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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

The Blog

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Hamilton's 3rd world championship, Mexican GP & 2016 IndyCar

Stefan Johansson


Jan Tegler – Since we last chatted five Grands Prix have taken place including Monza, Singapore, Japan, Russia, the United States GP and the Mexican GP. Lewis Hamilton wrapped up his third world championship after taking victory at Circuit of the Americas. The rain-affected race proved far more interesting than most of the season’s rounds with multiple lead changes, passing and even controversial actions such as the incidents between Hamilton & Rosberg and Ricciardo & Hulkenberg. What did you think of the race and Hamilton’s championship victory.

Stefan Johansson The race turned out to be very entertaining to watch as is nearly always the case when there are unexpected circumstances. With less practice than normal and when the weekend doesn’t go to plan under race conditions drivers and teams have to improvise. That’s a big departure from the typical weekend where everything is planned and perfect down to the lap both from the schedule to the engineering. All of that planning tends to make the races boring.

The cars are so optimized and the teams spend so much time in their simulators exploring the expected conditions that there’s very little possibility for deviation. The drivers and teams generally hit their marks and do most things right. But if the planning goes out the window due to unexpected circumstances that changes things and often makes for much better racing.

Obviously Hamilton has been the class of the field this year, riding a wave of confidence. When great sportsmen hit that kind of stride where they almost can’t do anything wrong, every move they make sticks. The move in Austin at the start where he passed Rosberg could just as easily have gone wrong either resulting in a puncture for him or knocking off the front-wing endplate. But that didn’t happen.

You’re either the windshield or the bug and when things are going your way it’s almost unstoppable. The next season you can do everything in the same way but every time you make a move it goes wrong. Then you start thinking about it and you hesitate for even a fraction of a second and your timing is off and it all goes away.

If you look at what happened between Hamilton and Rosberg I think it was more Rosberg’s fault than Hamilton’s. He got a poor start and Hamilton was already alongside him on the inside by the time they arrived at the corner. It was foolish of Rosberg to try and defend the corner on the outside. Because Hamilton braked a bit too late he missed the apex. If Rosberg hadn’t tried to defend he could have done the over-under and gone back by him.

That’s easy for me to say though. It’s a typical grandstand comment but on a wet track alongside another competitor, being on the outside isn’t the smartest place to be.

I think in part it’s the nature of the tracks Formula One races on now. There is no track limit anymore so people never give up a corner. In the past, on a track where there was no runoff area or a wall or some other defined obstacle beyond the pavement, at a certain point you had to give up and let the other driver go because you’d never make the corner.

Now drivers just keep going across the track limit out to the runoff and keep their foot in it. If they don’t have contact with another driver they just carry on and don’t even lose a position. I think this is causing a lot of weird accidents and is the main reason for all the low-percentage moves that people are trying to pull. Even top guys like Raikkonen are trying odd things like he did in Russia with [Valtteri] Bottas and then Bottas did the same to him in Mexico. It’s not really the drivers fault because you always push as far as you can until reach the limit, unfortunately the limit now is some undefined space about 3-4 car lengths outside the actual track limit in some cases. It even looks weird when you watch a car that is so far off the track you can barely see the actual track sometimes.


JT – The battle between Hamilton and Rosberg for the championship this year was not as close as it was last year and didn’t seem as impassioned either. There were instances when their differences were aired but certainly nothing like the fireworks between other teammates we’ve seen in the past.

You recalled when Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell were battling in the late 1980s while driving for Williams. It was one of the most intense rivalries F1 has seen. I thought you put the blandness of the Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry in hilarious context when you said…

 “Nico gave up mentally to fight the war…Piquet resorted to calling Mansell’s wife the ugliest woman in the world.”

SJ – Yes, that’s what I mean. In 2014, there was certainly a lot more hate on display between Nico and Lewis. This year it’s all sort of been a bit polite with both guys saying the other did “a great job.”

When you’re that close to a teammate in terms of competitiveness and you can’t beat him any other way you’ve got to figure out something that will tip the balance. You have to try to undermine their confidence or get them off balance psychologically somehow. That’s what Nelson did so effectively. He was ruthless, not only with Mansell but with Senna as well, calling him all sorts of things. He didn’t care. He’d do whatever it took unsettle his rivals mentally. It sort of worked and it definitely got under their skin.

To be a great driver you need ego and relentless drive. That’s why you don’t quite have the epic battles today that F1 used to have. Mansell, Senna, Prost, Piquet, Lauda, Schumacher – they were brutal, every one of them, ego-maniacs of epic proportions in their own different ways. You have to be like that to be at the top level. That’s missing today. You don’t feel it. Alonso seems to me the only one left from that era where you resort to anything to win.

JT – To your point about Rosberg giving up the fight mentally, he seemed in much better form at the Mexican GP. He won, qualified on pole and set that fastest lap of the race. It appears that after being released from the pressure of the championship fight he performed better.

SJ – It was a flawless weekend really. He didn’t put a foot wrong but it’s the psychology that’s so important. Ninety percent of the results you get to the top level of racing are inside your head. Maybe there was something about the pressure being off?

Nico was unlucky this year with car failures. And however it happened in Austin, he got caught out. He said it was a gust of wind that caused him to go off track. That has happened. I know how it affects a car although I’ve never really had it affect a car in a slow corner where you exit the corner almost in first gear where he lost it. At high speed the cars are very sensitive to wind.

JT – Sebastian Vettel had a fraught race in Mexico after first lap contact with Daniel Ricciardo. It seemed that he was overdriving his Ferrari.

SJ – Obviously, the track in Mexico is very tricky. The grip-level has always been very low there. I remember when we raced there in CART it was really tricky conditions with the altitude as well.

But I thought Vettel’s problems were due to a combination of things. Maybe his car was affected a bit from the contact with Ricciardo. His crash looked weird, almost like his brakes failed when he went straight off the track and hit the wall. He said it was driver error which I thought was a bit strange. But obviously he had to charge pretty hard to recover positions and he was frustrated. In fairness to him though he’s barely made a mistake all season.

JT – Do you think pressure from teammates contributes to low percentage moves whether you take the example of Raikkonen and Vettel at Ferarri or Ricciardo and Kvyat at Red Bull Racing?

SJ – I think that’s a part of it no doubt but I think it has more to do with the track layouts and how these new run off areas are designed. Very rarely in the past did you have a guy defend a corner on the outside or try to make a pass around the outside. Now it seems like part of the game. Even if you can’t hold the corner you just go wide and through the runoff area. If you don’t make it you try again the next lap whereas in the past they would have had to pull you off the Armco.

I think [Hermann] Tilke and the FIA between them have totally ruined the racing with these idiotic runoff areas. At some level there has to be a punishment for going over the limit, something with enough consequences that you understand you cannot go beyond the track without a level of risk involved.

Now, you also have a different guy at every race as a steward and because of this there’s no consistency. At some races there are penalties, at others there are no penalties at all for more or less the same action. It all depends on who’s in the control tower. There should be the same guy, or team, at every race who communicates with the drivers before and after each race telling them where the limits are and that if they violate them more than once they get a penalty. This should be someone that everyone respect and trusts, who is consistent and who lets you know where you stand and how far you can push it. That way there will soon be a pattern developed where every driver knows where the limit is.

Regardless, the track limits issue should be punished by the track itself, not by a guy in a blue shirt watching a TV screen in a control tower.

JT – The second half of the season hasn’t proven to be any better for McLaren-Honda than the first half. The team is second to last in the championship standings ahead of only the Manor outfit. Fernando Alonso retired on the first lap of the Mexican Grand Prix and both drivers struggle to finish near the top ten when the cars do complete a race. The 2015 season looks like a write-off for the team and the drivers. Once again, Alonso is in the wrong team at the wrong time. Can they turn the corner for 2016?

SJ – I still believe they’ll make big progress next year. I don’t mean that they’ll be winning races but when you’re so far off it’s not difficult to make a giant leap forward. It’s only when you get to the last five percent that it starts to get tricky.

The real problem is this incredibly complicated engine formula that F1 has with penalties for this and that, and you’re not allowed to do any development. It continues to make no sense to me. The development ban was initially implemented to keep the cost at a sensible level, but that concept is already completely broken. The manufacturers have spent so much money on these engines it’s obscene. Why not just let them carry on developing them and at least be able to fix them? It’s ridiculous to have a formula where there’s only one successful engine and the others are not permitted to do the development they obviously need to become competitive.

Yet you can bolt 500 new pieces on to the chassis every weekend if you want. The top teams do that of course, with crates of aero-parts flown in everyday in a never-ending development war with their chassis but you still can’t touch the engine. It’s nonsense. If you were allowed to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the engines as you are on the chassis, I am sure that Renault, Honda and Ferrari would all be better - maybe not as good as the Mercedes but certainly a lot closer.

With these rules if you don’t get the engine right out of the box there’s really almost no way to catch up and you’re just screwed. If your engine is as wrong as the Honda is, what do you do? You’re only allowed X-amount of upgrades. On top of that, you’re not allowed to go testing.

JT – In related news the FIA recently put forth a proposal for a "low budget" client engine for 2017 - a power unit essentially similar to the turbo V6 engines used in IndyCar currently. Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA have also proposed fixed price engines and gearboxes for client teams. The engine manufacturers and teams were in support of the ideas with the exception of Ferrari which used its veto power to kill the proposal for the moment. What do you think of this “client engine” idea?

SJ – If they could find a formula that provided reasonable parity I think it’s absolutely the way to go. There has to be a cheaper alternative for smaller teams to be able to compete.

Ferrari’s veto isn’t surprising of course and it’s an example of the core problem. As I’ve said so many times, F1 used to be run as a benevolent dictatorship and things worked. When Max Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone saw things moving in the wrong direction they’d make changes. Everybody would scream bloody murder and they’d back off 20 or 30 percent and everybody was happy and they got on with it.

Now F1 is a democracy with primarily the engineers making up the technical regulations. That’s the worst mistake they’ve ever made. F1 is now incomprehensibly complicated and as a result also incomprehensibly expensive. If F1 is absolutely the pinnacle of technology so what?

Racing should be about brave young heroes driving these cars on the limit. People don’t get excited by F1 anymore because they can see that there’s no challenge to driving the cars now. They’re on rails all the time. The drivers don’t really have to fight them. The fans can see this.

JT – Where does F1 go from here? Can it improve? Will it?

SJ – That’s very hard to answer because there are so many moving parts to it now. There is the possibility of a radical transformation which would be to make the sport a lot simpler. Max Mosley was sounding the alarm on costs four years before he left F1. He could see it getting completely out of hand and he was completely right. No one can afford it anymore.

No one used to complain about the money they were receiving from FOM (Formula One Management). Now the teams take FOM to the European Court. That’s because everybody is counting on the money from Bernie. That’s the only money they’re getting really or certainly the main source. No one really gets sponsorship of any substance anymore. The manufacturers have their money of course as does Red Bull. The rest are struggling. McLaren is funded by Honda obviously but they barely have one commercial sponsor left on the car.

The only way Formula One can right itself is if they get back to a more dictatorial method of control where FOM and the FIA between them set a very strict set of rules with no manufacturers or teams involved. And a winning budget should in my opinion be $100 to $150 million at most. You should be able to be competitive for $50 million. Now the guys that make up the show are spending close to $100 million, to finish last!

It’s hard to see anything changing next year or in the near term though as long as the sport is run as it is.

JT – Formula One has changed along with technology obviously and that’s one reason why it isn’t the same as it used to be. But you have said that the technology has changed more than just the cars. It has changed the drivers fundamentally too.

SJ – Definitely, the way drivers develop is quite different now. Everybody was going on and on about how young [Max] Verstappen was coming into the series and how it was crazy. But the circumstances are different today. Kids develop quicker because of all the technological tools that they have available to them whatever they do in life, not just in racing but life in general. There is so much information and so many tools to develop a certain skill set, whatever it is you may be into, all available instantly.

Take a 17 year old driver today – in a way that kid probably has more experience than a 26 or 27 year old had 20 or 30 years ago with all of the simulator time they’re able to get. Back then the first time you sat in an F1 car was really the first time you sat in an F1 car. Now when you go for your first test you’ve had a month in a simulator already and you know the track and the car inside out. The simulator is exactly like the real thing and you’ve probably hit the wall 40 times in the simulator before you get to the real track. All of the hard learning is mostly done.

That brings me back to race craft or the lack of it in today’s drivers. It’s atrocious. They can all drive quick because they get so much practice but when it comes to racing a lot of them are clueless. Only a handful of them understand how to race well.

With all the data available now a driver can literally pinpoint where he’s slow. So you can take a pretty average driver and make them good. I wish I’d had a data printout when I was teammates with Senna or Prost to figure out where the hell they were making up the time. But we had nothing. You had to go out and wing it. If you were lucky you could follow another driver and maybe learn something in one corner or another but that was it. There wasn’t much point in asking because if you were close enough they would lie to you anyway, and vice versa I might add.

But even with the data and the other tools they have now, you can’t make a driver great. That’s where the difference is between the few guys at the top and the paying drivers. All the drivers in F1 today are very good, there’s no doubt about that. But are they best overall, I don’t know. You can make an average driver good today, but the great one’s will always be great and they would be great with or without all the tools available to them. The sad part is that a lot of the guys today that have the potential to become great simply fall by the wayside before they get the chance to measure themselves against the best.

JT – The American Haas F1 Team recently announced its driver lineup featuring Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Mexican Esteban Gutierrez. It seems sensible that a new team would want to hire drives with experience. Also, as Haas is sort of a Ferrari junior team, the selection of Gutierrez isn’t surprising. But some have complained that the team should have hired an American driver for one of the seats. What’s your take?

SJ – I guess the criticism is to be expected. It’s always that way with teams from a certain nationality and questions about why drivers from the country a team is based in aren’t hired. I think Haas did the right thing in this case.

To be honest, I don’t think it would be fair for [Alexander] Rossi or an American rookie to go racing with a brand new team in its first year. Remember when Toyota was in F1? I don’t know how many drivers they went through before they pulled out. They never were competitive really. It’s been the same with so many drivers cycling through Toro Rosso in the early years too.

As a first year entrant in a new series Haas just wants to do the best job they can at this stage. Once they gain experience and if they become competitive that’s a different story. But right now they have a steep learning curve ahead of them. Having the best combination of experience and speed they can find is important.

As far as the Gutierrez choice, I know Ferrari is quite impressed with him. He’s done a fantastic job apparently in the simulator for them. He’s super quick and gives good feedback.

JT – There is ongoing speculation about what Red Bull Racing will do for 2016. Apparently Ron Dennis is opposed to them using Honda power units and is trying to block that option. Do you think Red Bull leaving F1 is a possibility?

SJ – They could pull out but apparently there is a big penalty if they do. But I do think it’s a definite possibility. Red Bull is not a racing team first and foremost, they are involved in all sorts of activities today, all based around the Red Bull brand which of course started it’s life as an energy drink. F1 is only one of many different activities they are involved in, albeit maybe the most important and most visible. But if Mr. Mateschitz wakes up on the wrong side of the bed he could very easily pull the plug on the whole program, his life won’t change. This is the difference from Ferrari, McLaren and Williams for example, their entire existence is based around F1 and racing.

JT – With Formula One’s ongoing difficulties it’s all the more frustrating that IndyCar - which has a great product on-track - doesn’t promote its product off track. If they did you would assume it might be possible to win over some of the fans who are disillusioned with F1 right now.

SJ – How many years have we talked about this? IndyCar keeps tinkering with the cars and race formats and completely ignores the marketing. That’s the one thing they really need to focus on. They already have the best racing in the world in my opinion.

I saw Derrick Walker’s development plan for the future of IndyCar recently. There wasn’t one sentence in the whole plan that touched on marketing, not a word. The teams have already spent stupid money on these aero-kits for very little benefit.

Again, if they put together a $25 million prize fund for winning the championship, the Indy 500, a street course, a road course and the final race for example, you could take out an insurance policy that would cost a fraction of the full amount if anyone managed to hit all the milestones. The level of publicity they could get out of the fact that this is a championship with $25 million at stake would be great. They need to pump up the marketing in some way but there’s been nothing. All they seem to worry about is the comments from the existing fans, which is valuable, but I think most of them would show up no matter what because they are die hard Indycar fans. It’s the millions of people that are unaware of what a phenomenal product Indycar is that they need to somehow get interested.

JT – The 2016 IndyCar schedule is now out and includes three new rounds – Road America, Phoenix and Boston. Road America and Phoenix return after a few years of absence while the Boston street circuit is entirely new.

SJ – They’re all exciting venues. The street races we know work well, in any form or racing they are always popular because you bring the race to the people, not the other way around. The cities come alive so Boston could be a fantastic place for a race. I think Road America will be good because it’s probably the best track in America and I think the fans there will embrace it. I think a lot of hardcore fans will travel to see it as well. They can appreciate how hard the drivers work to drive that track.

JT – In the WEC, Porsche wrapped up the manufacturers championship at last weekend’s Six Hours of Shanghai round. Their performance has been head and shoulders above the rest all year.

SJ – They obviously have a better car than Audi and Toyota and have had all year. Audi has sort of hung in there more because of clever race strategy than anything. But they’ve never really been on the pace.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Scott Dixon "the driver of our generation," the Italian GP & the future of F1

Stefan Johansson


Jan Tegler – Scott Dixon won his fourth IndyCar championship at the Grand Prix of Sonoma in dramatic fashion, winning the race to tie Juan Pablo Montoya (who finished in sixth position) with 556 points. Dixon’s three wins to Montoya’s two secured him the title. The Kiwi did what few thought he could do – win from his ninth-position qualifying spot on a very challenging road course to erase a 47-point deficit to Montoya. It’s an impressive result. What did you think of the race?

Stefan Johansson I don’t think anyone expected that outcome when they got out of bed on Sunday morning. You didn’t really even think about it before the start of the race because it was such an incredibly long shot for Scott in particular.

The car wasn’t brilliant at any point during practice or even in the first part of the race to be honest. He was just barely hanging onto the guys at the front. But then he did his usual thing. The car came alive and he did his bit. He went into a different zone almost and just checked out from the rest of them.

So Scott did what he could do but then needed all of the other players to do their part as well. Montoya obviously made a mistake when he clipped Will [Power]. That started the whole sequence of events from there on really.

But most of all it was also truly a team effort this time because all of the other Ganassi Racing drivers were up front taking positions away from Montoya which contributed hugely. The calls on tactics for when to stop were perfect and the pit stops themselves were blinding. They picked up three spots on every stop. All of those things added up on a track that you can’t normally pass on to make winning happen. It was incredible to see the whole team come together as one unit when it really mattered.


JT – Montoya and Penske Racing were obviously disappointed that things went so wrong for them. Montoya said after the race, “It sucks, but when you make double points the last race in a road course and you change the tire and you do everything you did for this weekend and you put so many variables, it doesn't even matter what you do all year.”

That argument wouldn’t seem to hold up when you consider that Montoya himself won a double-points race, the Indy 500.

SJ – Well, in the heat of the moment when you’re disappointed you say things maybe without reflecting much on them. At the end of the day, in a championship, every race is as important as another.


JT – The circumstances of the race changed significantly on Lap 33 when Lucca Filippi’s Chevrolet slowed on track. IndyCar waved a full course yellow even though Filippi’s car remained under power, diminished though it was. I found that a strange caution. Did you?

SJ – Yes, that was probably premature. I think Race control clearly thought he was going to stop on track. Normally, you wouldn’t throw a caution until someone stops of course. There really wasn’t a need for a caution there.


JT – Winning the championship must be satisfying to Scott not only because he came from behind in the final race to capture it but because he himself has had championships slip through his hands (2007, 2009) at the final race of the season.

SJ – Yes, there were at least three championships that he could have had in the bag and how many Indy 500s has he lost due to silly things in the last five laps? But that stuff tends to work itself out. I think he’s definitely been on the short end more than he’s been on the receiving end.


JT – Who impressed you most with their performance – apart from Scott Dixon - in IndyCar this year?

SJ – It’s impressive how deep the talent is in IndyCar now, looking at how close the competition is between the teams and how many winners there are. You only need a hiccup from the top teams or someone to roll the dice on strategy and you have a different winner. It’s a tight, exciting championship.

Apart from the “regulars”, the guy who stands out would be Josef Newgarden. I think he’s come along leaps and bounds in the last couple years. He’s among the main contenders now and he’s performing well on ovals and road courses so he’s a diversely capable driver. CFH Racing has also done a terrific job and gone from strength to strength as a team.

Andretti Autosport and Ryan Hunter-Reay

JT – Andretti Autosport and Ryan Hunter-Reay seem to have rebounded in the second half of the season after very poor first half.

SJ – I think that all of the Honda teams gradually began to understand their cars better. The new aerokit was obviously more complicated on their side than it was on the Chevy side. They haven’t quite caught up with the Chevrolets yet but I suspect they will over the winter. My gut feeling is that they’ll be close by the time next season starts. Ryan will always deliver if he’s given the car, and they certainly did a great job towards the end of the season.


JT – That would be positive for IndyCar but it makes one wonder again why they made this expensive detour with the aerokits? As we’ve discussed, couldn’t the money have been better spent promoting the great racing the series already had?

SJ – Both owners and stakeholders in the series are saying the same thing, “Why did we do this?” Estimates range up to $30 million spent by the teams on the kits collectively. I don’t think there’s really been a benefit by doing that on any level.

The cars look slightly different but for me you really don’t need to cater to the people who already know what IndyCars look like. They will watch or attend races anyway. It’s all the millions of people who don’t know what IndyCar is or how good the racing is that you should be directing resources at to make them aware of what is the best racing series in the world as far as I’m concerned.

What other championship has six drivers able to win the title at the last race? Almost every race of the season goes down to the last five laps. The racing is brilliant. Spend whatever money is available on marketing. I’ve been going on about it for years but I absolutely think that a huge prize fund that is tough for teams and drivers to obtain with different trigger points – winner of the championship, the 500, whatever milestones you might select – you can market that.

Let’s say you have a $25 million prize fund, winner takes it all or whatever. You can insure against that. It might cost a million, maybe two million at the most if someone were to win it. Or, let’s say you had an extra $10 million, not as guaranteed money but real prize money, it would be fantastic.

JT – Ganassi racing team owner Chip Ganassi called Dixon “the driver of our generation”. With 38 career victories and four championships it’s hard to dispute Ganassi.

SJ – I certainly agree with him and I think you’d have to. Scott’s record speaks for itself. He’s a complete driver. He delivers day in, day out with very few mistakes. Remember, he’s been in the top three in the championship every year over the last ten years, I think. And he’s missed out on winning additional championships by just a few points on multiple occasions.

I think he could have had four Indy 500 wins and at least six championships already if things had gone his way. That’s pretty staggering.

Recently, I read a piece about [Juan Manuel] Fangio (five-time F1 world champion) and it got me thinking. In the modern day I don’t think there’s any driver who more closely goes about his business the way Fangio did than Scott. He’s full of grace and dignity whether he wins or loses, and always shows respect towards his fellow racers both on and off the track.  

He has the ability to rise above it all and be gracious when he should be very upset. By the same token, he’s gracious when he wins. He’s a very impressive human being in that respect and the fact that he’s just getting better and better in a race car is amazing.

He’s able to manage a race and then turn up his performance when he needs to like he did at Sonoma. He was the last one to leave the hospital with Justin and then regrouped, got his head together and absolutely destroyed everyone in the race. He dealt with the racing and all of the stuff that surrounds it. I was very impressed.

JT – To round out our discussion of the 2015 IndyCar season I’d like to say that it’s odd to be rounding out our discussion of the 2015 IndyCar this early. Here we are midway through September and the season has been over for two weeks. The opener for the 2016 season is the St. Petersburg Grand Prix on March 13. That means IndyCar drivers face a half year without racing. It’s a bit absurd.

SJ – It really is ridiculous and I think it’s starting to sink in now. Scheduling the season to end this early clearly isn’t the smartest idea and whoever it was that came up with the idea I don’t think knew enough about Racing and Indycar in general. However, I think they’re trying to change it for next year. I don’t know by how much but they’ve said they’ll extend it. (the St. Pete Grand Prix has been moved forward by two weeks).

JT – Meanwhile, Formula One marched on to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Again, the race at the front wasn’t terribly remarkable with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton running away from the field to take his seventh win of the season. His closest contender for the championship, teammate Nico Rosberg, suffered an engine failure late in the race making the possibility of another F1 title for Hamilton even more likely.

SJ – No, it wasn’t exciting really. Mercedes is obviously still pushing even though they have a performance gap to the rest of the teams. Lewis ran a 2016 development engine that the team used all seven of its development tokens to bring forward. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well for Rosberg. He had problems with his new-spec engine on Saturday so he had to run a five-race-old 2015 engine.

The championship is probably all but over barring a miracle. The way Hamilton is driving at the moment too is just too much. He’s on a major roll and just too quick for Rosberg. Somehow Rosberg seems to have almost accepted that fact and the psychological war that went on last year between the two seems non existent this year. I think the only chance Rosberg could have had to beat Lewis would be to unsettle him mentally but that hasn’t happened and Lewis have instead elevated himself another step and is currently in a different league to the rest.

JT – Hamilton’s victory was in doubt for a brief period post-race after his left rear tire was found to be 0.3 PSI below the pressure mandated by Pirelli for Monza. Ultimately, F1 stewards determined that the tire was initially inflated correctly but lost pressure by the time the measurement was taken due to cooling after its warming blanket was unplugged. Your view is that the pressure mandate is more over-regulation of the racing, correct?

SJ – Yes, all of these penalties now are getting ridiculous. I don’t think anyone is capable of following what’s going on. Playing with tire pressures has been done forever. The teams and drivers will always push the envelope. In every single debrief I’ve been in with any tire manufacturers I’ve ever worked with, the driver and race engineer always want the lowest pressure possible. The tire engineers say “no, no, no” you can’t run the tire any lower than a certain pressure. But then we sort of know that there’s at least a couple of pounds margin beyond what the manufacturer suggests.

So you squeeze it down a bit and that’s how it goes. You’re always willing to take that risk to go a couple tenths quicker. The same is true with cambers. You always push the camber because more camber is more grip effectively, particularly in the front, just as lower pressure means more grip. You’re always willing to push the envelope a little bit with any part of a car to gain speed.

Obviously, if a tire blows at speed the negative effect of that can be higher than other failures. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re willing to push the envelope it’s certainly not a tire manufacturer’s fault if you go further than what they recommend and there’s a failure. Of course, you should only push that envelope within a very tiny range but you do gamble on occasion.

Handing out penalties for that though? Surely, there’s penalty enough if a tire blows. It’s another part of this current world of political correctness that is insane. Does everyone have to be protected or punished by a higher force with every step they take today?

These are individual decisions and if you’re willing to take a risk then so be it. You’re the one taking the risk. Pushing the envelope with tire pressure changes has been going on since I can remember in racing. Now it’s a big political drama. On top of that, until a few years ago no one had a clue what pressures you were running while driving. You were winging it and only knew the pressures when you came into the pits and checked the pressures manually. Then you bled them down a bit if they were too high or added pressure if they were too low.

There should simply be a natural way to be punished if you go too far with something like tire pressures rather than these endless penalties issued by someone from the FIA deciding who’s right and who’s wrong.

JT – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished in second place at the team’s home race. He was delighted, saying the result was the “best second-place I ever had”.

SJ – It’s obviously a pretty special feeling to be on the podium for Ferrari at Monza. If you win there it’s quite incredible.

JT – Kimi Raikkonen stalled his Ferrari on the grid at the start, falling from his second-place qualifying position all the way to the rear of the field. He eventually drove all the way back to a fifth-place finish but it wasn’t the best result Ferrari was after. He doesn’t seem to be the “Iceman” he’s always been referred to as.

SJ – He’s not the Iceman. That’s really an image he gives to the media. It’s quite clever because it saves him being hounded by the media. He’s a one-syllable kind of guy with the press but in private he’s quite talkative.

JT – McLaren continues to disappoint. Jenson Button finished 14th at Monza while teammate Fernando Alonso failed to finish. Honda seems to be somewhat lost as to how to improve their power unit and it looks as if McLaren’s chassis could use lots of improvement as well. Team morale is reported to be low. This is despite the return of Ron Dennis for 2015 and factory backing. Both drivers must be getting very frustrated.

SJ – I’m sure they are. The problem for anyone in F1 these days is that if you don’t get everything right with the powerplant you’re so far behind it’s ridiculous. This engine formula - and most of all the rules - with penalties, development tokens and only four engines per season, it’s the most illogical format the series has ever had.

The economic model is already completely broken in terms of what it costs to develop these engines so who cares if they have four power units or six in a season? It’s absurd. The cost of building two or four engines more per season is like filling up the gas tank compared to what it costs to develop them. These rules just lead to added costs.

I don’t understand why F1 doesn’t have a free engine formula just like it’s a free chassis formula. Building a front wing today probably costs almost as much as it used to cost building an engine. The top teams use between 70 and 80 front wings per season. It’s insanity.

JT – Given the high costs and the barriers to non-manufacturer and new teams, you have to wonder why they race?

SJ – Exactly, most of the teams from the middle to the back are vanity projects, except for Sauber. You have Manor and they’re there on a wing and a prayer, Force India – same thing, Lotus could go under if Renault doesn’t buy them. Sauber is relying on Bernie and their drivers for funding. That’s eight cars, nearly half the grid. Torro Rosso is racing at the whim of Red Bull and Red Bull Racing – if Dieter Mateschitz (team owner) can’t get the engine he wants, or decides for any other reason he’s had enough, they could be gone too.

Mercedes will probably stay in F1 for as long as they’re winning but the day will come when their board will say “we’ve had enough Formula One for a while. We’re going to pull the plug.”

So what have you got left? Ferrari, McLaren and Williams; McLaren is obviously not hitting it out of the park right now, Williams is up and down and financially somewhere in the middle and then there’s Ferrari. It doesn’t make sense that the teams can’t get together and find a way to collectively agree on a budget that’s in the range of $100 to $150 million to win and somewhere around $30 to 50 million to compete well. And it makes even less sense that the FIA does not step in and mandates a way to bring the costs to a sensible level, there is enough clever people on both sides to work out a sensible plan.

That would at least give some value to their franchises. Every team today is effectively worthless to an investor because the sport is so expensive they can’t make money.

Sponsorship is not plentiful now, the costs have gone through the roof with this new engine formula and the economy isn’t what it was so the teams are now counting on the money from Bernie more than ever before.

JT – Other news surrounding the Italian GP included the possibility that the race may not be on the 2017 calendar if the circuit cannot meet the $28 million annual fee that F1 and Bernie Ecclestone are demanding. Many have said that F1 would be damaged if Monza was lost from the calendar. What’s your view?

SJ – It’s obviously no secret that all of F1’s traditional venues have been getting a pretty substantial discount compared to new tracks like Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. That’s why races are moving to new locations – simply because the revenue is much higher.

From Bernie’s point of view I think he’s fed up with some tracks paying less than others. But let’s not forget, it’s CVC [Capital Partners] (CVC acquired majority control of F1 in 2006) that is influencing this too. They’re only looking at revenue. I’m pretty sure that if Bernie ran F1 on his own like he used to we wouldn’t have this problem. He would work a deal with Monza one way or the other.

Now he really has one hand tied behind his back, not only in this regard but with rules and everything. In my opinion that’s a large part of why F1 is in the situation it’s in currently. Bernie was always able to work out a deal. Often, he became a promoter for a struggling venue but at least it stayed on the schedule and kept tradition alive.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Justin Wilson's death, F1 at SPA & Scuderia Corsa

Stefan Johansson


Jan Tegler – Last weekend was a sad one for the global racing community overshadowed by the death of driver Justin Wilson stemming from a late race accident during IndyCar’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Struck by the nose cone of Sage Karam’s Ganassi Racing Dallara when it flew off after Karam impacted the outside wall, Wilson succumbed to massive head trauma.

Stefan Johansson It’s obviously very tragic. I got know Justin and his family well recently because I tried to advise and help his younger brother (Stefan Wilson) when he came over to the U.S. to try to do some IndyCar. They’re just the nicest, finest people you could ever meet. It’s very sad. And Justin was always on the cusp of getting a ride with a top team but never quite got the break he really deserved.  

It was obviously a freak accident but freak accidents happen because other accidents happen I suppose. I think there were 12 cautions, most of them for crashes. That seems to be the trend this year, much more so than in the past. It’s hard to say exactly why but it’s clear that the cars have more downforce now than they’ve had before.

The reason IndyCar went away from the original Dallara chassis was partly that and partly because of other safety issues with the cars. The bottom line though is that they’re now back to cars with high downforce on these banked ovals again. That means that the cars are relatively easy to drive and everyone is running in a big gaggle again. Anyone can run with the pack. That’s something the series wanted to get away from after Las Vegas (Dan Wheldon perished in an accident in Las Vegas 2011).

At one point there were seven cars abreast at Pocono. That’s just too much I think. It’s the same scenario we had in Fontana where they were 5-6 cars abreast with only an inch or two between the cars. It was only luck that nothing worse happened in Fontana, just as it was bad luck that we had a tragic accident in Pocono. But you must question if it makes sense to rely on nothing more than luck if something goes wrong, which we have now seen more often than not in both Fontana and Pocono. Last year the race was completely different with the cars having less down-force and as such more difficult to drive and also to get the right set up.

JT – While it’s certainly unusual, Wilson’s accident is the latest of a few that have had something to do with open cockpits. Jules Bianchi perished after contact with a crane at the Japanese Grand Prix, Felipe Massa was hit by a spring and severely injured in 2009 at Hungary, and F2 driver Henry Surtees lost his life after a loose wheel came into his cockpit. Next month the FIA is set to conduct closed-cockpit tests, considering a number of designs including a fighter jet-like cockpit and a blade or boomerang-like arrangement. What’s your take, should these ideas be considered?

SJ – It definitely makes sense to look at different cockpit solutions especially after what’s been happening lately. By the same token, I think different ways to strengthen other parts of the cars to stop debris flying off them should be considered too. Crash testing is effectively done with 90-degree impacts; they never test at other angles at any great speed to see what might fly off the car if you hit at heavy impact at a 45-90 angle for example. There is no way the entire nose assembly should separate from the car the way it did on Karam’s car for example.

My concern with a canopy approach for closing the cockpit is how do you get out of the cockpit if you’re pinned upside down? I’m sure that could be figured out but there can always be freak accidents and even with a closed-cockpit you can never make racing completely safe. I don’t know what would happen in a prototype sports car with an enclosed cockpit if you hit something like that nose cone. That’s a big, heavy object, no matter if you have an open or closed cockpit.

Obviously a lot of testing is being done and that needs to be done.

JT – Leaving aside Wilson’s tragic mishap, the IndyCar field seems to be getting more and more aggressive on ovals. At Fontana, Iowa and Pocono in particular there were many instances where drivers chopped in front of one another while trying to pass. It looks pretty sketchy viewed from the stands or on TV. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, there’s absolutely no respect among the drivers anymore. It’s horrendous. People are just chopping each other and taking the air off of each other. That’s not acceptable on ovals. You’ve got to show some respect. But people keep doing it and pissing off other drivers. Then as a driver when you get pissed off, you do the same thing and it all snowballs.

Unfortunately, the people in race control don’t seem to understand the problem because they’ve never sat in a race car, there is no way that some of the drivers should be able to get away with some of the stuff they’re doing without a penalty of some sort.

The ultimate penalty is of course when you eventually eat it big yourself, which will eventually happen to all of them. That will typically make them think once or twice before they pull the same stunt again.


JT – Scott finished the race in ninth position and never really seemed to have the car balanced as well as he would have liked. Heading into the final double-points paying race this weekend in Sonoma, he sits third in the standings, 47 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya. Penske has had a lot of success at Sonoma over the last few years but Dixon won last year. What’s the outlook for the final race of 2015?

SJ – Yes, Scott was never really comfortable with the car at Pocono. It’s a shame the way the championship is playing out. Penske is good at Sonoma but Scott did win last year so the team (Ganassi Racing) should have a pretty good handle on the track.

My biggest worry given the way things have gone at road courses this year is that it will come down to strategy again. Someone who’s not even in contention for the championship will roll the dice, as has happened many times this year, and win the race. They’ll go off the conventional strategy and gamble. But no one can predict what will happen so we’ll see.


JT – Formula One was back in action at Spa-Francorchamps after their summer break. Lewis Hamilton won, beating teammate Nico Rosberg without much drama. Romain Grosjean scored a podium finish for Lotus-Mercedes, the team’s first since the USGP in 2013. The race wasn’t terribly exciting after the start. Force India’s Sergio Perez did challenge Hamilton on the first lap and after the first pits stops but apart from that there wasn’t much to be impressed with.

SJ – Well, if you think about it F1 has been like this for a very long time. Because of the way the rules are and the cars are you’re always going to have one, two or maybe three teams fighting for the wins and the championship. The rest are there but never really a serious threat. Mercedes is more dominant these days than what we’ve seen for some time but Red Bull was nearly as dominant and there was the Ferrari period before that.

I think the difference now is that the rules are very confusing with development tokens and engine penalties for this and that. For instance, if you have a rule where a team can be penalized 105 grid positions; clearly there are too many rules and too many boffins involved in the rule making process. F1 needs to be simplified dramatically.


JT – Silly season is in full swing in F1 with everything from driver and team pairings to engine-suppliers and teams in the mix. For example, there’s now speculation that Renault wants to buy Force India and that Fernando Alonso has been talking to Red Bull Racing. Should we be paying attention?

SJ – Everyone’s had a month off from racing now and it’s the usual thing from the F1 media, everyone thinks they have the big scoop. They’re notorious for making up rumors and relentless in doing it. If someone has a conversation with someone, well there are people on different teams in F1 who are friends but the media makes up a story. It’s always been that way. But no one really knows the truth aside from the people involved. All the moves will shake out eventually whatever the media speculation says.


JT – A number of rules changes for the 2016 season are already being discussed or implemented. Do you think any of them have the potential to improve the competition?

SJ – Let’s hope so. I think some of the ideas that are been brought up seem to make sense, others not at all in my opinion. They keep talking about the need to make the cars go faster. I think that will lead to them altering the aerodynamics of the cars again completely. That would be ok if they actually came up with a plan that made sense instead of just making the sport more expensive yet again.

I still hold that they should limit aerodynamics. Just institute a limit on how much downforce the cars are allowed. That would eliminate this incessant, expensive and never-ending aero development. If anyone calculated the cost per kilo of downforce gained I bet you would get some insane number.

The easiest way to make the cars faster is by opening the tire regulations to competition and let the competing manufacturers build quality tires with more grip and better endurance. Let it be a tire war again. Right now, you have teams spending north of $500 million in some cases on making their car faster. Then the tire manufacturer basically gets a mandate to build a bad tire to make the racing more interesting supposedly, to help the show.

That leads to a situation like you had at Spa where Ferrari decides to take a gamble on strategy with a one-stop race for Vettel and not only does the tire not perform close to how it could perform but it’s not even safe after 40 laps! (Vettel’s right rear tire came apart on lap 42 dropping him to 12th)

If tires can be made to do four stints at Le Mans on the limit every lap with a car (LMP1) that has at least as much downforce as an F1 car, weighs 50% more, has 1100 horsepower when you put it all down and does its best times at the end of the four hours, why can they not be that good for F1?

It would be a no brainer for Pirelli or Michelin to build a decent tire that would go even 5-6 seconds a lap quicker after a year of development if you had the two tire companies competing. Problem solved. Leave the cars alone. Don’t spend a bunch of money on nothing. Let the tire manufacturers spend the money. They have money and they are prepared to spend it.

Then give the cars another couple hundred horsepower more. They’ll get another 25 km/h down the straights and better acceleration and they’ll be more difficult to drive. It would be a no brainer to go 10 seconds a lap faster.

In terms of controlling costs, in my opinion it should also be far cheaper to do real testing than it is to do all this other stuff with simulators and god knows what else the teams have to do instead. On track testing was banned because it was to expensive apparently, yet I haven’t been able to get one answer from anyone about how it’s possible that actual testing on track is more expensive than all this simulation and other stuff the teams do now. Simulators cost more than $50 million in some cases. You can’t tell me the teams would spend $50 million per year if they went testing, and if they did then something is very seriously wrong.

Go testing again, it should be made cheaper, drivers will get more seat time, get more comfortable with their cars, and they won’t make near as many mistakes as they do on track now, particularly the young guys. The only training they get these days is in a simulator then they go racing.


JT – In the past, F1 has complained that the tire wars resulting from having multiple manufacturers made the racing more dangerous with ever more aggressive compounds being fielded. Would that hold true again?

SJ – That’s not really true. There were only very rare occasions when you had tire issues, certainly not more than what we’ve seen with a single tire supplier. Occasionally there might be something that surprises you like the cuts that result to tires when people don’t respect track limits but that’s not because of the tires themselves.

When I was racing in F1, I could run one set of tires a full race distance. When I was third in Portugal (1989, racing for Moneytron Onyx) I did the whole race without stopping. That was our strategy. There was hardly any rubber left on the fronts. They were just running on the cords and didn’t have hardly any grip left the last five laps but they were still fine.

My strategy back then was always to do two heat-cycles on the tires prior to the race. I’d run a set for two or three laps in practice – not hard, just enough to get heat into them. I’d take them off, let them sit and do the same thing the next day - another three to four laps to let them cure just a bit. They’d lose about three or four-tenths to a brand new set over the first four or five laps in the race but then they’d stay consistent for much longer.

It’s a whole different world today of course but that was part of the race strategy back then. I might give up an extra run in qualifying to make sure I got the best set of tires I could get for the race.

Martin Fuentes

JT – You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa for Rounds 16 and 17 of the Pirelli World Challenge at Miller Motorsports Park last weekend. How was the racing and the results for the team? Scuderia Corsa was also in action at VIR for IMSA’s Oak Tree Grand Prix. Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler took the win in their GTD Ferrari.

SJ – It was a bit of an odd weekend partly because of the high altitude there in Utah. The Cadillacs (ATS-VRs) were dominating GT the whole weekend with Johnny O’Connell. The Ferraris (458 Italias) were nowhere. None of the normally-aspirated cars had much performance. Still, we finished second in GTA with Martin Fuentes in both races so it wasn’t bad.

Townsend and Sweedler did a great job. Bill drove like a man-possessed so a lot of credit to him.