achiever in F1. Neither Fernando Alonso nor Jenson Button could get their Honda-powered machines to the finish in Malaysia. Despite the retirements, team principal Ron Dennis said he was impressed with the team’s performance.

SJ – I guess if all else fails, lower your standards. Obviously, there’s no way a team like McLaren can be satisfied with where they are. Maybe they can be satisfied with the progress they’ve made since the previous outing. There were massive improvements from most of the teams last year between every race so McLaren-Honda will probably experience the same thing.

But I can’t see how you could be impressed with the outcome in Malaysia. And with all of the turbulence that teams are experiencing - apart from Mercedes and Ferrari maybe – I don’t think there’s ever been an easier time to score points in F1 than at the moment. Even Red Bull isn’t a lock in for scoring points. Toro Rosso is almost better at the moment. Whomever has their act together the first half of this season should be able to score a lot of very valuable points, that no doubt will come in handy for next year as more and more of the teams are now relying on Bernie’s handout to keep them afloat.

JT – Interestingly, if you consider Honda’s performance across the major series in which they race globally right now, things don’t look so good. Their F1 power unit isn’t reliable let alone powerful even after a year in which they could freely develop it. In endurance racing, their HPD ARX-04b LMP2 coupes are so flawed they have been withdrawn from competition. And as mentioned, the Honda aero-kit looks inferior to the Chevrolet package in IndyCar thus far.

SJ – Yes, it’s amazing really. They’ve had several efforts over the last years that haven’t gone so well. It’s hard to understand why their P2 cars are performing so poorly given that the regulations in that class are very tight and pretty straightforward.

The Zytek (Z11SN) which is a 14 year old design now is still winning! It won Le Mans last year. (Jota Sport won the LMP2 category of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Z11SN)

JT - You’ve been on the road for the last couple weeks, traveling first to Sebring to be with Scuderia Corsa at the 12 Hours then in St. Petersburg for the opening round of the 2015 IndyCar season and the second round of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge (PWC).

The IndyCar race featured the debut of the busy-looking aero-kits from Chevrolet and Honda - new for 2015 with greatly improved downforce. Juan Pablo Montoya won for Team Penske but the race turned into something of a caution-festival with multiple yellow flags resulting from bodywork littering the track after quite a few instances of contact between cars. What did you make of it?

SJ – It’s not unusual for street circuit races to have contact but I think it’s evident that this new generation of cars are not helping to reduce the number of cautions. There are so many appendages hanging off of them that even the slightest touch just covers the track in debris.

I think that will be an issue for most of the season. The drivers are going to have to be very cautious about contact. As for how they look, it took me a good part of three years to get used to the previous cars and I finally started to get my head around them last season. But when you see these new aero-kit cars on track, they look like they’ve come out of a school project somewhere. It looks like they’ve just bolted on stuff anywhere there’s an empty space on the cars.

Of course when you’ve got a free hand you can do what you want. You go after as much downforce and aero as the rules allow. I know we said it in the last blog but the one thing that there wasn’t anything wrong with in this series was the cars. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last iteration of cars when I first saw them to be honest. But I almost had to eat my words because the racing they produced was definitely great.

It was obviously a not a great weekend for Scott [Dixon]. The team started pretty well but worked their way backwards much as they’ve done every other year there. St. Pete seems like the bogey-track for those guys. I don’t think Scott’s ever had a really good race there. He was quite happy with the car the first day of practice. I think it was circumstances that contributed to the difficulty of the weekend.

They didn’t get things quite right in practice then Scott got held up in qualifying by Pagenaud, which meant he didn’t make the top 6 cut. In the race the Air-jack broke on the first stop so they were much sitting ducks for the rest of the race. The first three races in any series you race in are hugely important because as the season goes on it gets harder and harder to score in every race. If you can just have a nice clean run in the first races you generally benefit from a good points score.

But Scott has certainly won championships before coming from behind. The good news is it definitely looks like the Chevy aero package has the edge on the Honda kit at the moment. So for now, he’s definitely in the right equipment.

JT – The week before the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg you were on hand with Scuderia Corsa for the 12 Hours of Sebring. The team’s Ferrari 458 Italia drove to a 3rd place finish in the GTD class with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Anthony Lazzaro at the wheel. Considering the pace of the Vipers and Porsches, a spot on the podium was a good result.

SJ – As it turned out luck was with us and we got valuable points. The BoP (balance of performance) is really not in the favor of the Ferrari or Audi right now. Our car was nowhere all weekend. There was such a big gap, especially to the Porsches. The 458 is something like 300 pounds heavier than the Porsches. That’s ok around Daytona but at Sebring with the long, long corners and bumps the weight makes the car very hard to drive.

The drivers were fighting the car all weekend. I think, in the circumstances, they all did a great job. For most of the race we were in 7th place then got up to 6th, pitting out of sequence. We dropped back to 10th at one point but we were up and down in the bottom half of the top ten mostly.

We were in 8th place with 45 minutes to go and then all hell broke loose. Both Vipers dropped out and some of the Porsches had problems. Long story-short, we ended up 3rd. That’s a big bonus.

JT – Dixon had a pretty good race along with Scott Pruett and Joey Hand in the # 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford Ecoboost Riley DP. They struggled too but wound up 4th overall.

SJ – They had the same problem our Scuderia Corsa car had really. The BoP wasn’t in their favor and the car just wasn’t quick at any point.

Jann Mardenborough - Nurburgring Crash

JT – Unfortunate news came from the Nürburgring a week ago where Nissan driver Jann Mardenborough’s GT3-class GTR went airborne at the Flugplatz. It vaulted a catch-fence and went into the crowd, killing one spectator and injuring several more during the first VLN race of the season. It’s tragic and calls into question the future of the GT3 class on the Nordschleife.

SJ – As much as I love the Nordschleife - because it is so daunting and crazy in a way - the GT3 cars have obviously outgrown the circuit for racing at that level. The way those cars are designed doesn’t help either.

Looking at the underside of the Nissan in the air, you can see how big the flat-bottom it has is. That was the problem with the prototypes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When we ran at Le Mans with Audi after Michele [Alboreto] had his accident they told us that when his rear tire deflated under braking and the car slipped, four degrees of positive yaw was enough to make the car go airborne. The underside of the prototypes used to be the same as the current GT3 cars– just a big flat surface. If you get enough air underneath it just takes off. They’ve since tapered off the flat part with plank going down the middle of the floor with an angle on the rest of the floor to prevent this from happening.

Even the little Miata (MX-5) I drove at the Ring last year went airborne over the Flugplatz. Up it went and it would take you about 100 yards to gather the thing up. What it must be like in a GT3 car I don’t know.

At least back in the day when we raced there properly (in Group C prototypes) we had 5,000 pounds of downforce or something like that! We had so much downforce you didn’t need to worry about taking off. The cars were stuck to the ground.

What’s going to happen after this accident I don’t know. But as always something serious has to occur before anything is done to prevent this kind of thing. Banning GT3 will be sad but it might not kill the Nürburgring 24 because that race has been popular for a long time. I remember people rolling up to race in diesel vans and all kinds of crazy stuff. The race was more for fun.

Then little by little, the manufacturers started to show interest and they showed up with full factory teams with pro driver line-ups. But it didn’t used to be that way. And the 24 is an institution and a fascinating event because it’s dangerous and it has all the right elements.

WEC Grid Girls

JT- Finally, this may not have anything to do with racing as such, but it was announced today by the WEC that all grid girls will be banned in 2015. What is your take on this?

SJ- I don’t know what to say really. My first thought is, this is an April fools joke, but it’s already the third so that’s not it! My second thought is, how do they have time to fit an issue like this into their agenda, when there are clearly a multitude of far more important matters to deal with, both on the competition as well as the commercial side of things with this series. It’s the same nonsense as not allowing the F1 drivers to change the livery on their helmets. Who cares! I am trying to picture the conversation in the meeting when they decided this, a number of guys sitting around a table, “next up, grid girls…they are really projecting a sexist image of our sport and should be banned…”

Sadly, this whole political correctness agenda that seems to have crept into every aspect of society today, is now well and truly manifested in motorsports too. Frankly, someone must have had to spend a lot of time thinking about “what can we do to look more socially responsible” and this is the best they can come up with. It’s pathetic and sad. You would think they would do everything in their power to attract more sponsors to the Championship, especially as they can barely scrape together 10 cars for each of the categories they run, this is the exact opposite of that. If I still owned a team I would go out and hire 20 Chippendale dudes and line them up on the grip just to piss them off.

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

Stefan Johansson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JT – Will the racing improve in Malaysia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefan Johansson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aston Marton Crash - Daytona 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 - Daytona 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maurizio Arrivabene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NISMO GT-R LM,

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

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

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