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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

#SJblog

Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Felix Rosenqvist impresses everyone & F1 German GP 🏁

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar’s most recent round, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, was an interesting race but very damaging for Scott Dixon in the championship chase. Dixon collided with Helio Castroneves while attempting a pass in Turn 2 on lap 15. Scott tried to go inside Helio but Castroneves shut the door, squeezing Dixon until contact was made.

Scott’s left front suspension was broken and his race was effectively over even though his Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was repaired by the team and ran a few more laps before retirement. He finished 22nd. Castroneves’ car was damaged as well but he continued to finish 15th. This dropped Scott to 5th in the standings, 127 points behind leader Simon Pagenaud. What did you think of the incident?

SJ – Well, a weekend that looked like it was going to be pretty much a home run turned bad as soon as qualifying started. Obviously there was a bad call on strategy during qualifying, a miscommunication really that turned out to be very costly. (Light rain was present on part of the track and the team decided to bring Scott into the pits waiting for it to pass. They were confident that Dixon’s previous laps were quick enough to keep him in the “Fast Six”. Dixon had wanted to stay out. With the track drying, lap times fell and Dixon fell back to 11th where he would start the race).

Strategy-wise, they did the right thing for the race (Scott made an early pit stop to go off-sequence) but it put Scott in proximity to Helio. He had managed to pull off the same move with three other guys before trying to pass Castroneves, who slammed door shut on him after leaving it open just enough to make a dive on the inside and then finding there was nowhere to go once he had committed to the late brake move. The door was definitely open wide enough to have a go, but the Helio did a Helio and just slammed the door shut and that effectively ended the race for both of them.

It was a costly loss of points for both of them. The championship will be even tougher now but there are still four races to go with 250 points on the table. So it’s still possible to win it. Scott wasn’t in a much better position last year at this point. You never know.

JT – Simon Pagenaud had a good race, starting on pole then passing Penske teammate Will Power in the late stages to take the win, his fourth of the year. He’s driving at a high level and has momentum.

SJ – I think Power and Pagenaud were pretty close in terms of pace. Power went offline and picked up a bunch of rubber on his tires that killed his pace. He had no grip in the last corner before the pits and that set up the move for Pagenaud. But Pagenaud is doing a terrific job. If he keeps finishing well consistently like he has all year, it will be very difficult for anyone to win the championship… but not impossible.

JT – Recently, I was watching a few of the CART races from the 1988 season for research for an article I’m working on. It was fun to see those races in part because I was a kid when I first saw them and because it was striking to see how little downforce the Lola, Penske and March chassis had in comparison to the Dallaras running today with Honda and Chevrolet aero kits.

The CART chassis of 1988 look like they were running less downforce on road and street courses than the current cars run with on ovals. It’s a kick to watch them moving around under braking and on corner entry and exit. They look much less nailed down than the Honda/Chevy Dallaras and in many ways they’re more exciting to watch.

SJ – The current Indy car is probably close to being the highest downforce-producing race car ever. They’ve got over 5000 pounds of downforce. It’s crazy. But that’s the way it is with the cars in almost every category now. It goes back to what we’ve been talking about for years now. They keep increasing the downforce and decreasing horsepower. It’s a vicious circle.

At the same time everyone is complaining there is not enough passing. All this high downforce does is make the racing about mid-corner speed and momentum. There is not enough power to pull the cars down the straight so minimum speed mid corner is what determines the laptimes. The cars are just planted now in everything from F1 to sports cars and it’s all the same.

With all the downforce the cars generate today you have to adapt a very strange driving technique. You have to focus on carrying speed through the middle of corners and the only place you can make up time is through the slow corners. You can have the biggest balls on the planet in the fast corners and if you gain one tenth of a second it’s a miracle.

In the past you really had to pucker up and use all your courage because you could make up close to a second by balancing the car on the limit in the faster corners.

I notice the engineers in F1 are already excited about the new style cars as they already generate a lot more downforce than the current one’s. They are talking about 25-35% more, which is a massive increase, and the braking distances subsequently getting even shorter than they are now and they predict the laptimes will be smashed on every track by 3-4 seconds according to their simulations. My question is, how on earth is that going to improve the racing, they are already almost in the corners when they hit the brakes, the speed midcorner is already very high, so where is the passing going to take place? Maybe I’m missing something but I can’t see how the racing will improve if the cars will have even more downforce, regardless if the downforce is generated from the top or the bottom of the car. I hope I’m proved wrong.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist tested with Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio prior to the race, driving Scott’s Dallara-Chevy. Apparently the test went quite well. He also had a stand out performance at the 24 Hours of Spa, driving a Mercedes AMG GT3 with AMG-Team AKKA ASP. Felix drove several stints, including the run to the checkers, finishing in 2nd place behind the winning BMW M6 from Rowe Racing.

SJ – The IndyCar test went extremely well. He impressed everyone there and definitely put his name on the radar for the IndyCar series. Everyone in the team, including Scott, really went out of their way to make sure he was well prepared.

At Spa he did a terrific job too. He was by far the quickest Mercedes driver. And remember they got docked two laps or five minutes before the race started (one of six Mercedes to serve five-minute stop-and-hold penalties for a technical infringement that stripped the manufacturer of its 1-6 qualifying sweep). They made it all the way back to the lead lap then had a puncture and lost a lap again with only a couple hours to go. Felix drove 12 hours out of the 24, and did the qualifying in his car, so I think he’s introduced himself into this category of racing very well by now.

He’s definitely got his mojo going and as I told him before the season began that he should drive anything he can get his hands on because whatever car he jumps in he’ll be dialed in instantly. That’s exactly what’s happening. I went through the same thing in the early years of my career and it helps massively jumping in and out of different cars and being able to get right with the program in very few laps.

JT – Formula One is on summer holiday currently following the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Lewis Hamilton took the win, getting away from the start cleanly while pole-sitter Nico Rosberg stumbled when the lights went out. Hamilton led into the first corner and was never challenged thereafter. Rosberg fell to fourth behind the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Yes, obviously with the start Hamilton was able to pull off the race was almost over by the first lap. Lewis definitely has the bit between his teeth right now. I think it will be tough for Nico to change the momentum, but maybe the break is what he needs to be able to regroup and come back fresh for the remainder of the season. Lewis had a monster month of July, that’s for sure!

Getting the start right is so important, especially if you are on the front row. When Nico had the edge earlier in the season, it was for the same reason if you remember. Everyone was totally writing Lewis off because of his lifestyle and this and that, and most of the time is was only because he couldn’t get his starts right, exactly the same that is now happening to Nico. It’s the little details, the minor nuances that make such a big difference. If one of them gets even something minor just a little bit more right than the other, that guy generally wins.

JT – As we’ve mentioned previously, the current format of Formula One exaggerates those small details. Given the configuration of most of the modern circuits F1 races on and the level of downforce the current cars generate, if a driver gets a good start and is able to take the lead in clean air though the first lap, opportunities to overtake that driver on track are exceedingly scarce thereafter. That means many, if not most F1 races, are currently decided in the first corner. That can’t be good for the sport.

SJ – Absolutely, it’s a problem for all the reasons I have already mentioned above and for the past years now. And with the new rules going forward, it’s not going to get better most likely. I don’t know when the penny will drop for the people that write these rules that more aero grip is not the way to go, when in fact, the exact opposite is the right direction. All we know is that the new rule changes are going to cost each team a fortune and yet again, despite the added costs, which by the way very few teams can afford, there will probably very little change to the racing or the pecking order.

JT – Nico Rosberg received a five second penalty for forcing Max Verstappen off track in the hairpin while trying to pass the Red Bull driver. In this instance the penalty might have been warranted. What’s your view?

JT – It did look a bit weird I must say. I don’t really understand the whole thing, normally what you do if you out-brake someone is make sure that you turn in just a little bit later than you would if you weren’t overtaking. That’s typically enough to take the edge off the other driver being able to turn at the same time that you turn and by doing so they have to lift just a little bit longer than they normally do which is just enough to give you the preferred line on the exit of the corner. So the intention of the move was exactly as you would expect.

In this case he really came from nowhere. I couldn’t believe he actually tried the move to begin with because he was three to four car lengths behind Verstappen coming into the braking zone. It was a very late move and I know that if you brake right on the limit you’ll lock up as soon as you turn the wheel. So you want to try to keep the wheel straight as long as you can and slow the car as much as you can before turning the wheel, so maybe this is what contributed to the extremely late turn in to the corner.

But it’s weird with Nico right now. It seems like it’s either too much or too little when he makes a move in a racing situation. In all the confrontations he’s had with Lewis he’s either backed off a bit too early or stayed with a move for too long. It seems like he’s having a hard time gauging his moves in the right way. Again, it’s tiny the nuances that make the difference and it’s easy for me or anyone else to sit and comment in front of the TV about these things, it’s a whole different thing when you’re in the car of course.

Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. When you have the confidence and everything is going your way you always put the car exactly where you want it and the move sticks. But once you start having a little bit of doubt you’re never quite sure where you want to be. It’s the same if you’re a golfer or a tennis player. If you don’t know what to do simply by instinct, if you have to think about it, it’s very tough. It’s that grain of doubt that can be enough to hamper you.

Then with the penalty we have the same dilemma I’ve been talking about for a while now. You have a different driver-steward in the control tower at every race. Had there been a different driver-steward they might have said Nico’s move was fine. It’s that endlessly variable scenario with the stewards and rulings that’s making it very difficult both for the driver and also for the fans. As a driver, you never know if you’ve gone too far when there’s no consistency in applying rules.

In the past, there were no driver-stewards and things sorted themselves out.

I don’t envy Nico for one second as most of the on track confrontations are with Lewis by nature of the two being in a different league at the moment, and the added fact that Lewis is basically using the same playbook as Senna used. He simply goes for the gap no matter what, so it’s either a matter of the car he’s trying to pass giving enough room, or there’s contact, there is no middle ground. Nico knows this and that makes it extremely difficult for him to gauge where to place the car. Had it not been for Nico giving the room in many instances there would have been even more contact. This will continuously play with your head of course.

JT – As you’ve said previously, if modern tracks had more prominent physical limits much of this would be resolved naturally. If you or a competitor have a strong likelihood of contact with a barrier or of spinning out when exceeding track limits, you’re bound to be more careful, more calculated when you make a move.

SJ – Track limits have become a big subject now and there’s divided opinion. But if you look back over time, how many really bad accidents have been caused by curbing that you wouldn’t want to go near except to lean on them just a bit here or there – curbs that you’d never attempt to go straight over, or cars ending up in the sand trap?

The argument for lower curbing heights was that higher curbs were dangerous for motorcycle racing. So they flattened all the curbing at many of the circuits. But surely there must be a way to bolt reasonably high curbs to the ground firmly so that they could be used for cars and then removed for bikes when they race. They do this at street circuits like Monaco and Macao and I would imagine you could do the same thing on a permanent road course without to much trouble?

That way you could allow the bike guys to race with the flatter curbing then bolt on the higher curbs for auto racing. It’s either that or as Toto Wolff suggested, just let the guys run whatever line they want – no track limits. It’s kind of ridiculous and lap times will be probably two to three seconds quicker depending on the track but I’d love to try it at a place like Austin (Circuit of the Americas) where you have those esses (Turns 3-9) and just straight-line the lot of them.

You would probably change up a gear instead of downshifting and you end up at the end of the five corners by going behind the curbing at all of them. I’m only joking of course, but you could do that there theoretically because of the massive run off areas they have there. It’s a silly thought but that’s the point things have gotten to unfortunately.

Personally, I can’t see what was wrong with grass at the edges of a track. Even if you only had grass for ten feet and then asphalt runoff, that would prevent guys from stepping over the limit because you lose all grip immediately. At places like Mid-Ohio or Road America you still have grass and there’s no problem at these tracks. They’re great and when people go off the track they stay off generally and go into the runoff areas, and that’s the end of that.

Most of the really bad accidents that’s happened in racing have been freak accidents of some kind. Those kinds of accidents can never be prevented. Every now and then they will happen no matter how much you try to eliminate them. But what happens every time is the knee-jerk reaction that follows, often not very well thought through and with the end result even worse than what was there to begin with.

JT – Red Bull Racing now appears to be solidly second in the championship. Ferrari has fallen to third in the standings and doesn’t look like it will be able to raise its performance for the remainder of the season. They finished behind Red Bull at Hockenheim.

SJ – Yes, it looks like they most likely will finish third now. They have a lot of challenges right now and that’s not going to get easier anytime soon. The loss of James Allison is obviously huge and is not going to be an easy one to replace. They are now talking about a McLaren style structure in the design and engineering department, which may or may not be the way to go. But regardless, any major change in this regard inevitably takes a long time to implement. Let’s hope they have the direction already in place so there won’t be any major delays in getting back on track after the Allison departure. The battle for fourth place should be interesting though. McLaren actually might have a say in that too (McLaren now sits 7th in the championship, 54 points behind Williams in 4th place). Their performance is getting closer and closer to the others, and they have the resources to out develop the teams they are fighting against, so let’s see how that turns out, there are still a lot of racing left this year.

Mercedes' 10th win at the Hungarian GP, Felix Rosenqvist's first-ever IndyCar test & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The Hungarian Grand Prix was largely a procession. That’s typical of racing at the Hungaroring. Lewis Hamilton took the win ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, marking Mercedes GP’s tenth win in the eleven grands prix so far this year.

At the start, the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen challenged pole-sitter Rosberg and second-place qualifier Hamilton. That made for an interesting first corner and in the shuffle, Hamilton emerged leading with Ricciardo briefly holding second. Rosberg quickly repassed him. From there on neither Mercedes was challenged and the race was over at the front. What did you think of the Hungarian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ever since the first race we did at the Hungaroring in 1986 it has been the same. It’s a track where it’s virtually impossible to pass. The layout, with medium-speed corners leading to relatively short straights, never allows you to get enough aerodynamic grip to follow a competitor close enough to get a run on him. That’s the way it is there – even with DRS.

Everyone knows how important the grid position, the start and the first lap are at Hungary. The race is pretty much over after that. The start was very close. It’s very hard to gauge because there was so little between Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo. Ricciardo almost got away with it. It didn’t work out but at least he had a good go at it. It looked like Lewis got of the clutch just a fraction earlier than Rosberg, which was enough to give him the slight edge he needed to get ahead into the first corner.

After the start the race settles down and it’s very tough to pass. That’s the nature of the beast when you have cars which have performance dictated by aerodynamic grip. You’re always going to have the same problems. As soon as you get in the dirty air from the car ahead you lose most of your front downforce and the front washes out just enough. Even in IndyCar now when you get within four car lengths of someone your front is just gone, there’s just no grip.

JT – There wasn’t much action after the first lap until the hydraulic system in Jenson Button’s McLaren failed and he lost braking. He was passed by three cars and told the team that he had no brake pedal. They informed him that it stemmed from a hydraulic sensor issue, advised him to stay on track, and told him how to drive around it.

Button then pitted, as required by a new revision of the radio ban regulations which states that drivers must come to the pits when given technical advice. But he and the team still received a drive-through penalty, presumably because the message had come when Button was still on track.

"It's a stupid regulation," Button said. "I completely understand that drivers should not be fed information that helps us drive the car. I'm totally with that because I think it's wrong that we're told every corner where our team-mate is quicker or slower than us, and fuel saving should be down to us, and so many other things should be down to us.”

"But when it's a safety concern with the brake pedal going to the floor, you shouldn't be penalized for stopping an accident, and that's what we did today.”

Later, Ferrari’s Maurizio Arrivabene, Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen called F1’s rules “a joke”. What’s your take?

SJ – Unfortunately, F1 is mirroring what’s happening in the real world where more and more rules and laws are added but none are ever cancelled it seems. In the end it becomes so convoluted that the outcome of a dispute in civilian life often depend on who has the best lawyers, really. Sadly, it now seems to be heading in the same direction in racing too.

There are now so many grey areas in F1 that allow conflicts to be argued in so many ways that it’s difficult to follow. The rules should never be enforced by a subjective judgment. In my opinion, one of the major problems with the rule making in Formula One is that they don’t nip some of things in the bud before they become glaring issues. This is why we end up with this endless stream of knee jerk rules to fix a problem that should never have existed in the first place. It’s a difficult job for the people that write the Sporting Regulations as things move all the time but I get the feeling that sometimes they are either not able or willing to put their foot down early enough when they see a worrying trend coming, and then it becomes to late and we end up with all this frustration from both the competitors and the fans. Both NASCAR and Indycar do a much better job at policing the rules and stepping in when they see things heading in the wrong direction and before it becomes a huge issue.

They’ve created their own monster with these ultra-complicated cars. When you have an issue like Jenson had, being advised over the radio how to address it, is clearly not going to lead to a performance improvement. And if there’s a safety issue, I can’t see why you shouldn’t be allowed to relay that to a driver. Why should communicating how to address a technical fault that jeopardizes a driver’s safety, and potentially those around him, be against the rules?

Even if the team was able to help him fix it, his performance is certainly not going to be any better than it was before the problem arose.

The other option would simply be to pit and try to fix the problem, without any assistance over the radio from the pitlane or by changing whatever dials on the steering wheel. Of course, if you had a mechanical fault that was bad enough not to be able to continue, that’s what you had to do in the past – come in. There was no data stream that would allow you to fix it while still racing.

But it’s the way the rules like this are applied – or not applied. It confuses everyone, most of all the drivers. And if the drivers and teams can’t make sense of it, how will the public?

Yes, the teams are now complaining about the “joke rules” but the teams shouldn’t be a part of the rule-making. The fact that the FIA is not stepping in and making decisions invites trouble.  Once the teams get involved every single one of them will have a different opinion. They always put their own interests first. It’s always been that way and you’ve just got to get the teams out of the rules making process.

Rules should be made strong enough, interesting enough and clear enough so that everyone can understand them, that will make the racing interesting and exciting for everyone to want to watch and that teams want to be a part of without threatening to leave every time things don’t go the way they want.

JT – Building on that theme, the FIA put sensors in two corners at the Hungaroring (Turns 4 & 11). They were placed there to detect if a car crossed over the track limit with four wheels. Apparently you were allowed to exceed the limit in those corners three times. If you exceeded them a fourth time, you would receive a penalty.

Again, this is confusing. If it’s ok to bust track limits three times on two corners of a circuit why is not ok to do it a fourth time? …And what about all of the other corners?

SJ – Again, subjective judgments should never be allowed. It’s ok to cross the white line at the track edge three times? Why?

You don’t hit the wall three times in Monaco.

It’s just seems odd and very random and as I’ve said many times before, I think F1 really needs firm leadership in the control tower. Currently, there’s a different driver-steward every weekend. Some of them haven’t been near a race car for over 30 years. No disrespect to anyone but I don’t think it’s a logical way to go. I know most of these guys quite well and I think some personalities are much better suited to the driver-steward role than others. But it’s almost like, “who’s available this weekend”?

Criteria for the driver-steward role doesn’t seem to exist or matter and you can tell that some of the people doing this are making decisions or calls purely to justify their presence. They feel like they have to do something. Then other times, someone else does nothing – even when action is warranted.

That leads to the drivers not knowing where they stand because there are different interpretations of the rules at every race. Of course, it’s hard to get people to be a driver-steward. Who’s going to want to do that full time? It’s a thankless job. But if you have one guy who the drivers respect - who can talk to them as an equal and be clear and firm - then everyone will know where they stand. That’s the easiest and most important change they could make in the short term at least, in order to avoid all this negative frustration.

JT – A good example is the collision between Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen during the race. Kimi made contact with the rear of Verstappen’s car while trying to make a pass. Raikkonen said Verstappen moved twice to block him. He had already committed to a side to overtake and could do nothing when Verstappen moved a second time. No penalty was given.

SJ – It’s a perfect example. What is blocking? Is it one move? Is it two? Is it a move and a wiggle?

I can totally sympathize with Raikkonen because he went one way then Verstappen moved, so he went the other way and committed to it but Verstappen moved again. It wasn’t really a big move but it was enough that Kimi couldn’t avoid him. At that point, you’re already 100% committed, you’re braking on the limit and you don’t have even five inches of margin to make another change.

If the driver in front changes his mind, there’s literally nowhere to go. It’s lucky that Raikkonen didn’t hit Verstappen harder.

JT – Red Bull were expected to do well in Hungary and their performance in qualifying and at the start was good but Mercedes is clearly still well ahead of everyone else. Ferrari was able to challenge Red Bull but their inability to win based on car performance and race execution remains.

SJ – It’s a shame. Clearly, there are problems within Ferrari and until they are resolved it’s unlikely that they’ll make any big improvement. We just found out that James Allison has now left the team too, this is obviously not a good sign.

JT - IndyCar’s most recent round in Toronto proved difficult for Scott Dixon but very successful for Felix Rosenqvist. Rosenqvist won both Indy Lights races handily and showed his talent well on Toronto’s tight street course. He’s now the winning-est Indy Lights driver this season and just had his first-ever IndyCar test with Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio.

Scott looked good too, dominating in Toronto until the final stint of the race. Will Power pitted just before a late caution which trapped Scott, Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya behind the pace car. Pitting under yellow dropped them well back in the field. Will Power went on to win while Scott recovered to finish 8th just in front of Pagenaud.

SJ – Felix was amazing, he just cleaned up in both races. So did Scott but unfortunately he got hosed on strategy again. Until the last pit stop he had everyone under control and looked like he was cruising to the easy win on top of the pole he got in qualifying. Unfortunately things have worked against Scott for the last three races.

Going for the championship title is going to be very tough now. Scott’s had two engine failures that left him with no points – that’s at minimum 80 points that he missed out on, plus the win in Toronto. He probably could have won at Detroit and would have been 2nd at worst at Road America. That’s a lot of points to give away.

JT – The Spa 24 Hours is coming up this weekend. This race and the Nurburgring 24 have risen in stature considerably. Both are interesting and fun to follow.

SJ – Both those races are always good and they keep building on the tradition behind them. They always have great crowds these days, particularly the Nurburgring 24. It’s cool, like a racing pilgrimage. And it really has grown. Hardly anyone followed the 24 hours there until like five years ago. It was like an oddball event with old diesel cars and even more classes than they run now.

But it’s become a big event and like at Spa, the manufacturers are involved through the GT3 class. Even I didn’t really know what date the Nurburgring race was until maybe five years ago. Little by little it has grown into an important event. I did it in an MX-5 just for fun a couple of years ago and I loved it.

It’s a big test for the drivers and it’s incredible for the fans. Miniature towns are set up around the circuit basically with grocery stores and all sorts and it’s amazing how the fans get into it – very cool.

Indycar Iowa Corn 300, F1 British GP at Silverstone & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – Usually, we lead off the blog chatting about Formula One. It remains the technical pinnacle of global racing and the most widely known form of motorsport. It was also a huge highlight of your career and a world you’re still intimately familiar with. But some would argue that Formula One is no longer the pinnacle of open wheel racing from a competition perspective.

In recent years IndyCar has returned to the top of the heap competitively. As you’ve observed, even drivers in F1 have taken note. The experience and ability of today’s IndyCar pilots is the rival of any racing series in the world. It makes one think back to the glory days of CART when Nigel Mansell, fresh from winning the Formula One World Championship in 1992, left Europe and F1 to come to America to race Indy Cars in CART. You were there as well, having left F1 in 1991 to join Bettenhausen Racing.

And once again, as is usually the case these days, last weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race – the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway – was the best race of the weekend. It proved more interesting than the British GP even though Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden nearly lapped the field. But the racing was great throughout the field. As I know you agree, that makes IndyCar the right place to start this week’s discussion.

SJ – I agree with you that the actual racing in Indycar is hard to beat. It was a terrific race again. You can’t beat short-ovals. As far as the racing goes, it doesn’t get much better. There’s always action – non-stop. And the action isn’t just at the front. There are battles going on all through the field all the time.

As I’ve said, the competition in IndyCar is the best out there right now. At almost any track, there’s hardly more than a second between the front of the field and the back.

However, I don’t know how many drivers or fans are taking notice, I still think the sharp end of F1 is a good as it’s ever been, maybe even better. There is a lot of depth of talent and a number of World Champions competing at the same time, plus some incredibly talented new guys, like Verstappen and Sainz for example. F1 is still the pinnacle for sure, it’s just a shame they are not able to really display their talent in equipment that is more challenging.

JT – I remember NASCAR driver Mark Martin saying many years ago that a talented driver can overcome poor car balance on a road course by driving around it, essentially “carrying the car”. But he added that there’s no way to do that on an oval. Basically he said that you can be the world’s best driver but if you miss the setup on an oval you’re finished.

SJ – Exactly, there’s nothing you can do. It’s sheer torture if your car is not balanced, and especially so if the car is loose (oversteer). I went through that a few times too many back in the day with Bettenhausen.

I remember one year at Indy when the team did an engine installation before the race. One of the bushings for the engine mount was twisted just slightly. They didn’t realize that. But it was enough so when they did a torque-check with a torque key it was tight.

As soon as the car got loaded up at full speed, which was on the first lap going in to Turn-3, I felt this clunk as the engine came into position. From then on, there was maybe a millimeter of play in that bushing. Over the distance back to the rear wheels, a millimeter of play in the bushing translated to probably five millimeters of play at the wheel.

The car was absolutely un-drivable. It was stupid-loose one lap and on the next it was pushing like a pig! It was totally inconsistent. You didn’t know what it was going to do from one lap to the next. We should have just parked it but stupidly you hang in there hoping there’s going to be a multi-car accident that puts cars out of the race and moves you forward but of course, no way. That was 500 miles of sheer torture.

You’re just spent if the car is off. You’re fighting the thing all the time. Even on the straights it can be a handful.

JT – At one point, Josef Newgarden had lapped everyone but the leading car. He and Ed Carpenter Racing must have absolutely nailed the setup. Have you ever driven a car that worked that well on an oval, and if so, what is that like?

SJ – I had a car that worked quite well but never that good. But when you have a car that’s hooked up on an oval it is the most fun racing you can do. It’s fantastic. You’re racing all the time, every lap.

Scott [Dixon] had a car like that last year on one of the ovals where he was absolutely dialed in. Unfortunately, the team missed the setup on the car at Iowa at the beginning of the weekend and eventually had to revert to last year’s setup. Scott basically ran it like that and improved it as much as possible through the race. On every pit stop they dialed it in to get a decent balance but at least the car was drivable.

Scott finished third but didn’t really gain much in points. (Pagenaud finished fourth) Scott’s been very unlucky with DNFs, scoring no points. He probably would have won Race One in Detroit if the car hadn’t had a mechanical problem. And then again, at Elkhart Lake (Road America) he probably could have fought for the win or at least second place if the car hadn’t let him down.

That’s at least 80 points off the table for Scott and Pagenaud is doing what you do to win championships, scoring points in pretty much every race. He’s won several times this year and he’s basically just having consistently good finishes. With a championship as close as IndyCar’s is, points make prizes. If you score in every race you’re gonna be right up there fighting for the title. So it’s going to be very tough to beat Pagenaud.

JT – The Chevrolets dominated at Iowa. Only three of the top ten finishers were in Hondas. That’s odd considering that Andretti Autosport won just last year with Honda at Iowa and that they won the Indy 500 with Honda this year.

SJ – It’s very strange. Honda kind of dominated Indy but apart from that they’ve struggled at every other track. It’s odd how they managed to be so good at Indy but not anywhere else really.

JT – In the wake of the rain-postponed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar announced that the race will “resume” at the 71-lap mark where it was halted on August 27. Newgarden, now second in the championship standings, will not be allowed to race as he and Conor Daly had a massive accident before the race was red-flagged. Scott has made the gracious and intelligent point that the Texas race should be re-run in its entirety for the sake of the fans who waited out multiple delays. That seems only logical.

SJ – Yes, it makes no sense to just run a partial race. Everyone will be starting from scratch anyway, going through the whole weekend ritual of practice just as they did before. Obviously, you can’t send them out on track without practice because everything will be different – different track conditions, different temperature, everything.

It would be much fairer to simply start from scratch. It will be a completely different race anyway.

JT – Newgarden is obviously a proven winner with victories on road and street courses, and now an oval. Many are speculating that IndyCar’s top teams have their eyes on him, including Ganassi.

SJ – He’s been the new, young hope since last year when he won and was very impressive. He certainly hasn’t gone backwards this year. He’s doing a very good job and it’s no surprise that people are looking at him. I also think that Ed Carpenter’s team has done an amazing job, their engineering group is clearly on top of things.

JT – The British Grand Prix had a predictable outcome. Mercedes finished first and second on-track with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton winning his home grand prix once again. With the start having taken place under safety car due to rain, he had had an advantage once the field was released. He gained a couple seconds right away and was never really challenged. He was also lucky, as were some others, not to crash after an off course excursion on dry tires.

SJ – Yes, to have a clean track in front of you in a wet race after the safety car releases you is huge. That’s why Lewis pulled 100 yards on everybody right away. You tend to do that when you have no visibility problems and the opportunity to control the start. That was a given almost.

I don’t think the conditions were that terrible to be honest. I don’t know what the current cars are like to drive but I’ve certainly had many races where the conditions were much worse. I think they definitely held the safety car out there for too long. The start is a great element of the excitement of a grand prix and you didn’t get that at Silverstone.

JT – Nico Rosberg became embroiled in a battle with Max Verstappen who passed him after the first round of pit stops. Verstappen’s pass was impressive and delayed Rosberg’s progress. Rosberg finally gained second place back on lap 38 of 52. By then Hamilton was gone but Rosberg left Verstappen behind quickly and was gaining on his teammate until a gearbox issue arose. He couldn’t get drive in seventh gear and asked the team what he should do.

Unlike at the European Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues and the team informed him that they could not advise him on what to do because of F1’s ban on radio coaching, Mercedes told Nico what to do. It’s confusing because in one instance, they opted not to advise Hamilton for fear of a penalty but at Silverstone they did speak to Rosberg and must have known there would be a penalty. That’s what happened and Rosberg was demoted to third with a ten second penalty following the race. The radio ban and Mercedes’ decisions make no sense.

SJ – The whole thing, the radio ban, is a complete joke as far as I’m concerned. I hate to complain again but at least with IndyCar and NASCAR when they see something getting out of hand they nip it in the bud right away.  F1 creates these monstrously complex vehicles and then gets way down the road before they realize that what they’ve done is causing huge problems.

As I’ve said for the last three years, the multitude of complex settings and technical adjustments on the current cars’ steering wheels never should have been allowed – these insanely complicated differentials and gearbox settings and on and on.

Either you have radio communications or you don’t. With the complexity of these cars engineering was telling the drivers on every straight what settings to have for the next corner – which is ridiculous of course. So they then ban all kind of communication. Which effectively means that currently you can’t even tell a driver what to do even if there’s a technical fault on the car.

What does the radio ban have to do with advising a driver how to fix a fault? It’s not like Rosberg’s performance was going to be better than it was before the gearbox issue came up if the team told him how to resolve it, all it will do is allow him to finish the race.

In the case of Perez in Austria it was outrageous that they couldn’t tell a driver that his brakes were about to fail because of this radio ban. Imagine if that happened at Monaco coming out of the tunnel? There’s no logic to any of it.

Beyond that, if you allow the designers to make cars so complex that you have to tell a driver how to drive them during a race…. You’ve got to pull back and get back to basics, fast! What we have now is what I keep repeating – engineering porn. That’s all it is. The drivers don’t even understand half of it so how can the public?

There have been three races in a row – Baku, Austria and Silverstone - where there have been issues with the radio ban.

JT – This seems to be a good illustration of how irrational F1 is these days. Mercedes decides not to tell one driver what to do at Baku to avoid a penalty, then tells the other how to proceed at Silverstone and gets that penalty – a penalty which logically could have been awarded during the race. Why did the decision have to come after the race? The whole thing is nuts.

SJ – Yes totally. I can’t help myself, I get up at 5am every Sunday there’s a GP as I live in California, all excited for the race, get a nice cup of coffee and it starts and then I think, ‘why do I bother?’ You just sit there getting angry. It’s crazy.

I’m the biggest fan in the world. I love racing and I love F1. It’s my passion and I watch every race live and I just end up being frustrated because of the absurdity of what takes place. And if that’s what I’m thinking, I can only imagine what the casual fans think. You have to wonder.

There are so many strange things going on all the time with this subjective rule making that it’s very difficult not to get worked up about it. A good example is this nonsense going on with track limits and white lines. At Silverstone they said if you put four wheels over the line in three of the corners there was a penalty, no compromise. But in all the others it was ok? (The FIA proclaimed a “zero tolerance” policy for exceeding track limits in “certain corners” at Silverstone)

What is that? If you go over the white line anywhere, that should be it. If there’s a penalty for exceeding track limits then apply it to the entire track. In tennis the ball is out if it goes past any of the white lines. They don’t call the ball in if it crosses a white near the net or something. If it’s out, it’s out.

Why is there all this subjective judgment all the time in F1? If the rule is that you don’t exceed the white lines and you go over them then you should get a penalty – simple as that. The officials, not only in F1 for that matter, have gotten so used to these endless gray areas. It’s not the drivers’ fault. If they actually enforced that rule every time someone crossed a white line I guarantee you after two races no one would go over the line.

Make it a stop-and-go penalty for races or take away a lap time in qualifying or practice. And do it during the race or session, not afterwards. They have cameras around the tracks for that. It would be easy to monitor. And as a driver all you want to know is where you stand, black and white. For instance, you already know that if anyone crosses the white line leaving the pits they get penalized. Why shouldn’t it be the same on the race track? That’s the kind of consistency everybody wants.

JT – In the last blog we chatted about the difficulty of following F1 races via television coverage. We agreed it’s difficult to keep informed about what’s taking place in the race for different competitors while it’s in progress. Apparently we’re not alone in that view.

SJ – Yes, I spoke to a couple friends in England, two former F1 designers, after the race. They both agreed that it’s so confusing trying to follow the races live on TV. There’s barely any information on screen and the commentators are all busy yapping away about their own theories or whatever so they miss half the action.

I think there’s a lot more that could be done to make following the race on TV easier. You could present graphics on-screen that would make it easier to understand what various competitors were doing as it happened. That would spice up the coverage and make it a lot more interesting and intelligible for everyone.

Maybe you have graphics for what tire a given driver is on and how many stops he’s made. That gives you an idea of what strategy everyone is on. Pirelli has different color coding for the tires but the problem is you don’t see half the cars on screen during an entire broadcast or at least parts of it.

JT – Again, Max Verstappen’s performance was impressive. He out-qualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo and finished on the podium, ultimately in 2nd place while Ricciardo was 4th.

SJ – I think that everyone, including myself, who had doubts about him is being proved wrong. He’s doing an incredible job apart from that hiccup in Monaco which he seems to have learned from. But ever since he got into the Red Bull Verstappen’s been impressive to say the least. He’s super fast, his race craft is amazing and he’s probably one of the best overtakers in the field already. If he manages to pick the right teams going forward, there is a good chance he could smash every record there is in F1.

JT – Kimi Raikkonen was finally re-signed by Ferrari for 2017. Apparently, Sergio Marchionne wanted the deal to get done and they made it happen quickly. Some have suggested that his re-signing was in part spurred by Kimi’s willingness to be a number 2 driver at Ferrari. You don’t necessarily agree.

SJ – That’s possible but I think more than anything there’s a nice harmony in the team and a good relationship between the drivers. And I’m not so sure that Kimi will play number 2. Right now he’s third in the championship and Vettel is 5th. Ok, Vettel has maybe been faster in general but not all the time.

Had Kimi been in a position to win more often, I think all the effort would’ve gone behind him last year. I wouldn’t by any means count him out. Assuming Ferrari can provide a winning car for both drivers, I’m pretty sure Kimi will be a contender.

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s performance at Silverstone seemed a bit weak and it’s been that way for quite a few races now. I think they’re slipping back. Red Bull’s definitely making gains and their Renault engine is pretty close to everyone except Mercedes.

JT – As the race was the British Grand Prix, it’s even more appropriate to talk about the performance of Williams and McLaren which, to put it plainly, was lackluster at their home GP.

SJ – I think what Williams has done with their car shows they’ve must have taken a gamble in some areas and it’s obviously not working. I touched on it in the last blog but I also don’t think that the engine advantage they’ve had with the Mercedes power unit is what it was in the past.

Everyone’s closed the gap to a degree now so that makes it more difficult. Last year, their chassis looked better than maybe it was partly because they had a bigger advantage with Mercedes power. That’s no longer the case and now Red Bull, Toro Rosso and even McLaren are able to give them fits.

That’s what always happens when you have rules stability. It’s the best way to even out racing. Now for 2017 there will be wholesale rules changes yet again with more aero and bigger tires. It’s just going to lead to the same thing. Mercedes and the big teams will have a huge advantage. One of the mid-fielders will probably get it right and the rest will be nowhere.

I like the idea of the bigger tires for next year but they’re adding even more downforce and now the obsession is faster lap times. Who cares? The cars might go 10 mph faster and five to six seconds per lap quicker but the competition will be just the same because of the aerodynamics. The racing won’t change for the better. It’ll just be a bit faster and it will cost everyone a mountain of money to develop a new car.

No one will still be able to pass because of the aero. You saw that at Silverstone last weekend. All the commentators were going on about Verstappen not giving Rosberg an inch, etc. But you can’t get close enough to the car in front of you now, especially those medium speed corners where aero is so important. You get to a certain point on those straights at Silverstone and then in the corners the front of the car washes away as you get to close behind the guy ahead. It was the same story in Barcelona.

So through the corners you lose enough ground and when you exit them onto the Hangar Straight for example, you can’t get close enough to pass even with DRS. It’s the same for everybody and it was only when they encountered traffic and Verstappen also had dirty air to deal with that Rosberg got close enough to have a go. That’s how he got back by Verstappen.

With McLaren, I have a sneaky feeling that something’s going on because they’re talking a big game - Alonso and even Ron [Dennis]. I don’t see why they would do that unless they know something. I think they’ve definitely got something in the pipeline. I do believe they’ll eventually get back to the front because they have the resources and the people to do it.


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