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F1 Azerbaijan GP, the latest on IndyCar & Racing Etiquette

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 95

JT – Formula 1 made its third stop of the season in Baku last weekend for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a street circuit event that has become a wild-card on the F1 calendar. The race didn’t disappoint, providing plenty of action and even some racing.

Lewis Hamilton inherited victory after teammate Valterri Bottas ran over debris while leading the final laps. Sebastian Vettel had dominated at the front until stopping for new tires just after half-distance. Bottas stayed out on his original tires longer and led but was expected to drop to second when he finally pitted. However, a collision between Red Bull Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen brought out the safety car with 12 laps to go. Bottas took advantage of the safety car and retained the lead even with his pit stop.

 Photo via @lewishamilton

Photo via @lewishamilton

With Vettel running second and Lewis Hamilton in third, the race looked to be between Bottas and Vettel. On the restart Vettel tried to dive under Bottas at Turn 1. But he locked up and barely made the corner. Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen got by and Vettel ultimately fell to fourth, struggling with flat-spotted tires that allowed Force India’s Sergio Perez to pass him for what became the final podium spot.

There was plenty more to talk about – from Force India’s Esteban Ocon clash with Raikkonen at the start to Fernando Alonso’ drive through the field in his heavily wounded McLaren. But the biggest talking point was the crash of teammates Verstappen and Ricciardo. Fans are already referring to Verstappen as “Vercraschen” and most observers are blaming the Dutch driver for yet another incident.  So, take a breath and tell me your thoughts about Azerbaijan.

SJ – Well, first I think it’s a great track. Every year since they started racing there we’ve seen plenty of action and unpredictable results. As I’ve said many times before, I think street circuits generally are the way to go. There’s more unpredictability than you have with the modern road courses with their big run-off areas and generally quite boring layouts. When you go off-line or completely miss a corner on a modern road course you can carry on without any real punishment whereas at a place like Baku, you get punished immediately if you make a mistake. We need more of that I feel, generally speaking most of the street circuits around the world, Monaco being the exception, produce exciting racing and unpredictable results. The atmosphere is great because you bring the race to the people rather than to a track miles away where people have to drive in order to get there. All the City tracks around the world have by far the best ambience, it doesn’t matter if it’s in F1, Indycar, Formula E or any other series.

The long straight in Baku, especially with the DRS, really encourages drivers to have a go, as we saw there was plenty of action in the braking zone. Tire wear wasn’t much of a factor in this race and if the teams weren’t required to make a stop by the rules, many of the drivers would have probably just carried on without any stops. What’s interesting is that at this race and most other races recently is that everyone goes for it like it’s a Formula Ford race on the first lap. I assume they all go mad because they’re all aware that’s their best and sometimes maybe the only opportunity to overtake during the whole race.

It’s extraordinary how many, what can we say…. more than opportunistic moves were made. People were banging wheels everywhere. You have to say, if these are supposedly the best drivers in the world and most of them are getting paid accordingly, it’s marginal at best. I mean a lot of guys just threw the race away almost before it started. There’s no excuse for putting the car in the barrier only a few laps into the race when you have a potential top-six car. Unforced errors at that level are hard to justify, I think. The track conditions were not easy for sure, but that is still not an excuse for throwing away a great result. I can understand if it happened with one of the rookie drivers but in some cases these are drivers with nearly a 100 GP’s under their belt. Not acceptable in my opinion. It’s interesting to note though that it’s almost the same in every series, where you have plenty of very fast drivers, they can all produce great lap-times and qualify well but there’s still only a handful that know how to race well, that have the race craft to win races and championships.

Lewis was fortunate to win this time, but the way he drove is how you win Championships. He didn’t try to force it when he knew he had a bad day but instead let the race come to him. He could easily have tried a move down the inside just like Vettel did but he didn’t and even if hadn’t won the race which of course was lucky, but regardless I think he made the best of what was for him a bad weekend. If Hamilton was lucky, then poor Bottas was extremely unlucky, as was Vettel who dominated the race until the safety car came out with 12 laps to go.

Talking about Ricciardo and Verstappen, frankly they could have easily crashed several times well before the accident if Ricciardo hadn’t given more than adequate room to Verstappen every time where close earlier in the race. It’s the same thing I mentioned in regard to Verstappen’s driving in China and Bahrain. He’s been getting away with his moves for the past three years. But now the tide has turned because every one of them is so marginal, so low-percentage. Eventually, the odds catch up with you and you can’t get away with what you’ve been getting away with forever.

I think almost every driver has been through this at some stage in their career. You do the same aggressive thing one year and you get away with every move. If you look back at all of the moves Max has made it’s been extraordinary that he hasn’t been caught out before and instead it’s been whomever he was dicing with that ended up with a broken wing end-plate or got run off the track or whatever else might have happened but Max always seemed to come out on top. But then things turn around and every move you make goes the wrong way, although he’s not doing anything different, but the tiny margins he’s dealing with all the time are now not in his favor anymore. Part of the problem when you’re constantly cutting it that fine, with one extremely low percentage move after another, is that you’re leaving your own faith in the hands of the guy you’re racing against, and none of the guys at this level will accept to get bullied forever. And, so here we are, all the “genius” moves from the past years now suddenly look clumsy and poorly executed.

At some stage I think the penny is going to have to drop for him. You’ll never ever win a championship driving like he does. He’s still young and I’m sure these past races have taught him that you don’t have to win every battle to win the war and he will no doubt win several more races and championships. But he’s got to realize that he cannot keep doing what he’s doing and hope to get away with it every time.

In this case, the crash was 110 percent Verstappen’s fault in my opinion. Once you’ve made a move in defense you can’t move again, especially not if you’ve opened the door slightly, which is what he did by swerving to the right. At that point, Ricciardo is 100 percent committed to the move on the inside, before then you could see that he was going to either go late on the outside or dive on the inside depending on the line Max chose. Once the door is open and he’s hard on the brakes at the very last moment there’s nothing he can do at that point but continue in the trajectory the car is going. If there’s suddenly an obstacle in front of you, you’re going to hit it, it’s as simple as that. And of course, Verstappen knows that, or should know that. He’s pulled the same trick several times before on other drivers, and it’s always been the guy coming from behind who got the short end of the stick, this time both were out immediately.

What I would do if was Christian Horner or Helmut Marko, instead of constantly protecting him, I would have him sit and watch every video replay of every incident or accident he’s had where he got away with it and make him see how lucky he’s been in the past. Now circumstances have changed a half-percent in the wrong direction and he’s not just costing someone else a front wing or a lost race, he’s costing himself and the team DNF’s and extremely valuable points and not getting away with what he was before. Sooner or later you will run out of luck.

JT – As a matter fact, Verstappen’s two moves in the braking zone are a violation of the FIA’s rules. And yet, the FIA stewards did not penalize him, only reprimanding Verstappen and Ricciardo, apportioning blame to both. Apparently, you’re correct. The FIA will not enforce its own rules. On the RBR team side, it seems they wanted the drivers to share blame so that Verstappen would not rack up any more points on his Superlicense.

The FIA is weak in enforcing the rules. This has been a problem for a long time now and continues to be a problem. When they issue penalties they often issue them for the wrong reasons. But when it really matters and could make people understand that “this is where we draw the line”, nothing happens. I don’t believe in the system of having a different ex driver at every race. It needs to be a consistent and well respected small group of people that are objective and firm in their decisions so the drivers always know where the line is drawn. It’s far to random the way it is now.

It’s the same on the technical side. They write a new set of rules and then three years later you have cars which have aero appendages that were never part of the spirit of the  agreement. Everyone knows this but when every team has, literally, armies of people scouring the rule book to find any loopholes and the FIA doesn’t enforce it strongly enough or soon enough, it eventually gets out of hand and then we get what we have now.

JT – One of the downsides of the race at Baku is the track organization. There were several instances where track workers looked overwhelmed trying to clear the track of cars or debris. Ultimately, the FIA’s laxness – there was a large tree branch on track for several laps, for example – cost Bottas the win.

SJ – I agree, to me it’s a mystery that Formula 1, this super-sophisticated, highest-level racing series in the world, does not have a dedicated team of track marshals that travel to all the venues. How much would it cost to do what IndyCar has done for decades where you have a well trained crew and a pick-up truck with a small jet engine on the back which they use every time there’s a safety car to make sure the track is clean and free of debris? How much would it cost to ship that to every event?

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 2.49.33 PM.png

In particular with modern F1 cars, it’s literally like an explosion when they hit each other. There’s carbon debris everywhere and that stuff is like a needle, the threads of that carbon-fiber. Bottas was the first one to arrive where the collision had occurred and he was screwed. You’re traveling so fast by that point that even if you see something - by that time you’ve already hit it. If there’s any piece of debris left on the track there’s no way you can avoid it.

It’s now 24 years since Senna had his accident in Imola… It’s a theory but I am convinced that he ran over the debris from the start line accident (J.J. Lehto stalled his Benetton on the grid and was hit by Pedro Lamy’s Lotus). There were shreds of carbon-fiber everywhere. It was the same thing as it was this time, some marshals picking up the debris by hand. I think he got a slow puncture which caused him to bottom out when he went through Tamburello and that’s what caused him to go off the track and into the wall. I don’t think anything broke on the car.

This is just my theory but that’s very much what it looked like to me. The point I’m trying to make is, nothing has changed in 24 years. To see a bunch of marshals running around like headless chickens at Baku, picking up debris by hand does not look good.

JT – Sebastian Vettel admitted that his attempt to pass Valterri Bottas on the late race restart wound up costing him but said it was a move he had to try. That seems a fair assessment. What do you think?

SJ – I think he knew that was his only option and in a way I admire it. I know as a driver, if you didn’t have a go, you would lie there all night replaying the video in your head wondering why you didn’t try.

Any driver worth his salt knows that if a win is possible, you have to go for it. His case was different from Lewis as he knew he had a winning car rather than just soldiering on trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

The thing is though,  the tires are so marginal these days. It’s the same point I made after the race in China. I don’t think any driver really knows where the limit is on the tires at any given point, especially not on a restart or leaving the pits. They’re hard to warm up, the pressures come up differently and there’s so many factors that come into play. You can see it throughout the races, even the cars from the same team act differently, if for whatever reason one of the cars get the tires lit up, they run super competitively for that stint and then for whatever reason the next stint the tires does not work they’re nowhere.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again, it’s ironic that teams are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on sophisticated aero, simulations, CFD and on and on. Yet on the day it just comes down to who can get their tires to work, after all that money has been spent, it literally comes down to a pound of tire pressure or 10 degrees of tire temperature on a set of tires that probably cost less than $5000 for a set. It seems like one car can make its tires work and the other can’t. Suddenly the Toro Rosso with Honda Power can hang with the top cars. This has nothing to do with either the car or the driver, but is purely down to how well the tires are working on the day. The car doesn’t suddenly improve by seconds, nor do the drivers, it’s purely down to the tires.

JT – One of the elements that makes Azerbaijan a wild card race is attrition. There were teams, from Force India and McLaren to Sauber and Torro Rosso which might not have expected a good result. But with some retirements and good driving, they were rewarded.

SJ – Yeah if you look at the results some of the drivers definitely benefitted. In Alonso’s case, yes that helped but don’t forget he is arguably still the best racer out there. What he does with the equipment handed to him is pretty miraculous. He has the ability to really maximize every situation. When he was with Ferrari, he carried the car on his shoulders and nearly won the championship with a car that was not really a championship winning car at the time.

JT – I think seeing Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber score points is satisfying to fans because of the frustration they feel with the fact that the majority of the F1 grid never seems to make much progress. People ask, why can’t they get it together and compete for wins?

 Photo via @schecoperez

Photo via @schecoperez

SJ – They can’t get any closer for a simple reason – the cubic dollars it takes to be at the top. The more you spend, the faster you go. It’s nothing to do with innovation or cleverness anymore, it’s just having an army of people grinding away at spending money on wind tunnels and simulations, and honing and tweaking tiny percentages on the cars. That’s the only way to gain performance, because the rules prevent any radical thinking and everyone is stuck fine tuning what you’re allowed to do within this very narrow box. The only team that have been consistently punching above it’s weight year after year is Force India, which they showed again in Baku, getting a podium finish with a car that was definitely not a top three car.

It makes you smile when you hear the constant argument that spec parts becoming parts of the cars will cause F1 to lose its DNA or creativity. There’s been no creativity in F1 for over 20 years now, except innovative developments in the areas where the rules allow it to be, but as far as any new concepts nothing has changed.

In comparison, this is where IndyCar has the technical side so right. And because of that, every team has a chance to get it right on race day and actually win. If you have a top driver, some clever engineers in theory any of the teams could win.

There’s not much you can do to the cars in IndyCar but ironically, it’s very much the same in F1. The big difference is that every team in F1 has to be responsible for making everything on the car on their own. But there’s so little that you can do to the cars by the rules in F1, in terms of any new concepts, that it’s become like a spec series in many ways in as much as all the cars eventually end up looking the same as the rules don’t allow the teams to go a different route even if they wanted to. The engine rules are the same for everyone in that there’s only one concept of engine and every manufacturer have to fine tune and hone every aspect of that one concept in order to get an edge on the competition.

JT – The F1 rules for 2021 continue to be hotly debated. Recently, the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission agreed to increase the race fuel allowance from 105kg to 110kg in 2019, in order to help drivers “be able to use the engine at full power at all times”.

It’s part of F1’s effort to increase overtaking and apparently the teams are also helping with “extra CFD research”. It seems ludicrous that F1 would need to conduct CFD research to understand how it might increase overtaking. A common sense reduction in downforce would surely help and be a simple low cost solution.

As a first initiative, this past week a new aerodynamic rules tweak for 2019 has been implemented which is meant to help cars following each other and improve the overtaking situation. Is this another knee jerk reaction and if so, do you feel this is a move in the right direction?

SJ – Yes, I agree it is very much a knee jerk reaction after only a couple of races into the new season.  You can see recent illustrations of that if you look at F1 going to this higher downforce formula last year to make the cars go faster because it was decided they weren’t quick enough at the time. In part, it was a reaction to the fact that the GP2 or F2 cars’ lap times were getting too close to F1.

 Photo via @autosport

Photo via @autosport

So what happened? Collectively they spent probably $100 million per team across the board – if you figure it’s $300 million for the top teams to maybe $30 million for the back of the grid - to develop cars for the new rules with more downforce. So in total it cost the entire F1 paddock close to a billion dollars for this new car to make it go about 5 seconds per lap quicker just so they have a faster lap time than a GP2 car, or to get closer to the lap times they did some years before the Hybrid Formula started.

Consider instead, if you had put a smaller front and rear wing on a GP2 car that probably would have cost less than $50,000 per car which would slow them down by 3-4 seconds per lap. So basically you’re talking a billion dollars to make the F1 cars go faster for that purpose or a couple million at most to slow down the entire grid of GP2 cars.

And in the end, who cares, the difference is completely irrelevant on track. It’s complete and utter madness. Yet no one seems to want to  budge, no one’s backing off. The part I don’t understand is if the money flowing into F1 stays the same as it is now - and there’s no reason why it can’t be - but everyone spend a third of what they’re spending now surely the other two thirds would be profit.

That would have to be good thing in my mind, and the valuation of every team would go up accordingly and actually make the teams worth something again.

JT – IndyCar returned Barber Motorsports Park for what was unfortunately, a rain-delayed race. Josef Newgarden pitted from the lead early for wet tires and that proved to be the right move. He eventually regained the top spot when late stoppers like Sebastian Bourdais and Scott Dixon couldn’t survive anymore on slicks in increasingly wet conditions.

SJ – Yes, Scott was on the right strategy and had it not started raining more heavily, both he and Bourdais would have been looking pretty good for the win.

JT - A week before Barber, IndyCar ran the Long Beach Grand Prix for the 35th consecutive time. Alexander Rossi dominated for Andretti Autosport, winning from pole position. As usual the crowds were large, proving that the event remains a highlight on the IndyCar calendar.

 Photo via @scottdixon9

Photo via @scottdixon9

The race wasn’t as positive for Scott Dixon who finished 11th after starting from 4th. Scott ran 3RD and 2nd for much of the race until past halfway when a car hit the wall in turn 10. Dixon and Sebastian Bourdais immediately ducked into the pits but according to IndyCar they entered pit road just as the yellow flag flew. Bourdais was told to drive through the pits and continue around. But Scott was called in and stopped for service. That broke the rules and he was issued a drive-through penalty.

What did you think of the race and Rossi’s dominant performance?

SJ – Long Beach is always terrific. There was a great vibe in the paddock. It’s really become the number two race of the season next to Indianapolis. So many people come out for the race and the crowds are great.

The new cars are racing well and everything I hear in the paddock is very positive about them, from their looks to the sounds they make. Everything is going in the right direction in that area I feel.

Rossi has obviously done a phenomenal job so far this year. He’s got things dialed in very well right now. It’s interesting, with the new car some people seem to have found the magic bullet and others are struggling a bit more than what we’re used to seeing.

The pit stop for Scott was obviously a disaster. The sequence of events did make it difficult though. You had one second to make a decision basically with a lot of factors to consider. It was extremely unlucky both for Scott and Bourdais. The yellow came out literally as they were turning to enter the pits. They really had no choice because they were both on fumes at that point. Scott couldn’t have done another lap if he’d wanted to. Bourdais went through and had to come right back for tires but they pulled Scott in and put tires on. So he got a penalty. It just didn’t work out. If the pit stop had gone as planned I think he had 2nd place locked up.

JT – You’re part of the history at Long Beach. Your first race there was in 1993. You qualified 5th and started alongside Mario Andretti who was 6th. The field was 28 cars! That must have been amazing. What’s your memory of your first Long Beach GP?

 Photo via @sjohanssonf1

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

SJ – I loved the track from the first time I drove it. I’ve always liked street circuits but particularly these kinds of circuits (including Monaco) where there’s a lot of precision and you need to find just the right spot where the grip is, which is not always on the correct racing line. Once you find the right rhythm and the right places to be fast you pick up so much time. It’s a really fun track to drive and race on.

Yes, there were almost 30 cars out there. But at that time a lot of the IndyCar races were like that. It was great. Unfortunately Mario and I collided before we even got to the start line. I was so bummed too because we tried a really wild thing in the morning warm-up. It was something we used to do when we raced at Hockenheim before they had the chicanes in F1. We’d take the Gurney flap on the rear wing and reverse it so that you put it behind the main flap on the rear wing. It gave the car just a little more lift on the rear which didn’t affect the low speed grip that much but made it a lot faster down the long straight.

We didn’t lose much grip in the corners but the car was like 7 MPH quicker than anything else on the straights. I thought, ‘I’m gonna win this race!’ There was no question about it and what happened? I didn’t even get to the start line!

SJ – Finally, let’s talk about racing etiquette a bit. For fans, it’s fun to wonder about some of the fine and not-so-fine points of racing on and off-track. Few people race professionally and fewer still do it at the top level like you did.

Great pressure and great fun come along with that but like in any profession there’s a certain etiquette about how you handle a range of situations. Let’s start that conversation in this blog with this question:

How do you handle a situation in which your car, through no fault of your own, experiences a mechanical/electrical/software failure during a race and cannot continue? What’s the etiquette for the driver?

Do you throw your hands up in the air, pack up and bolt away from the track as quick as possible without a word to anyone? 

Do you stay and commiserate with the team/owner for a while?

Or do you find a convenient lawn chair and get a sun tan trackside like Fernando Alonso during the 2015 Brazilian GP?

 Photo via Sky Sports

Photo via Sky Sports

SJ – Usually you just want to get out of there as soon as you can and get home. That’s what you normally try to do. But I always made sure I thanked every person in the team individually before I left the track. It depends on the schedule of the race and other things but I remember when I drove for Ligier in F1, for example.

 Photo via @sjohanssonf1

Photo via @sjohanssonf1

The car was such a dog that you never knew what weekend would be like. I used to have three different flights booked at every race. One was on Saturday evening in case we didn’t qualify for the race,  another was on Sunday afternoon if the car broke down early in the race and then one on Monday morning if we managed to finish the race!

Of course everybody on a team is bummed and pissed off if something like that happens and I think everyone just feels the same way – you just want to get the hell out of there. Then you regroup on Monday or Tuesday afterwards and you go through everything and analyze what went wrong and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

JT - To make this extra fun, let me ask a related question.

Let’s say you’re co-driving a sports car, maybe a prototype at Le Mans, and a co-driver wrecks the car in the Porsche curves – just wipes it out. What’s the etiquette for the driver/s who were not driving in that situation?

Do you commiserate with the co-driver then leave?

Do you want to strangle him and then leave?

SJ – Ha! No… absolutely you commiserate generally, although it depends a bit on the circumstances. I’ve had some teammates who you just want to strangle of course but at the time you give them the benefit of the doubt at least.

Every driver on the grid is a different individual, a different personality. Some guys are just great and we’re all trying hard and accidents happen from time to time. Less often you have a teammate who’s arrogant and blames everything and everyone around them, and it’s never their fault. So there’s no fixed code for that. But I’ve certainly had occasions where I’ve felt like strangling my co-driver and I’m sure there’s been times where they felt the same about me! But in the end, I’ve been lucky to have been teamed with not only some of the greatest drivers in the world but also some really good human beings in general. The camaraderie when you share a car at Le Mans for example is something really special and those moments is something I will treasure for all my life.

F1 Australian GP, the 'Wow' Factor in Racing & Testing the New F1 HALO System in VR

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 94

JT – The first grand prix of the 2018 Formula 1 season is in the books. Sebastian Vettel scored a surprise victory for Ferrari at Australian Grand Prix after a virtual safety car period. Having stayed on track longer than Lewis Hamilton and teammate Kimi Raikkonen – both of whom had already made pit stops - Vettel leap-frogged the pair by pitting under the VSC. He emerged in the lead and held it to the finish. Hamilton, who had led from the start until his pit stop, was unable to seriously challenge Vettel. Raikkonen finished 3rd.

There were just five overtakes in the race with multiple drivers complaining that they could not overtake other cars because of aerodynamic turbulence and power unit/engine overheating concerns. Fan reaction has been overwhelmingly negative following the seasons’ first contest. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen agreed, calling the race “Completely worthless. I would have turned off the TV.” What did you make of it?

SJ – Yes unfortunately, it was just more of the same thing we’ve had for the last few years. And why wouldn’t it be? Nothing has really changed. The cars have even more downforce than they had in 2017 and the formula remains the same, so it’s inevitable that there will be less passing.

While the result of this race may not have shown it due to other circumstances, the worry is that Mercedes looks even stronger compared to the rest than they did last year. It seems like they’re almost back to the advantage they had in 2016.

 Photo: @ValtteriBottas

Photo: @ValtteriBottas

Track position is everything now, even more than it used to be, and there’s no doubt that the Mercedes are the quickest cars. But no one, no matter how much quicker they were than the car in front, could pass. [Valtteri] Bottas for example struggled to pass even the much slower guys in front of him. It’s a real problem and anyone involved in the decision making process of the new rules should have seen this coming. Which ponders the question, how did they arrive at this solution as the final answer to whatever the problem was they were trying to fix in the first place. Was it the trade-off between faster lap time and less passing? And if so, why did faster lap times win over less passing. Or could it have been that they simply didn’t know that more downforce will produce less passing? Hard to believe, but not impossible. Unless they forgot to ask any driver who’s ever raced high downforce cars, that it becomes almost impossible to pass? It seems incredibly obvious to me that more passing and subsequently more interesting racing to watch would have won that argument hands down, but it didn’t and here we are, with everyone now complaining about the lack of passing.

 Photo: @ScuderiaFerrari

Photo: @ScuderiaFerrari

JT – The track position point you make is on target. Bearing in mind Mercedes’ performance advantage and the continuing difficulties drivers are having overtaking other cars because of turbulence, fuel-saving - and now it appears, power unit temperature management issues - in the likely event that Mercedes qualifies up front they will just walk away from the field consistently. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, at this point this isn’t exactly news to anyone. For several years now it’s been evident that the ever-increasing downforce just isn’t the way to go. It ruins the racing. You can get to within three or four car lengths of the guy ahead and then you’re basically stuck, no matter how quick your car is. As soon as you get any closer you lose all front grip and it’s now so bad that even when you’re within DRS range you still can’t get close enough to have a go at the end of the straight. The problem is worse in F1 than any other category because the aerodynamics are so sophisticated.

 Via @F1Circle

Via @F1Circle

And the engine issues, well, I could never understand the logic of only being able to use three engines per season. I don’t understand what purpose this serves in the bigger picture of Formula One racing, I assume the original intent was to cut the costs, but as we have seen so many times before, all it did was the exact opposite, making the costs go through the roof. When Lewis saw he couldn’t have a go at Vettel, he simply backed off to save the engine, effectively giving up trying to win the race with some laps to go. It was the right thing to do in the circumstances, but had there not been the issue of the engines having to last he could have kept pushing as hard as possible right to the end in the hope that Vettel would have made a small mistake which would have given him the chance to pounce on him with a lap or two to go. But with the risk of getting grid penalties towards the end of the season teams now have to weigh up the pros and cons of having a go, or to wait for another day. It’s hard to understand the logic behind all this at times.

 Photo: @MercedesAMGF1

Photo: @MercedesAMGF1

It has never been more expensive than it is now for the smaller teams to buy an Engine program. If there had been a simpler engine formula there would have been several companies capable of supplying a competitive engine. But with the combination of the Hybrid component and the fact that the engines have to last so much longer which means the use of extremely expensive materials and subsequent development cost has made it impossible for any independent company like Cosworth, Mecachrome and several others to even contemplate to compete. This in turn have given even more power to the big manufacturers as they now literally control the entire grid. And as history will tell you, sooner or later they will ruin every championship they compete in, as when it doesn’t serve their purpose any longer they’ll be gone, literally overnight.

We can see the start of this happening now, with the big boys starting the posturing with Liberty about the new rules, and the deals they all want going forward. It will be interesting to see how all this unravels during the course of the year.

The main priority in my opinion though, is to make sure the engineers are not involved in the decision making of the technical rules. Otherwise, nothing will change. They just want more of the same.

They need someone who really understands Formula 1, both from the FOM (Liberty) side, but more importantly also from the FIA side, someone who has a complete handle of the bigger picture and who is respected by everybody to formulate a new rules package that makes sense from a sporting, economic and technical point of view and then just say “these are the new rules, take it or leave it.” From the Liberty side Russ Brawn is, obviously the right person for this job, he seems to have assembled a great team of very competent people around him so let’s hope that the decisions they eventually come up with will take things in the right direction. I have my doubts however, that they will go all the way needed and it will end up being some form of a compromise as there will be pressure from the manufacturers and the FIA to stay politically correct and relevant to their agendas. The most important aspect of all this, and I think this is where it’s often failed in the past, is that the FIA have simply not been strict enough or fast enough to enforce the rules when someone is pushing the envelope on what is allowed or not. Every one of the top teams have several people doing nothing but scan the rule book to find loopholes in the rules in order to gain an advantage.

The danger is that there will be a combined knee-jerk reaction by the FIA, the teams and Liberty. The increase of downforce for 2017 was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the GP2 cars were nearly as quick as the F1 cars at some tracks in the previous years and they felt they had to do something to make the lap-times look more respectable. The Halo was a knee-jerk reaction to the accident of Jules Bianchi.

So now the cars are several seconds per lap quicker, but who cares? It’s irrelevant because they’re only quicker mid-corner and actually a little bit slower on the straights. So the spectacle is no different, in fact it’s worse as all they’ve done is making the passing even more difficult, and the cars look more and more ugly each year because that’s what the aerodynamics dictate.

I think what is missing more than anything right now is the “Awesome Factor”. I feel that’s what’s needed more than anything in motorsport in general but particularly in F1. They need to somehow get the “Awesome Factor” back. Right now it’s only awesome in the sense that the technology is absolutely amazing, but unless you’re a complete geek no one can appreciate it and you certainly can’t see it when the car is running.

People who aren’t die hard motorsport fans need to be able to see right away, cars that will blow them away and when they watch the racing, it should be “Wow! This is something else!”

At Indianapolis for example, you go to the 500 for the first time and you’re just blown away at the speed the cars are doing. They come by you so fast that you can’t even focus on one car easily. You have to kind of lock-in on it and follow it with your eyes as they’re all ripping by in a blur. That’s cool!

Every person I’ve taken to see the Indy 500 for the first time – including myself - they’re all like “Wow! That is unbelievable! Holy s___t, that is fast!”

That’s what people dig. They don’t care if a car is a few kilometers quicker in a hairpin or a chicane, no one can appreciate that, except maybe a few die-hard fans but they will show up no matter what anyway.

JT – F1 is experiencing a quantifiable decline in viewership and a palpable decline in interest from people who were once enthusiastic about it – never mind the series’ challenge in attracting new fans. As mentioned, the reaction from fans and drivers alike to the first grand prix of this new season has been overwhelmingly negative. Do you have any hope that Liberty Media and F1 will create a new formula that solves the problems we’ve discussed for several years now?

SJ – I just want to say first of all that it bothers me that we have to always sound so negative, I’m a very positive person as anyone that knows me will agree to. But unfortunately, if we are to have an open and honest dialogue about these things, it inevitably ends up this way. To answer your question, at this point no, and it worries me a great deal. No one in F1 seems to be willing to take their foot off the gas in terms of the crazy aero development war that has been going on with increasing lunacy for years now.

No one, or at least very few, care about sophisticated aerodynamics or hybrid powerplants? What’s important is good racing and spectacular looking cars, where people can visually see and appreciate the skills of the best drivers in the world giving it all they’ve got. Having all this technology constantly and needlessly applied to the cars over several years has killed the racing and sent the costs through the roof - absolutely unnecessarily. There’s no benefit to anyone from it, there’s no innovation involved, no creativity. It’s just pounding away at the same old worn out concept, gaining a tenth of a percent here or there.

Especially as there are so many different and far more relevant ways that they could achieve speed or make progress. That’s what’s so annoying. When you have road cars with more horsepower than F1 cars now, with higher top speeds, with other aspects of technology that are more advanced in many areas – F1 isn’t the ultimate anymore.

Instead it’s going down a path of political correctness that will eventually ruin the sport if it’s not careful. The key point in every one of these discussions about new rules, sporting regulations etc, should always be; will this improve the racing, will this make it more exciting to watch. If we loose the main ingredient of why people tune in to watch, it’s difficult to make anything work from there.

JT – A story this week quotes Mario Andretti as saying that F1 missed out on the opportunity in 2017 to adopt “pure” open wheel cars as IndyCar did for 2018. Referring the decrease in downforce and simplicity of design of IndyCar’s universal aerokits, Andetti said…

“They’re doing the right thing with the aerodynamics of the cars and coming back to a more of a pure-looking single-seater, open-wheel car which I think was something all of the open-wheel aficionados wanted to see.”

 Photo: Mario Andretti (Facebook)

Photo: Mario Andretti (Facebook)

SJ – Mario’s is absolutely right. He’s saying the same thing I’ve been saying all along. Everything IndyCar’s been doing in this regard lately has been great. The cars look good and the racing, as we saw in St. Petersburg, (the 2018 IndyCar opener) is terrific.

Can you imagine if the Australian Grand Prix had the same amount of action IndyCar had at St. Pete? People would have gone bananas. IndyCar provides the best racing out there, no question.

They’ve done the right thing with the cars and it doesn’t need a lot of thought. Limiting downforce is the obvious first thing to do and it has to be done in nearly every category. I’ve been saying it for years now and I’ll say it again, aerodynamic downforce has run its course in racing. I don’t know why it’s taking so long for the penny to drop and for everyone to realize that it ruins the racing, at a cost that makes nearly every form of motorsport several times more expensive than it needs to be.

Not only that, it creates ugly cars. The current F1 cars are just not attractive looking cars. They look weird with their long wheel base, little balloon tires and aero bits hanging off the sides everywhere you can find a space to hang something. Just like the previous Indycars did.

So well done to Jay Frye and his team at Indycar for listening to the right people and making the right decisions, Indycar is on the right path and I sense a lot of positive momentum in the series at the moment.

JT – Speaking of looking ridiculous, there has been widespread criticism of the “Halo” safety device now mandatory for F1 cars.

Fans detest it and it makes identifying drivers more difficult because the Halo blocks any view of their helmets. But you did a test with CVC Simulations recently (watch video bellow), driving a virtual F1 car with the Halo and concluded that it doesn’t hinder driver visibility. Apparently that’s correct because as yet there have been no complaints from drivers following the Australian Grand Prix.

SJ – Yes, from the driver’s point of view it’s really not a problem. The Halo does make it hard to see who’s in a car though. The drivers may as well not bother painting their helmets. They’re just not visible anymore. It’s there for a good reason of course, but I wish as time goes by they will be able to come up with a better and more esthetically pleasing solution.

JT – Looking at the performance of the rest of the grid apart from Ferrari, you’d have to conclude that no one is even within shouting distance of Mercedes. There was improvement from some of the mid-field runners including McLaren.

Fernando Alonso finished 5th with teammate Stoffel Vandoorne coming home 9th. The Haas F1s of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were looking very good in 4th and 5th until identical mistakes in pit lane ended their races.

 Photo: @McLaren

Photo: @McLaren

Meanwhile, the mid-field standout of the last few seasons – Force India – looks to have declined the most in performance. Williams and Toro Rosso Honda are now back-markers along with Sauber Alfa Romeo.  What are your thoughts on these teams?

SJ – Force India has kind of been the miracle team of the last three years, punching well above their weight each year. Teams always rotate from year to year in the midfield group. Every now and then a particular team gets it right and sometimes they themselves don’t necessarily know why they got it right. The chances that Force India would be the leader of that pack yet another year with their relatively limited resources are slim and it seems that Haas may now be in that situation this year. They definitely look like they’re the closest mid-pack team to the front runners. They were very impressive throughout the pre-season testing and again in Australia until halfway through the race when everything came apart for them. It’s looking very encouraging for them going forward, although the first 3-4 races are always the “easy” points as everyone eventually catch up as the year goes by.

 Photo: @ForceIndiaF1

Photo: @ForceIndiaF1

Of course, now everyone’s moaning about them being a Ferrari “clone” but as I’ve said from day one of their program, so what?

If I was to start a Formula 1 team, the way Haas has done it is absolutely the way I’d go. If the rules allow it, why wouldn’t you do that instead of throwing away tens of millions of dollars on hiring people and doing your own development when you can get the same or most likely a much better solution from one of the best out there. I’m just surprised more teams aren’t doing the same thing.

Williams seems to be just continuing its downward spiral. It’s sad because they have such great history. But it doesn’t look like their performance is going to change much any time soon. Toro Rosso is struggling although I still believe that Honda will eventually get it right as long as they stay committed, and when they do I think they will be very strong. I was hoping Sauber would be the team to make the big jump this year with the Alfa Romeo connection and I’m sure increased technical support from Ferrari. Maybe it’s too soon for whatever changes they’ve made to take effect, but it doesn’t look great judging by the pre-season testing and the first race.

I think Bottas is really starting to feel the pressure now at Mercedes. And I think it emphasizes again how good Nico Rosberg was. People are still reluctant to give him the credit he deserves. Lewis is clearly one of the best the sport has ever seen and for Nico to be so close to him all the time, and then to do what he did - to beat him - was impressive.

I think Bottas is in a situation now in which a lot of guys have found themselves over the years. The difference between being a really promising driver in a midfield team and a proven, top line in a top team – you never see that until a driver gets thrown in the deep end at places like Ferrari or Mercedes or Red Bull and previously, McLaren. It’s not enough to be promising when you’re in teams like that.

You can’t just have the odd great practice session or qualifying or a few great races. You have to deliver every time you step into the car, you’re expected to be right at the top of your game every session and every race. So we’ll see if Bottas can raise his game and match Lewis speed in the coming races.

JT – As we’ve already mentioned, the IndyCar season is now underway as well with the first race, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, having run in mid-March. It was very competitive with not only the established star drivers running quickly but a very fast group of rookies pushing them and sometimes surpassing them.

The new drivers and teams in IndyCar are creating excitement alongside the new universal aerokit and it looks like there should be a very intense, very interesting fight for the championship this season. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes it’s definitely exciting with some fresh blood and a pretty good shakeup among the ranks. Ganassi had issues with maybe not playing strategy quite right during qualifying and Team Penske wasn’t really where you’d expect them to be either all weekend. The powerhouses of the past weren’t really where you might have expected them to be, but the thing is there are really no weak teams in IndyCar anymore. They’re all pretty damn good. They’ve all improved and what you’re allowed to do to the cars with the new kit is limited, which means that any of the teams who get’s it right on the day has a chance of winning. That’s a good thing and the racing shows it. It really is a case of who can get things right on race day, which Bourdais showed again winning from way back on the grid in the Dale Coyne car.

JT – That parity among teams together with the fast crop of young drivers coming into the series is creating competitive pressure on all of the drivers. Routine decisions about qualifying, racing or passing aren’t quite as routine as they were and it’s challenging even the best drivers. You could see that at St. Petersburg with the mistakes that top guys like Scott Dixon and Will Power made.

 Photo: @ScottDixon9

Photo: @ScottDixon9

SJ – Yes, absolutely. It’s going to be a good fight as you say and the cars look like proper race cars again. I think it caught everyone a bit off guard at St. Pete how difficult and different the cars are to drive now compared to what they were. It’s definitely going in the right direction.

JT – In addition, to St. Pete you were also on hand at Sebring for the 12 Hours with Scuderia Corsa. Cooper MacNeil, Alessandro Balzan and Gunnar Jeanette in the #63 Ferrari 488 GT3 had a very good race. They pushed hard to finish 2nd in the GTD class, beating some very strong competition. Unfortunately their teammates – Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Frankie Montecalvo in the #64 sister car – were out of the race early when a P2 spun in front of Montecalvo in Turn 17, leaving him nowhere to go.

 Photo: @ScuderiaCorsaFerrari

Photo: @ScuderiaCorsaFerrari

What did you think of the team’s performance and the race in general?

SJ – The guys in the #63 did a great job. The accident for the #64 was a strange one and the damage was pretty significant. It was a very unfortunate thing to have happen that early on in the race. It was no fault of anyone really, just one of those bad luck situations where everything went the wrong way. There was really nothing Frankie could have done to avoid it.

The prototype battle was pretty good and the pace was quick. It was close too although the P2s seem to be behind the DPis with the BoP. The cars that came from Europe and the P2s that are in the series with the Gibson engine – they just can’t run with them.

The GTLM BoP was a bit ridiculous too. The car that hadn’t been anywhere near the front at Daytona is now the fastest all of a sudden? It’s the same old problem with BoP. There’s only ever one car or team that’s happy and they normally stand on the top of the podium, everybody else feel they’ve been screwed. There has to be a way to create a formula where you build a car, have competitive racing and may the best man win. If you want to compete, you’ve got to build a car you can compete with, period. I know some manufacturers that’s just stopped doing any form of development work as it makes no difference any more, if they go faster they just get slapped with another BoP penalty.

I’m repeating myself again, but why not un-restrict the GTLM cars and just forget the prototypes. The GT cars are so good now and their speed unrestricted would be more than sufficient even for a place like Le Mans. You’ll easily get a ten second improvement per lap the ACO keep talking about if you let the cars run to their full power potential, give them some better tires and maybe 10 percent more aero. The Ferrari 488 have nearly 300hp more in their road-car than the race car, that alone is probably worth close to 6 seconds around a place like Le Mans.

Put all the top drivers in them and it would be awesome. You would have just about every manufacturer of sports or supercars there and they would all have to build a road-car version of the car they compete with, that would be homologated accordingly. They would sell out that Le Mans limited edition street cars they build easily. For instance, there’s a three-year wait list for the Ford GT. They could all do the same thing. Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, McLaren, Corvette – they could all build a Le Mans based supercar and go for it big time. It would make a lot more sense in my opinion if any of those cars could win outright than the few prototypes that are now competing for the overall win.

Everybody would compete under the same rules, no BoP, and may the best man win.

JT – Formula E reached the halfway point of its season with the recent Punta Del Este E-Prix in Uruguay. Jean-Eric Vergne won, taking his second victory of the season and stretching his points lead in the championship over Felix Rosenqvist who took the checkers in 5th. Felix struggled with technical problems during the race, correct?

SJ – Yes, he had some problems in qualifying but he drove a good race. The sensor for the beacon which relays his energy state to the pit wall broke. So he had no idea where he was in terms of battery power consumption and he had to be very conservative.

He reckoned he could have gotten a podium finish if he had been able to attack all the way through the race and not lift and coast so much. When they got the car back in the pits after the race they looked at how much battery he had left and there was plenty left. He could have gone much harder if he had known.

First Impressions of 2018 Season

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 93

JT – Off-season news surrounding Formula 1 often borders on the ridiculous. Liberty Media’s recent announcement that F1 will no longer feature grid girls is a good example. Apart from what seems to be a move aimed at bowing to political correctness, one has to wonder why Liberty made it a point to announce the shift? With all of the challenges currently facing F1, shouldn’t their priorities be focused elsewhere?

 Photo by GPMX

Photo by GPMX

SJ – I don’t know if their intent was to really make it the news item that it became where everyone seems to want to chime in and offer their opinion. I guess it’s just another inevitable step in the world of political correctness that we now live in? What I would have loved to hear instead is that in “2020, we’re going to have cars with 60% less downforce, 1,300 horsepower, top speeds around 400kph and 200 kilograms lighter with big fat grippy tires.”

 Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

That would be something worth talking about. As it is, that will never happen so here we are talking about grid girls. I feel sorry for the girls, as I think virtually every one of them thought it was an exciting job that got them to travel to places and maybe meet people they would never normally meet in their normal daily routine and I don’t think anyone of them felt anything but happy and positive about doing it. But as always in these matters, it’s the small minority that makes the most noise that seems to be heard the most and as such no one wants to offend them, and here we are. Frankly I don’t think the large majority of race fans around the world, including myself, could care less either way. This is the equivalent to a restaurant making an announcement they’re changing the color on their menu, but the food will still be the same, hardly newsworthy.

JT – McLaren boss Zak Brown recently said that he’d like to F1 to resolve matters around its rules for 2021 by the middle of this season to avoid the series being damaged. He added that the longer negotiations about the rules and a likely $150 million cost cap go on, the more “turbulent” and more “disruptive” they could be.

Brown also said teams would need to know what 2021 rules would look soon to allow them time to prepare or the date for implementation could slip a year or more. In the short to mid-term it looks like F1 is stuck with its current unpopular formula with Mercedes retaining a long standing advantage. What are your thoughts on this?

 Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

SJ – Historically, the longer the same formula stays in place – as I’ve been saying for years – the grids will tighten up and the costs will eventually go down. The tradeoff between throwing money at R&D and the gain you get is getting smaller and smaller by each year. That typically allows the smaller, less funded teams to catch up a bit. The big teams will always find ways to spend money of course but at least their gains in performance will be diminished some with every year that goes by. Rule stability is always the best way to keep the costs down and the grids close,  once they find the right formula, which is the hard part.

The racing is not going to get any better with the current cars. We know that. People will get closer to Mercedes for sure, we already saw that last year, but that doesn’t mean that the racing will be any better. It’s just the nature of the high downforce cars we have now. The level of sophistication that many race cars have - not just in F1, in the WEC and other formulas too - the level of simulation, preparation and information the engineers have at their disposal, you lose almost every element of unpredictability. And that’s typically what makes the racing interesting and exciting most of the time.

I keep coming back to IndyCar, I think they have the competition formula about as good as you can make it. On the day, someone who gets the critical things right and plays the strategy game well can still win. That’s impossible for anyone outside the top tier in F1 unless there’s a sudden rain shower, a big accident at the first corner or something really unusual happens. There’s very little possibility that you’re going to get a surprising result. You almost know what the result will be before the start of a race or after the first corner.

JT – Interesting things are happening in IndyCar, including pre-season testing at Phoenix where Scott Dixon ran the series’ version of cockpit protection – the aeroscreen. Apparently Scott thinks it has potential.

SJ –Yes, it seems promising although it still may require some more work before they are comfortable to race it. It certainly looks like a much more visually appealing solution than the Halo. But as with all of these things and whatever option will be chosen, two races in we’re going to get used to whatever they choose and then that will be the norm going forward.

All the drivers moaned when the Hans Device came out, including me. It was uncomfortable and restricted your movement but after a race or two you got used to it and didn’t really think about it anymore. The fact that these are cockpit protection devices for the sake of safety, and may save someone’s life– there is no turning back, so we might as well get used to the new look of the cars, although it really does ruin the esthetics of the cars.

 Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

JT – There has been a lot of talk about the universal aerokit that IndyCars will run this year. Interestingly, the comments haven’t been uniform with some drivers saying the new lower downforce body makes the cars more much difficult to drive over a stint. Others have said there isn’t too much change from the previous cars, at least on road courses. It will be interesting to see the comparative level of comfort different drivers and teams have with the new cars.

SJ – I think it’s going to be a good thing overall. It’s a good step in the right direction both for the racing and other considerations. The cars look great too, like proper open wheel race cars instead of the previous cars that looked like a barn door coming down the road. I think it will separate the field more than before and all indications are that it requires a lot more from the drivers than the previous high down force cars did.

 Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

JT – Looking around the racing world as the off-season begins to wrap up, it still looks – with few exceptions – as if it’s not easy to find money to race. We see struggles throughout professional racing. As you’ve pointed out repeatedly, sponsorship in Formula One is a shadow of what it used to be. Racing has always relied on various forms of patronage but it seems as if that’s more the case today than ever. Do you agree?

SJ – Racing has never really existed without patronage, it has always been the same. The biggest difference today is the sheer cost of competing at almost every level. It’s so much higher mostly due to the technology being used on the cars and how much it costs to run them, and because of the advanced electronics and all the data required the number of people you need to run them competitively has increased dramatically. Even at the most basic level you still require 2-3 times the amount of people you used to. Payroll is always the biggest line item in the budget and if you want to win you have to hire the best people you can get, and they are not cheap.

malboro-mclaren.png

Sponsorship is probably at the same level it’s been for a while except in F1 where teams seems to depend more and more on the money they receive from FOM, but the cost of running the cars is much higher, which means there is nothing left over to hire the best drivers you can get, except for the factory teams. This is a big part of why more and more teams have to rely on drivers bringing a budget of some kind to the teams and a lot of really good professional drivers are unemployed. Sportscar racing today is probably worse dollar for dollar than it was in the 80’s even. Apart from the really top guys in factory teams the driver salaries are lower than I can ever remember.

In Formula 1 especially, it’s purely a matter of cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. You could argue today, that unless a team is in a position to win races or the world championship, like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull they might actually be better off hiring a paying driver that brings a substantial budget as they will most likely get more overall performance from that than a slightly faster driver they have to pay to drive. This is the reality today.

JT – We’ve spoken about it a bit before but do you see a cost spiral problem for Formula E?

SJ – It’s a bit different there I think. My guess is they’ll be able to keep a fairly good handle on costs because there’s so little you can do to the cars in Formula E. One of the few things you can touch on the chassi is the damping. The aerodynamics are frozen, the batteries are frozen, the brakes are frozen. You can work on the gearbox and the drivetrain. That’s where money will be spent.

But in comparative terms, what can you do with an electric motor? Not an awful lot to gain performance, most of it comes from the battery. You can work on software and weight. Formula E should be able to control the costs if they’re strong from the start and every indication so far is that they’re actually doing a really good job in that area. They’ve been quite tough on some of the big teams also, so I think everybody already know there’s a big risk in trying to bend the rules and running the risk of getting thrown out if the car does not comply with the rules. We’ve already seen it happen. This has always been one of the problem with Formula 1. Because the formula is comparatively open in as much as that the teams are not restricted to a frozen package on all the key components, the rules are always open to interpretation. The teams spend massive time and energy reading the rules over and over to find a loophole that’s open for interpretation. There then do not seem to be the strength to keep a handle on the rules until it’s generally too late. So whenever someone comes up with something that’s marginal as far as the rules go, they let them get away with it instead of shutting it down right away, and then everyone eventually has to follow as and when they figure out what’s been done. At a huge cost to each team most of the time.

How many times has F1 reset aerodynamic rules? Remember when the cars had aerodynamic devices everywhere? That wasn’t too long ago. Then they banned all of that. Now they’re almost back to where they were. How did that happen? They basically found ways around the rules and no one stopped them.

NASCAR seems really good in that regard because if someone steps out of line they just say “no, not allowed, end of story.” They ban whatever the thing is before everyone gets too carried away.

JT – You were on hand for the Formula E race in Santiago, Chile. The Teecheetahs of Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre’ Lotterer battled hard for the lead with Vergne winning. Felix Rosenqvist came into the weekend leading the championship after two wins from the first four races of the 2017/18 season but lost the lead to Jean-Eric Vergne. He seems to be enjoying FE.

SJ – Felix is loving it, definitely. The race format has become very interesting. It’s not an easy category and it’s a very intense day of racing. The races are short and you’ve got to literally get everything right in one day, from qualifying to racing. So if you’re off the pace at all it’s tough. It’s become very competitive with great drivers and engineers in every team.

 Photo via Feli'x Instagram ( @frosenqvist )

Photo via Feli'x Instagram (@frosenqvist)

Felix did a great job in the race to recover to 4th from 14th on the grid, and the team did a blistering fast driver change which gained him some positions also.

JT – How was the racing received in Santiago?

SJ – It was positive and negative because apparently the track was laid out over three different municipalities in the city. Two of them were very happy to have the race there and one was very negative. So there was some vocal criticism but I think the promoters did a good job overall. The track was bumpy but it was a nice layout and the race was good. Overall, it was good and there’s no doubt that FE has some very good momentum at the moment.

JT – Prior to Santiago, you were down in Daytona for the Rolex 24. The race was a star-studded affair this year and the crowd was reportedly very good. There was some hard racing and some attrition but surprisingly few caution periods. The Cadillac DPis of Action Express were the class of the prototype field while the Ganassi Ford GTs dominated GTLM. Scott Dixon came home with another Rolex 24 win. What did you think of Daytona this year?

 Photo via Scott's Insagram ( @  scottdixon9 )

Photo via Scott's Insagram (@scottdixon9)

SJ – Daytona was good, no doubt. The formula that IMSA has come up with for DPi/P2 is working well. The Dpi’s seemed to have an edge but the racing was good. Overall, it was a big grid and there was definitely a lot of interest. Alonso being there didn’t hurt. There was a good feeling from the whole thing.

Scott and his co drivers did a phenomenal job all race, although they had to use some clever strategy towards the end in order to get in front of their sister car and win their class. Both the team and all six drivers did a superb job and no one put a foot wrong for the entire race.

There were the usual complaints about BoP and how you control it but you’re always going to have the same problems with it. There’s only ever one team that’s happy, whomever is on top of the podium, the rest always think they’ve been screwed.  I keep coming back to my argument that the GTLM cars are so good today that if you unrestricted them, it would be enough. You wouldn’t need the prototypes anymore.

If you took the restrictors off all of the GTs and had every manufacturer build a proper car instead of relying on BoP to make them competitive, they could be going at least 10 seconds per lap quicker. Just unleash the GTs and they’d be flying.

JT – You’re in the process of writing another treatise on the state of racing currently and what you think could be done to restore it to better health for the future. Last year, you did that in column form for Racer Magazine and it was very well received. In a nutshell, what will you be adding this year?

SJ – It’s really a philosophical way of looking at the cars and the future of racing based on my thoughts and conversations I’ve had recently with several designers/engineers and drivers. There are five tenets basically.

First, you minimize downforce so that the cars are drive-able, but no more than that. I’m guessing 60 to 70 percent less downforce than we see on a F1 car today.

Second, increase power by 200 to 300 horsepower.

Third, weight. That’s the biggest issue for me and why there’s no focus on weight I can’t understand – on track or on the road - in terms of energy usage. Weight should be the prime target for efficiency, not batteries or most of the other things being pushed now. We keep adding weight to vehicles, and how does that affect efficiency? We all know that’s a problem – both with race cars and street cars. Hypothetically, if you could cut the weight of every car on the road or track in half, can you imagine how much that would increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact?

Four, you define an energy allocation allowed for any race car. A car is allowed ‘X’ amount of energy consumption whether it’s powered by gasoline, diesel, hydrogen, electric power - whatever it is – for the duration of a race distance.  There must be a formula that can be worked out combining energy consumption and thermal efficiency. Then you can quickly determine which combination works best.

Five, free up tire technology. You could immediately gain as much as 5 seconds per lap if the tire companies were allowed to build the best tire they can. I can see at least four tire companies that would be interested right away if the rules were open for anyone to compete and use whatever size tire they prefer. That would mean we would never see these silly looking balloon tires again, that were last seen even on a roadcar sometime in the 70’s!

 Photo by Pirelli

Photo by Pirelli

Put all of this together and the lap times cars run would run would very soon be quicker than they are now, it’ll just be achieved in a different way, and they’ll be spectacular to watch. They’d be faster on the straights with acceleration that would be mind-boggling. Braking distances would probably be 100 yards longer than they are now with the lower downforce. Cornering speeds lost by the lack of downforce would be partially returned by the added tire grip and less weight. That would promote overtaking and the drivers would have to work very hard to make the cars go fast.

Ideally, there should be four areas of almost equal importance to the overall performance of the car, Chassi (including Aero), Engine, Tires and Driver. As it is today, Aero have by far too much importance, followed by the engine, then the tires and finally the driver.

And of course, the other point behind this is to save money and cut the cost of racing, by restricting areas of development where damaging amounts of money are being spent now for no reason, and emphasize other areas – like tire grip. There’s a huge amount of time and efficiency to be gained there and a tremendous amount of money to be saved for the teams.

There’s more to all of this, including my thoughts on race tracks, and I will elaborate a lot more on each topic.