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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

The Blog

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:

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: the Australian GP, Indycar at St. Petersburg and 12 Hours of Sebring

Stefan Johansson

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT – The first race of the F1 season is in the books. The Australian Grand Prix was an interesting kick-off to 2016 with both positive and negative aspects. The new qualifying format that was rather hastily introduced was a flop, proving its critics right.

SJ – No one was 100 percent sure what would happen I guess but the fears many people had were validated in terms of the session being a complete anti-climax. It’s just seems odd that one of the biggest sports in the world is making these kinds of decisions willy-nilly with what seems to be very little thought having gone into them beforehand.

Then there’s a crisis meeting after qualifying and it’s basically decided to go back to the previous version of qualifications. When you see it from the outside it all looks a bit desperate. In fact, it makes no sense on so many levels that you can’t help but to think there’s must be a plan of some sort behind it. I suspect there’s a political agenda hidden somewhere behind it all.

But all this goes back to the essay I wrote on racing in general recently.

Photo by Indycar

Photo by Indycar

The problem is larger than F1 really. IndyCar is suffering from the same problems with this aerokit adventure that is now about to get canned. Instead of getting to the root of the problem and looking at racing from a philosophical point of view, they’re flailing around and taking advice from all the wrong places.

They should be asking, “What is it we are trying to fix?”

But they wind up trying to fix problems they’ve themselves created in the first place rather than going to the root of their difficulties. To get things back on track, I think there’s going to have to be a big change at some stage. You’re never going to improve the racing with a bunch of artificial cures. That has been tried time after time in so many championships and it doesn’t work. All these “band aid” fixes is like trying to cure cancer with an aspirin.

In Australia, you could see the F1 cars suffering from the same problems as IndyCar. If you get within three car lengths of a competitor ahead, that’s it. You get stuck at their speed. If you can’t make a move right away, you lose momentum and you get stuck. Hamilton couldn’t get by the Toro Rosso’s for laps but once he got by he was two seconds per lap quicker.

It’s the same in IndyCar. Get within four car lengths and you lose all grip. Conor Daly qualifies dead last at St. Petersburg and runs the same lap time as the leaders in the race because no one could get by him. Everyone is stuck at the same speed.

As long as you are racing with cars that are dependent on aerodymanic downforce for the majority of its performance you will always have a problem with overtaking and the racing will of course suffer as a consequence. This has been a fact since the 80’s and it’s only getting worse the more complicated the aero packages get. Yet, the proposed cure is always to pile on even more downforce and take away horsepower, when in fact it should be the exact opposite of that to make not only the racing more interesting but also to make the cars a hell of a lot more interesting to watch and drive.

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT - An impressive start by Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen created some drama with the pair running 1-2 early in the race. Lewis Hamilton got off the line poorly and fell to sixth while teammate Nico Rosberg ran third. Despite improved pace from Ferrari and a circuit on which it was difficult to overtake, the Mercedes duo ultimately prevailed with Rosberg finishing ahead of Hamilton and Vettel. What’s your view of the Australian Grand Prix?

SJ – The competition was obviously closer this year than it has been. I think Ferrari is at least a disturbance for Mercedes at the moment, more so than they were last year. Had they gone with the same strategy Mercedes used Vettel could have won the race. Their big mistake was going with a tire (super-soft compound) that necessitated them making another stop. That killed their chances.

So it could have been a more interesting race. If Vettel had been leading, I think his pace was good enough that it would be unlikely that either Mercedes could have gotten by even if they were quicker. Given Ferrari’s pace, the first few races could be more entertaining.

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT – Perhaps the most impressive feature of Ferrari’s performance was the start that both Vettel and Raikkonen were able to achieve, jumping past both Mercedes. That could be an advantage for them although one would imagine that Mercedes will figure out what they did wrong pretty quickly.

SJ – Yes, the further we go into the season the more all the teams will fix any issues they might have and get on top the starts. With the relative lack of assistance allowed now from the pit box for starting procedures there’s more chance to get it wrong at the moment. But I’m sure Mercedes will fix that before Bahrain.

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT – Both humorously and seriously, one of the takeaways from the Australian GP may be that multiple pit stops are no longer needed. We saw Mercedes choose the medium compound after the red flag and handily beat Ferrari, stopping just once. And the new Haas F1 team didn’t even do a pit stop. Romain Grosjean ran the whole race on one set of mediums and came home in sixth place!

SJ – Yes, it worked in Australia at least. It was a fantastic result for Haas F1 – very impressive. To  score at all - let alone score that many points first time out - is incredible. The hard part now is going to be repeating that success. But as I always say, the easy points are scored in the first three races of the season for anyone – no matter what championship you’re in. It gets progressively harder as the season goes by and everyone gets their act together.

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT – The result might have been even better for Haas F1 if not for the accident between Grosjean’s teammate Esteban Gutierrez and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Fortunately both drivers were uninjured.

SJ – Yes, that was a very scary accident. In my opinion it was a classic case of misunderstanding. I think Gutierrez was on his brakes much earlier than Alonso expected him to be. I’ve had that happen a few times. You’re on a trajectory and you expect the car ahead to brake at a reasonable distance. But if the guy jumps on the brakes right as you’re crossing behind him you will hit him before you can even blink. I’m glad to see everybody was OK and it’s really a testament on how good the safety is in F1 now to be able to walk away from accident like that without even a scratch.

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT – Like everyone, McLaren is thankful that Alonso was uninjured but you would imagine they must be disappointed with their weekend. They have better pace than they had last year at this point but both in qualifying and the race they were still miles behind. Despite a year of working under the current rules and a heavily revised new engine/power unit for 2016, they have to be worried.

SJ – Yes, if you consider that Haas scored points right away, it doesn’t look so good. I was expecting more at this point to be honest. They may still improve more but you would have anticipated they’d have more speed by now. They ought to be within a second of the front without too much trouble, especially with the resources they have. It’s those last few tenths that get harder and harder to gain.

Photo by F1

Photo by F1

JT – Williams F1 looked equally unimpressive while Toro Rosso and Red Bull seemed to be the best of the rest behind Mercedes and Ferrari, battling each other pretty fiercely.

SJ – Exactly, I was expecting more from Williams as well. But again, it’s the first race and we don’t know the ins and outs of the teams’ challenges. I think we’ll need a couple more races before we see a real pattern of where everyone is. Red Bull and Toro Rosso, obviously there’s a lot of pride there and everyone’s competitive at the end of the day.

If you look at the teams at the back of the grid, there’s the usual rotation every year. One or another of those last four or five teams gets their car a bit more right than the others and rises for a season. But there never seems to be consistency in maintaining that forward progress. Last year, Force India was the team that put their season together better than the others but they seem to have a lost a bit of that momentum at the moment.

Photo by Red Bull Racing

Photo by Red Bull Racing

JT – A final bit of F1 news is that Red Bull has proposed a larger windscreen device as an alternative to the “halo” cockpit protector Ferrari and Mercedes have recently sampled. Apparently, the FIA’s Charlie Whiting doesn’t think the Red Bull design could be ready in time for 2017 but the halo will be in use next year.

SJ - I think the halo or some form of cockpit protection is now inevitability in F1 and also in IndyCar. If it can save someone’s life of course it’s worth doing. At the same time, there’s the purist’s point of view that says it’s not the right thing to do. But after three races of it being used, I don’t think anyone will talk about it. It just becomes part of the procedure for going racing.

All the drivers used to hate the Hans Device when it came out because it was uncomfortable and didn’t feel natural when you moved your head but no one even mentions it now. It’s just normal procedure.

JT – IndyCar is also underway for 2016. Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for the second year in a row, beating Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay for the top spot. You were on hand for the now traditional street race opener. What did you think of the race?

SJ – The race was somewhat interesting and yes, Penske looked good. They certainly have their cars dialed in at St. Petersburg. All four of their cars were in the top four in qualifying. No question, that’s a statement.

JT – It’s interesting to contrast the racing and the finishing positions for Montoya and Scott Dixon. They battled for the championship last year and, like last year, Montoya won the first race of the season while Scott finished further back - in seventh place this year.

SJ – Yes, but Scott was in much better shape this year although the end result didn’t necessarily show that. He was quick in practice and he was very quick in the race. As usual he was kind of just maintaining position, saving fuel and waiting for things to happen in the last stint but then the car started to overheat which forced the team to do an unscheduled pitstop under green. Once they rejoined he caught the leaders by 10 seconds. It would have been a good battle at the end for sure but his radiator inlets had gotten completely clogged with debris - tear-offs, leaves and all kinds of stuff. He had to pit for the guys to pull all the trash out and that was that.

JT – Prior to the race, Montoya’s Penske teammate Will Power had hard contact with one of the street circuit’s barriers during Friday practice. He went on to drive another practice session and qualify on Saturday, all the while feeling nauseous and sick out of the car. He nevertheless won the pole but was diagnosed with a mild concussion prior to the Sunday race and pulled from competition. Oriol Servia did a nice job stepping in for Power but some questioned why a diagnosis was not made earlier. In late news, IndyCar now says Power does not have a concussion.

SJ – Concussions are not easy to detect but IndyCar acted pretty quickly anyway. As it turned out, they later found out it wasn’t a concussion after all but some other form of infection that had bugged him for a while I guess. Regardless, I think it was really impressive that he went out and stuck the car on the pole despite the fact that he must have felt terrible.

It’s amazing though, once the adrenalin kicks in it’s like the best cure for everything. I wish we could tap into on command. I’ve experienced situations where I’ve been so sick I couldn’t even stand up but you get into the racecar and you don’t even think about it. You’re totally focused and you’re feeling completely fine.

Then when you get out of the car you can barely stand up again. It’s the state of mind you’re in when you race – adrenalin and 100 percent focus. It’s an incredible feeling. I haven’t found anything yet that comes close to it.

JT – The new IndyCar body kits from Chevrolet and Honda seem very similar. And the street circuit/road course package looks somewhat wacky. There are so many aerodynamic elements it looks like the cars are carrying the equivalent of barn doors around the track. What did you think seeing them up close and personal?

SJ – Well, they probably have enough downforce just from gravity with all of the stuff that’s hanging off them. I really wish they would go in the other direction. That would make the cars more interesting to drive and even out the playing field. Just like in F1, after all the money that’s been spent on these aero kits, all the cars now look the same. Unless you get really close up it’s hard to tell the difference between a Honda or Chevy car. At the end of the day, it’s done nothing to add to the show. It certainly hasn’t improved the racing, if anything the other way around as it’s now become even harder to follow the car in front due to all the aero bits that on top of the car. I wish the money that was spent on this exercise would have gone towards a joint marketing program to bring in new fans that have not yet experienced what a great product Indycar is, but instead, we are stuck with essentially the same fan-base we’ve had for years now. As they are both engine manufacturers, why not instead try to gain another 200-300 horsepower and make the cars a bit more interesting to drive, as it is right now they are seriously underpowered for the amount of grip they produce.

Photo by Motorsport.com

Photo by Motorsport.com

JT – The race was also the first IndyCar start for Alexander Rossi, driving for Andretti Autosport. He’s still a reserve drive in F1 for Manor Racing as well. He drove cleanly and benefitted from attrition to finish 12th. What did you think of his first outing?

SJ – It’s very difficult to gauge where Rossi is because he was never in a team where he could show much of his capability in Formula One. Obviously, he did a very credible job in GP2 but never dominated. So it’s hard to say.

I think it goes to show that as hard as the transition to F1 is for an IndyCar driver, it sure isn’t any easier for a driver coming from F1 to IndyCar. Barrichello demonstrated that too a few years ago. Basically, the way racing is today you have to become a specialist in every category to be able to run upfront. The cars have become so complicated and there is only so much a driver can do to drive the car fast, the rest of the speed has to come from tuning the car to get the maximum performance out of it.

Photo by Motorsport.com

Photo by Motorsport.com

JT – The Indy Lights series had its opening race at St. Petersburg as well. Felix Rosenqvist had a good outing in his debut, winning the second of the weekend’s two races in dominating fashion for the Belardi Auto Racing Team.

SJ – Definitely, the first time out he gets pole and a win in the second race, and nearly got pole for the first race. Actually, I think he could have won both races. He didn’t realize until afterwards that he’d done the whole first race in the rain-map for the engine. That’s 30 percent less power in first, second and third-gear! It’s a huge difference to everyone else.

But it was a good start for a rookie in a new championship. He seems to like the car and the racing in the US is always a fresh eye opener for all the Europeans that come over here.

JT – You were also on hand for the 12 Hours of Sebring last weekend with Scuderia Corsa. The team scored a historic first win for the new Ferrari 488 GT3 in its competition debut with drivers Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen and Jeff Segal. That’s quite an achievement.

Meanwhile, Tequila Patron ESM won overall with a terrific late charge from driver Pipo Derani. Sharing the Ligier-Honda with Ed Brown, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek, Derani was the stand-out on the team. Corvette won the GTLM class and Scott Dixon led laps impressively in the #67 Ford GT. What did you think of Scuderia Corsa’s performance and the race overall?

SJ – Winning the first time out with a new car is really impressive. The 488 is a fantastic car and the drivers did a great job. There was perfect execution in the pits too. The strategy was right on. Our engineers and strategists along with Giacomo [Mattioli] on the scoring stand– the whole team did their part. That’s how you win races.

It was obviously an exciting race at the end with close racing in all of the categories. This Derani kid is obviously very good. He single-handedly led them to two wins now (Daytona & Sebring). I’ll be amazed if he doesn’t end up in a proper factory program somewhere soon.

Scott was pretty happy with his performance. It’s hard to know where everything stands with the car now but it looks pretty promising. He did a great job as always.

The BoP (balance of performance) changes are a constant battle for everybody. All of the teams are running at speeds which may or may not be representative of what they are capable of. It’s the same in every class except PC.

I wish there was a different way of monitoring or policing performance. Or even, just forget about it and let everyone go at it. A few manufacturers might drop out but there’s really no good answer right now with the BoP. No one’s ever happy with it unless they’re standing on top of the podium. Everybody else thinks they’re getting screwed.

The GT cars would be much quicker if you simply unrestricted them. A GTLM Ferrari has almost 200 less horsepower than the road car counterpart you can buy at a dealership. It’s ridiculous. Give the cars that horsepower back and you would be able to run at the speeds the ACO says it wants to restrict prototypes to at Le Mans – these random lap times that they say are “safe”. I don’t understand who decides what lap time is safe and what they base that on but it’s a silly argument in my opinion.

The cars are so good today, they can go much faster if they unrestrict them. If you’re instead going to restrict the Prototype cars that much (to be in the “safe” laptime zone), why not get rid of them altogether and just run GT cars at those target lap times? Let the GT cars be the main class for manufacturers with a set of rules that were the same for everyone with no BoP or other gimmicks – the quickest car wins, end of story.

In every category there are these crazy-sophisticated, expensive cars with terrific performance potential and then they slow them down to a point where they become ridiculous to drive. They have monster grip and no power so it’s all about corner speed. You’re literally in the corner by the time you have to brake and none of it makes any sense.

#F1TOP3

#F1TOP3

JT- Last weekend in Australia was also the beginning of your new competition to pick the F1 podium in the correct order, can you tell me some more about that?

SJ – Sure, it’s a very simple competition. If you can guess the top 3 in each Grand Prix in the correct order you will win a prize. If anyone gets it right 3 times during the course of the full season they will win one of my watches, valued at $7500.00. We had a huge amount of entries already and I expect it will grow with each GP. It’s a fun and simple competition that I hope people will enjoy.