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The Blog

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reflections on 2014 and a look ahead to the world of racing in 2015.

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – As 2014 wound to a close there were several significant pieces of news. Among them, on December 11, McLaren finally confirmed Jenson Button would continue with the team, partnering Fernando Alonso.  That seems a sensible and popular choice. What’s your view?

Stefan JohanssonYes, I think it’s the decision that makes the most sense for a team like McLaren. Jenson has a wealth of experience and anytime you have a new development program as they do with Honda I’m sure his experience will be valuable. With a new development program like this one it’s always valuable to have the opinion from two very experienced and successful drivers. I don’t know enough about either driver but the danger could easily be that Alonso would get a car that suits him but not other drivers, and if a younger driver is there his input may not count as much as an established World Champions do.

I don’t know how much Jenson’s past experience with Honda played a part in McLaren’s decision. He’s probably one of the last hold-outs from Honda’s previous program in F1. I don’t know how many there are left from their previous venture in F1. It’s a fresh start for Honda really and I think for them to go back to F1, this is absolutely the right way to do it rather than trying to be an engine and chassis constructor.

I think any auto manufacturer that has tried Formula One has found what a huge challenge it is to do both the Chassis and the Engine. 

JT – With Button’s confirmation, Kevin Magnussen moves to the role of test/reserve driver for the team. That’s obviously not what he would have wanted but in the long term it could be positive. Many other drivers, including Alonso have done the same thing and gone on to have a great career.

SJ – If you look back at history that’s actually the way a lot of the drivers started out in F1, including Jenson and Damon Hill. I think it’s the way for Magnussen to go as well. It’s certainly not the end of the world for him at the age he is.

It also gives him a bit of a chance to reflect on his first year in F1. There’s no doubt that he’s extremely fast and a great racing driver. I think he’ll come back and he will probably be right with the program when he does.

JT – Funny that you mention Damon Hill. His former Williams F1 teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, spoke out in late December about the signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen (son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen) to Torro Rosso for 2015.

He called the decision an “insult” to F1 and said, “Before you are fighting against the lives of others, you have to learn, and it is not F1's role to teach.” He went on to add that the F1 minimum age – currently 18 – is not enough.

“"It should be 21. You should arrive in Formula One as a winner and with a wealth of experience. F1 is not the place to come and develop as a driver."

Many people agree with Villeneuve. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Really, I don’t think anyone can disagree with him. Things are so different today though. Guys aren’t really even racing anymore truthfully. It’s now about planning your strategy so that you hit the button for DRS or KERS at the right moment and you make the pass. There’s nothing the other driver can do at that point, or is even allowed to do.

So it’s really a matter of driving the car fast and trying not to make any mistakes. The only mistake you can make in normal circumstances today which punishes you is locking up the brakes. If you screw up and go into a corner too fast and miss the apex you end up in the blue part of the runoff area and it costs you time but off you go again.

The race won’t end for you. You may lose three seconds if you really get it wrong but that’s about the extent of it. So, from that point of view, a 17-year-old could certainly be out there. Any of the guys I’ve spoken with who’ve tested the current F1 cars say that they are so easy to drive it’s almost ridiculous. So it really comes down to race-craft at the end of the day.

But how can you tell if a 17-year-old has race-craft? There’s no doubt he’ll be quick but as you can see with Magnussen for example, who’s older but still very young, you can recall that he made some very opportunistic moves in the beginning of the season before he realized that he was racing a different caliber of drivers in F1 than what he had been used to. Many of the moves he tried to pull off early on just didn’t stick.

So, I’m sure Verstappen will be extremely fast but how will he fare when he’s in a dogfight with somebody who’s been around for a while or in the first few laps with a lot of cars ducking and diving? After that, when things settle down and you have a rhythm going, it’s just down to not screwing up and using the DRS and looking after your tires.

I totally agree with Villeneuve’s comment on the age of the drivers and the fact that you should come to F1 with a lot of experience and success. If you give him three more years in other lower formulas and you see a level of competitive consistency that makes it clear he’ll be able to handle whatever situations occur, that’s positive.

You also learn about dealing with teams that may not be the best and so many other variables. Those things have a huge impact.

JT – Yes, those are great points and if we look at a driver like Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been advising recently as he competed in F3 (and won the Macau GP), and compare him to Verstappen – Felix has had to compete and work hard for some time in the lower formulas. It’s clear he is very competitive. As you say, Verstappen looks to be quick but he’s done so little since he left karting that it’s very hard to know how well he races cars.

SJ – That’s true and with Verstappen, he came into F3 this year with no experience in cars really, straight from Karting. But sometimes it’s better when you’re completely fresh. If things go your way it’s going to be great. But you really see the depth of a driver’s skill and his qualities more in adversity than when they’re having success. You see it when they have to dig themselves out of a hole.

Eventually in your career you will have adversity and there’s such a fine line with confidence and making the right moves on track and making them stick. Sometimes you try to be too opportunistic and you make a move and it’s the wrong one and you end up losing a couple spots. All of that makes a huge difference.

I only saw Verstappen at Hockenheim and Macau and he wasn’t bad but he certainly didn’t do anything to impress me in those two races. He finished fifth I think in Hockenheim and in Macau he basically cracked under pressure, hitting the wall when Felix was behind him. Macau is tough and that could happen to anyone but it shouldn’t happen if you’re at the level where someone like him is expected to be. That’s not a mistake that’s acceptable in my opinion.

JT – Building on the comments you’ve been making for a quite a while now, Villeneuve similarly said, “F1 impressed me when I arrived, even though I came from Indy car. But this F1 is not exciting. The cars seem slow.”

“Verstappen arrives, does 10 laps and immediately looks strong," Villeneuve continues. "It seems that anyone can drive an F1 car, while in my father's day the drivers were considered heroes at the wheel of almost impossible monsters.”

SJ – It’s true, it’s just obvious to see. For example, look at the testing in Abu Dhabi after the race final GP with all the junior drivers getting an opportunity. Within 20 laps they’re within a tenth or two of Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo. It just shouldn’t happen.

There’s something fundamentally wrong if the car is that easy to drive that anyone with virtually no experience can just jump in and be even within a second of the regular drivers  – that’s wrong. A proper race car should be an absolute beast to drive. Then you’ll see the difference between who really knows how to drive, who has the car control, throttle and steering coordination to balance the car on the limit, the bravery, all the elements that constitute a great racing driver. And most of all, who can keep it together, on the limit, in a car like that for 80 laps or more without making any mistakes, that’s where the real skill of a Champion driver will show.

Now it’s just about precision, hitting your marks and it seems there’s no reward for pushing hard. The cars don’t respond to that. That’s what I used to hate with touring cars in the odd races I’ve done with them. You kind of hit the limit after a few laps and if you try to go beyond that you just go slower.

Vettel and Räikkönen are good examples of that with these current F1 cars. They weren’t comfortable with their cars all year. In frustration they then tried too hard and they end up going even slower. You have to have a level of comfort and confidence in the car being half a percent under the limit. But if you go over the limit you just go slower. 

JT – That phenomenon together with F1’s current rules makes the racing seem – to me – more like lapping as opposed to when you raced in F1. It seems as if the drivers, even while sharing the track with others, are in their own personal bubbles pursuing planned lap times in isolation from their competitors. They even get orders to turn down the performance of their cars to comply with F1 rules and save energy. It’s antithetical to racing.

SJ – Absolutely, they get orders three or four times a lap concerning what to do with all the switches and buttons on the steering wheels to save energy, tires and everything else. None of that is down to the driver anymore. It’s all controlled by data coming into the pits.

Like I said when I was in the Ferrari pits at Monza listening to the team radio in qualifying, when the drivers are finished with a run there’s not one single comment from them about what the car is doing. The engineer is on the radio telling them what the car is doing. “we can see you have a small understeer at the exit of the second Lesmo, we’re going to put half a degree of front wing in and they say ‘ok’.”

As soon as the dialog starts the engineers are telling them what the car is doing. It was really bizzare to listen to this and it must be a system they use as I am sure in the debrief the drivers will have more input and a lot more to speak about that will influence the direction they are going with the car set up.

JT – The saga at the back end of the F1 grid continues. Marussia (now being referred to as “Manor”) seems to be finished while Caterham is said to be in negotiations on a pending sale.

SJ – I don’t understand it really. The Marussia thing is a puzzle because they have TV money guaranteed. I would imagine that if anyone would be interested in buying a team they would be more interested in them than in Caterham.

It’s strange but I know there are some things brewing with people looking at both teams. How serious they are, we’ll see.

I don’t think these two teams are the only ones that are in deep trouble, I have a feeling at least two more teams are very shaky at the moment as far as being in a position to even start next year.

JT – On the sports car side, again we have to say that the Pirelli World Challenge series is looking very strong for 2015. The recently released roster of teams planning to compete in the GT (GT3) category looks fantastic and includes Scuderia Corsa for whom you are racing director. Apparently the team will field two full-season cars for Duncan Ende and Martin Fuentes and a third for a partial season for Mike Hedlund. Sounds like it should be very exciting.

SJ – It’s amazing how this championship has developed. All the serious contenders are now in that championship. What’s great about it is that they’re keeping it simple. The GT class is GT3 cars based on the global formula so anyone can come and race. There are so many of these cars around and there’s no messing around with complicated rules.

It’s great racing with relatively short races. I think it’s really going in the right direction so far. More and more teams are defecting from the Tudor United Sportscar Series. That’s certainly driven from the lower cost of World Challenge but it’s also clearly a result of a lot of frustration with Tudor.

JT – Scuderia Corsa also has a couple Ferrari 458s entered for Daytona.

SJ – Yes, we’re running the #63 car with Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, and adding Jeff Segal and Anthony Lazzaro. And we’re running the #64 again, an all-Brazilian car. (Daniel Serra, Francisco Longo).

And then we’ve got an entry for Le Mans as well this year which is great. That will be Sweedler and Townsend with a third driver. We don’t know who that will be yet. 

JT – The LMP1 class in WEC will have the potential to be more competitive for 2015 with the addition of Nissan to the grid and Audi’s return with updated/revised R18 e-tron quattros. Audi has complained recently about WEC regulations which don’t favor its turbo-diesel hybrids. Even for die-hard sports car racing fans the WEC formula is a bit complex to follow, don’t you think?

SJ – Yes, it’s getting too complicated again. It was great for a while because you could show up with pretty much any combination you wanted. But when us who are in the business are having problems understanding it, how are the fans going to be able to grasp it? It’s way too complicated.

Part of the problem in racing in general is that engineers and designers have way too much influence over the rules right now. The FIA has all of these committees, an engine committee, an overtaking committee, a committee for this, another committee for that. It’s become a democracy where everyone has a say, and historically this has never worked out well in motor racing. The best series, i.e. F1 and NASCAR was always run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to work great for everyone. One leader who had a clear birdseye view of the direction of the series, it didn’t always please everyone but in the end it worked. Now everyone is having views on everything, and as a result things haven gotten so complicated and difficult to manage, and it shows. 

JT – In IndyCar off-season news, many people are still trying to find rides. Among them is ex-Marussia, ex-Caterham test/reserve driver Alex Rossi. He’s an American with a lot of experience in the lower European formulas and some time behind the wheel of the current F1 cars but relatively unknown here in his homeland. Do you have any thoughts on him?

SJ – I don’t know much about Rossi but my first comment would be that he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. He’s obviously a very good driver but he hasn’t been exceptional in anything he’s done in Europe. He’s been good enough to win odd races but I don’t know how he’s risen to the positions he’s been in. I don’t know if he’s got financial backing or whether it’s come purely from results.

But for IndyCar racing it would always be good to have another American and even better if he’s quick and can win. He’s not well known here it’s true but that’s the risk you take when you focus on F1 which I commend him for going that route as it is way harder for an American kid to make it over there than just going the traditional route of Indy Lights and the Indycar if you’re any good.

I remember when I came over here, having spent ten years in F1. Everyone was asking for my resume, asking what I’d been doing before. Nelson Piquet had the same thing. He won the F1 world championship three times and the teams were asking for his CV! I remember when I met Jim Hall the first time and he asked for me for a resume! I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be an uphill battle!’

JT – The new aerodynamic bodywork package for IndyCars for 2015 is causing lots of speculation and some concern. Some have theorized that the package will bring pack-racing back to IndyCar because cars will be able to follow each other more closely on ovals. The previous period in which that was true for IndyCar/IRL was very dangerous. That should be something to be avoided, correct?

SJ – The problem in general is that everybody’s trying to slow the cars down with less horsepower. IndyCars should really have another 200 hp to make a difference in the racing. When I talk to Scott [Dixon] he tells me the cars now are like driving an Indy Lights car. They’re all about momentum. It’s a very different driving style.

On the ovals I remember getting wheelspin coming out of Turn 2 at Indy in qualifying in the CART era. It’s the same thing I come back to again. The cars at this level should be beasts and drivers should be weeded out accordingly. People always figure out a way to make challenging cars work but if they don’t have to they take the easy way out.

That then leads to situations where teams will go for a driver who’s mediocre but brings 80 percent of their budget with him rather than trying a little harder themselves and finding somebody who has greater skill and that can make a difference. You’ve got teams like Ganassi, Penske and Andretti who eat, breathe and sleep racing and they put the effort in and it shows.

I remember at Indy back in the day when I was racing, literally unless you got lucky and the car was really dialed in, you didn’t try to go flat all the way around until qualifying. It was such a big leap to try to go flat around there at that time. It was really something else and it definitely got your juices flowing, like it should. 

JT – Now for some reflections on 2014 in brief and a look ahead, what are your thoughts on Formula One?

SJ – I think the right man won the championship in the end. I think Lewis did an exceptional job all year. Nico [Rosberg] did too, but Lewis seemed to have a couple tenths in hand when he really needed them in the race and he usually had that in hand for 80 laps. Sometimes he didn’t have it on qualifying runs but there’s always a balance. So overall, I think Lewis deserved to win the championship this year.

JT – Do you think the racing in F1 will be better in 2015?

SJ – I think it will get a bit better. I’m sure that the gap to Mercedes will close up a bit. If they leave the regulations alone for another two or three years it will really close. I’m certain the gap will be smaller next season but we can also be certain that Mercedes will be the favorite again for the championship.

JT – Will McLaren be at all competitive in 2015 or will it be a year of development for them with Honda?

SJ – I think McLaren might be the surprise next year. If Honda is somewhere close with their engine - and having had a year in which they didn’t have to comply with any regulations while working on their engine and seeing what everyone else has done – they ought to be close I think.

I assume they haven’t had to be bound by the rule of having their engine frozen in development until they actually enter competition. It’s hard to say without really knowing the rules but that could give them an advantage. And it should have helped from the point of car development and put them back on the right track after their two or three years of having completely lost their way.

[Eric] Boullier (McLaren Racing Director) has certainly put some good new people in place in the team and they’ve already improved the aero on the car. That even showed at the end of this year. So I think they will be competitive, though it should never really be a surprise when they are – they’re McLaren after all and they have probably better resources than any other team on the grid. And Alonso and Button pushing each other should help as well.

JT – Will the new combination – Vettel, Räikkönen and new Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene – produce better results for the Scuderia?

SJ – Well, their 2015 car was obviously well underway before they made the recent changes so I think 2015 will be a tough year for them. They’ve hired a lot of new people and have some very good people from previous years but the boat for the 2015 car left the dock many months ago. It would be hard to change direction on it now. I’m sure it will be something of an interim year for them. It will be more interesting to see what will happen in 2016 and going forward, how the new regime will work in the long term. It worries me though when I hear the words “experiment” and “gamble” associated with anything in motor racing, whenever you attempt to apply any of those words into any plan, it very rarely works out well. The teams and drivers and that will rely on an experiment or a gamble will generally dig themselves into an even deeper hole.  It always takes some time for a completely new management to find its way. Remember it took the “dream team” with Schumacher, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne five years before they won the first title from when they joined Ferrari. These four guys where the best in the business at the time. The current team is clearly all very competent people from the different fields of business they have spent most of their careers, but none of them have any experience in F1 and they have now been thrown straight into the Piranha Club. Although some of the Piranhas may be a bit older than in their prime, they still know how to bite!

JT – How about Red Bull Racing - will Christian Horner, Adrian Newey, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have what it takes to win?

SJ – If Renault steps up on the engine front, I’m sure they’ll be strong. They still may have had the best chassis this year. If they can get another 40 to 50 horsepower out of the engine they will be closer to the front more consistently for sure. And remember, they still won three races in 2014.

Obviously, Ricciardo was the revelation of 2014. I thought he did an extraordinary job. He didn’t put a foot wrong all year and put Vettel firmly in his place. He did the absolute best that could be done with the car given the circumstances in just about every race. He’s no doubt part of the new generation that will be leading the way in the next five years.

JT – And Mercedes GP, will Lewis and Nico be dominant again next season?

SJ – I think that it will be a matter of which one of them gets it right on race day. They’re so close to each other in performance there’s almost nothing between them. However, their methods of getting that performance are significantly different.

I’m sure Nico has had a chance to reflect on where he was lacking this year. What impressed me with him this year was that every time he had problem or made a mistake he came back even stronger and stepped up and responded. I certainly wouldn’t count him out for the championship next year.

JT – Interestingly, Nico’s father (ex-F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg) generally seems to keep a low profile. I’m sure he’s been of help to Nico. But you don’t see him around the F1 paddock all the time like you do Hamilton’s dad or others. He also seems like the consummate, cool racing driver and a very good guy.

SJ – Keke’s great. I’ve known him since I was eight years old. We raced together forever and he’s just a terrific guy. He understands the business and he’s smart enough to know when it’s time to step in or stay out of the way. He’s been around long enough to see every racing dad and the effect they have on their kids. I’m sure he’s had an influence on Nico.

He’s an old fox too. He knows every trick in the book and then some. I’m sure he’s had a massive influence on Nico’s work ethic and mental attitude. Keke, for me, is the epitome of a racing driver. He’s got all of the qualities you’d want and is the coolest guy ever. When he was at his height in F1 he was off the charts in every respect, the bravest guy you’d ever find on a race track. He really was something else.

JT – How will the rest of the F1 grid fare in 2015? Any surprises?

SJ – It’s really hard to gauge the rest. For instance at Force India, you would have expected Nico Hulkenberg to blow the doors off Sergio Perez but if anything, maybe Perez had a better year than Hulkenberg.

But then he showed his less impressive side when he got a bit heated in Austin, making another knucklehead move. With these cars, some guys manage to find a way to drive them and then there are Vettel and Räikkönen for example, who clearly struggled. I suspect that Hulkenberg probably fell into that category as well.

I think figuring out the braking is the trickiest issue with these new F1 cars. With all the energy recovery and stuff going, if you can’t control the rear under braking, you’re screwed basically. The whole corner is wasted before you even get there. The car’s unstable, you’re not where you want to be on entry and as a result you’re off the power at the wrong point of the corner. Everything becomes a chain-reaction from the braking-point forward.

And as I say, the rest of the teams are so difficult to call in terms of how they will perform given the different levels of funding they have and struggles just staying alive.

JT – Will IndyCar hold any surprises for 2015?

SJ – No one really knows what kind of difference the new aero-kits will make but I think there’s a strong chance that one will come out of the gate better than the other. Who knows who that will be?

It will be interesting to see and interesting to see some different looking cars also. There will inevitably be a level of development for all the teams to get on top of the new aero kits and how to best understand the cars, some will get it right and some won’t. As always, the bigger teams will have a better chance of getting on top of it sooner due to the resources they have at their disposal.

JT – Four manufacturers will now be competing in LMP1 in the WEC with the addition of Nissan. That’s as many manufacturers as Formula One has – and there are more really if you count the GT class. How will WEC be in 2015?

SJ – It’s certainly growing stronger. There have even been a couple defections from Tudor with the ESM and Krohn guys racing in P2 and some teams going to GTE. I think the chances of the Nissan being competitive right away are small, I don’t think they have allocated enough resources to take on Audi, Porsche and Toyota to get to the level they are. In addition I believe their car is quite radical. But it’s still good that they are there and if they have the budget they’ll improve. And with a few more P2 cars, WEC could be a pretty good show. 

JT – To wrap it up, who was the standout driver of 2014?

SJ – Without a doubt it was Daniel Ricciardo in my opinion. He did far more than was expected of him, especially considering the circumstances. Personally I like his attitude too, he seems like a great guy who loves his job and it will be interesting to see how he develops in the next few years now that he’s the “boss” of the Red Bull team so to speak.

----- SJ Blog #50 -----

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler about Lewis Hamilton’s triumph in Abu Dhabi, the surprising replacement of Marco Mattiacci at Ferrari, and Felix Rosenqvist’s win at the Macau GP.

Stefan Johansson

Lewis Hamilton - F1 Champion 2014 - Abu Dhabi

Jan Tegler – Lewis Hamilton triumphed in Abu Dhabi, winning the final race of the season and his second world championship, beating rival and teammate Nico Rosberg for the title by 67 points. He scored eleven victories over the course of the season to Rosberg’s five wins.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix wasn’t a very interesting race particularly once it was clear that Rosberg’s Mercedes W05 Hybrid was malfunctioning. What did you think of the race?

Stefan Johansson – Yes, it was a bit of an anti-climax given the whole build-up over the season. But in the end though, I think it was a fair result.

Can you imagine if the result had been the other way around and Lewis’ car had broken down? We would have never heard the end of it, “Oh my god, it’s the double-points. It’s the most unfair thing!” So, for the sake of peace and quiet going into the off-season it was probably the best thing and at least kept the media from getting completely out of hand. There’s already been enough negative stuff written all year.

JT – Clearly, Mercedes GP did the best job of figuring out/coping with the new 2014 regulations, winning both the constructor’s and driver’s title easily. That’s to their credit but I didn’t find the season to be exciting. There were some interesting races here and there but for the most part, Mercedes GP simply dominated. This is an opinion expressed by many F1 fans. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I would tend to agree, it’s been about one team the whole year. But don’t forget, the previous four years were pretty much all about Red Bull Racing. In some respects, that’s just the way it is in Formula One.

It’s down to the fact that you’re always going to have one team that finds the “magic bullet” when the rules – though comparatively restrictive now – change as much as they did for this season. In recent years, the biggest difference performance-wise was on the chassis side but this time it was certainly the engine/power unit. It’s hard to overcome the enormous horsepower advantage that the Mercedes engine/power units clearly have.

JT – There is perhaps one difference in the 2014 season compared to the last two decades of F1. Over those 20 years we saw domination as you mention - Red Bull Racing most recently. But even when Red Bull was dominant, the championship was decided between different teams – not as an inter-team rivalry.

Red Bull battled Ferrari (Vettel and Alonso). In the years of Ferrari domination, the battle was between McLaren and Ferrari (Schumacher and Hakkinen, Coulthard) or Renault and Ferrari (Schumacher and Alonso). In 2014 it was Hamilton versus Rosberg. While it’s always hard to compare eras, I’m betting most would say the last major inter-team fight for the championship – between Senna and Prost - was more dramatic.

SJ – Yes, the last similar season to this involved Prost and Senna as teammates at McLaren. Those two were totally dominant and the fight was between them for every race. Whichever – Prost or Senna - managed to keep their car on the track or running was going to win. And I’d agree, the battle between them was more interesting than Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry this year.  

Marco Mattiacci replaced at Ferrari

JT – On the day following the Abu Dhabi GP Ferrari caught just about everyone off-guard, announcing that Marco Mattiacci was out as team boss just eight months after he replaced Stefano Domenicali. Many, including Kimi Räikkönen, thought he was doing a good job for Ferrari. What do you think of this development?

SJ – I think it was a big surprise to everybody including Marco. Sergio Marchionne (Fiat CEO) certainly doesn’t mess around, he doesn’t bark, he just goes straight for the bite. Without knowing very much about the details I have a sense it was a political move. It’s most likely also part of the fallout from Montezemolo leaving earlier in the year. As Mattiaci was put in place by Luca, it’s likely they simply wanted a clean sweep moving forward.

JT – One would imagine this upsets the apple cart at Ferrari to some degree. What do you think this might mean for the team’s progress going forward from a technical and sporting point of view, and do you think Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel are worried by the turmoil?

SJ – Yes, it’s definitely attention-getting for both drivers. Poor old Kimi, he was just starting to make some progress with these new cars and now who knows how things will go? As for Vettel, Mattiaci is probably the only guy he really knows inside Ferrari at this point, so he must be questioning his decision to leave at this point.

The interesting part for me is the guy they’re replacing Mattiacci with (Maurizio Arrivabene, a senior executive with Phillip Morris and member of the F1 Commission). He’s not exactly the most experienced guy in running a racing team either, so on many levels he will have to go through the same learning curve that Mattiaci did, the advantage he will have is that he won’t get thrown in the deep end mid season, but will at least have the winter to get the hang of things.

He also does have the advantage of having been around the F1 paddock for a very long time. I remember meeting him already when I drove for Ferrari and he was with Marlboro already back then.

I thought Mattiacci did a really good job in the circumstances. He got the hang of it pretty quick and made some good hirings and navigated the Alonso saga incredibly well. He didn’t get intimidated early on but instead put the wheels in motion in case it wouldn’t work out with Alonso. He almost immediately had a strong backup plan in place (Vettel), which I thought was quite impressive.

Improving or changing any F1 team takes time. There’s no such thing as an overnight change and he had really just got going. Bottom line though - none of us really know the ins and outs of the situation. It’s hard to say what any new changes might be or what it will mean for continuity.

Having said all this, the 2015 car will be well under way already and a new team leader will not have that big impact on the performance level in the short term, so whatever they have in the pipeline will most likely remain what it is for next year at least.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Power Unit.

JT – Looking ahead to 2015. There seems to be a prevailing view that given the domination Mercedes GP and the Mercedes power unit showed this year, things won’t change much next season. Mercedes GP and the Mercedes power units are likely to dominate again. Do you agree?

SJ – Unless the freeze on engine development is lifted I don’t see how things are going to change much. The other teams may gain a little bit here or there but effectively the manufacturers are not allowed to touch the engine so I don’t see much that can be done.

It’s such an odd thing. If you’ve frozen engine development, why not freeze the chassis too, or the other way around? There are so many contradictions and enigmas in F1 now that it is becoming insanely confusing just to keep up. It’s hard to understand the logic behind much of it.

The engine manufacturers have all spent several hundred million Euros developing these engines and now they’re frozen for all new development. So, basically it means that unless you got it right first time out, you’re screwed for the next couple of years. But the chassis can be developed or updated continually. What would happen if the Aero package you present at the first race would have to remain the same for the next 2-3 years? Apparently Mercedes GP had something like 75 different front-wing configurations this year. I’m sure the other teams had just as many.  That’s just one of many components that are constantly being worked on, there’s new floors, rear wings, winglets, suspension parts, on and on it goes, every day, all year round.

Crates of new parts fresh from the factories are being delivered to the teams every day during race weekends. There’s endless chassis development and it’s costing exorbitant amounts of money. I don’t understand how that cost can be allowed to be infinite but you then can’t touch the engines in order to control the costs?

Then everyone complains about the cost of F1. It seems to me that despite the whole cost-cap idea, no one seems to want to get to the root of the problem – the root of what it is that cost so much money. Unless you prohibit development across the board the increase in costs will never stop. Typically, the two biggest line items in the budget is R&D and payroll. The top teams are now close to 1000 employees.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the teams should just be given a front wing mandated by the FIA. That’s it. They can only use that FIA wing with whatever level of downforce it produces. Around eighty-percent of the aerodynamic efficiency of the cars is generated by the front wing. Everything else is a byproduct as the air goes backwards down the car.

The downforce generated in front of the front wheels determines the aerodynamic efficiency of the car and that’s why the teams endlessly tinker with the front wings. Every race car in just about every series these days is developed around aerodynamics. This is where the majority of any race cars performance is coming from. And, at the end of the day, who cares?

Aerodynamic downforce, except to a certain and quite minimal level, is about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle on anything except a racing car.

I really think it’s time for a complete rethink on the whole design concept of an F1 car and for that matter just about any race car.

Let’s say you set the downforce limit for a car at 2,000 pounds – that’s just an arbitrary number I’m using. You could measure that very easily with the strain gauges on the suspension pushrods. If you go over 2,000 pounds the car is illegal, simple as that. Then you could work on other more relevant efficiencies like optimizing drag, maybe increased downforce at lower speeds and other parameters.

Seemingly, it’s very important for the manufacturers in F1 to have engines that can be linked with the engines in their road cars. If so, then why not downplay the importance of downforce, so the manufacturers could work on developments like drag reduction which would have applications for their road cars? Less drag will aid fuel efficiency and you might also develop tires with less drag. There could be all sorts of developments that could be realized.

Make the tires and the mechanical grip more important and increase the top speed of the cars. Aim to get back to the same lap times as you have now, but do it by decreasing the minimum speed mid-corner and instead increase the top speed in a straight line. Unless something breaks or falls off a car, no one’s ever had a big accident on a straight as far as I can remember. And if something does come off a car it’s not going to make much difference whether you’re going 400 km/h or 350 km/h, but it would certainly make the cars a lot more spectacular to watch and it would give people something to talk about when the cars are doing close to 400kph in some places.

JT – As you have said before, that would make the racing would be better as well.

SJ – Exactly, that’s the whole point. Right now, the cars are on rails basically. I bet anything that if the cars had an engine producing 1300 horsepower with half the downforce that they have now and bigger tires and none of the driver aids they have now - all the pointless stuff on the steering wheel – the cars would be power-sliding around corners and it would be spectacular to watch.

That much power, which is absolutely not unreasonable for a car at the level of F1 with the carbon brakes that we have today, would be much better for racing. You’d be 30 to 40 km/h faster on the straights. The braking areas would be a lot longer because of the increased speed and less downforce and that will of course open up passing opportunities.

With much lower mid-corner speed and more power on hand, combined with the lack of driver aids, it will be much trickier to get a good exit out of the slow and medium speed corners. That will put more emphasis on hand, foot and throttle control. Whoever has the best car control will get a run on the car in front and be able to pass going down the straights without DRS and all the gimmicks, just a good exit and slipstream and better braking will be enough to make a pass. A good driver will really make a difference with this type of car. The cars will move around a lot more in the faster corners due to the loss of downforce, this will allow for a different quality of driver skill, some bravery and commitment that everyone used to love to watch. Nowadays, the slowest guy in the field is flat through Eau Rouge on his third lap, it’s barely a corner anymore, and it used to take a whole weekend to build up the confidence to take it flat.

Simplify everything; everything is so complicated now that it’s killing the racing. The cars would also look cooler instead of being like F3 cars on steroids.

Marussia & Caterham F1 Cars

JT – Again, looking ahead, many F1 observers are wondering whether the grid will be full next year. With the departure of Marussia and Caterham, and other teams on the brink financially, with the threat of boycotts etc, will the car count be down? What do you think?

SJ – – Well, we’re at the point now that everyone has feared for a long time. I think the problems are rooted much deeper fundamentally than the revenue share and who gets what. How many times have I said that when you change the rules, costs never-ever go down? The budgets always jump - sometimes by quite a lot - with every major rule change. The longer you can maintain rules stability the costs will eventually taper off, the trade off between R&D and performance will taper off each year and the smaller teams will eventually catch up to the bigger one’s.

This year the costs jumped hugely because all teams had to re-do literally everything. These are completely new cars with new engines, or power units as they are now called, re-gen systems and so much incredibly complicated stuff. Is it really necessary for F1 or racing in general for that matter- whether its 22 or 18 cars - to be that environmentally conscious? For me, it’s the best drivers in the world supposedly – brave young guys driving their tails off with very fast, spectacular, powerful racing cars – putting on a great show.

Apparently the manufacturers don’t think so and these new rules have come about because of this, and the costs hit everyone hard, especially the smaller teams although none of them wanted these new engines. They all have to buy these completely new power units at a much larger cost than before, in addition to having to build a new car that is now so complicated to operate that it doesn’t compare to anything they’ve been used to.

That’s just one part of it. Then there’s all the development and increased costs to run the cars, more people, on and on and on - and for what? When a small team needs a budget of close to $100 million just to be one of the clowns that make up the show with no hope of ever winning a race something’s seriously wrong. The top teams now have budgets of $500 million-plus.

What’s crazy is that no one in the top teams in Formula One seems to feel that there’s anything wrong with that. They say F1 should be the top. It should be the highest level. I believe it will still be at the highest level even if the biggest budgets were $100-150 million.

And the other problem for F1 teams is that every single part of the car has to be designed, manufactured and tested by the team itself. Most other race cars are offered as kits you can buy off-the-shelf. In Indy-Car for instance, you don’t have to make every single part of the car, in fact you’re not allowed to make anything yourself anymore, everything has to be bought directly through the series. That’s probably going to far in the extreme in the opposite direction though.

Every component of an F1 car is like a work of art, so beautifully made. But is all that really necessary? The big teams have a thousand people just to build a car - a thousand employees, seriously?

If the front wings on all the cars looked the same, would anyone really care? There are so many components on the car that could be standardized and no one would notice any difference, but the cost of manufacturing would come down drastically, and it would be the same for everyone, without having to enforce a cost cap, it would become a natural cost cap by simply not allowing each team to make each and every component on the car themselves.

I doubt there will be a full grid. I mean, who would try to buy either Marussia or Caterham at this point? There will be another year (2016) before Haas F1 joins the series so I’ll be very surprised if we see a full field. If anything, there are two or three other teams that are right on the limit. I think there will be a lot of drama before everything’s settled. However, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if there’s only 18 cars, as long as the racing upfront is great I really don’t think anyone cares.

JT – Certainly, F1 has experienced periods of expansion and contraction in the past but the current situation seems very serious.

SJ – It was bound to get to this point. The cost of Formula One has been unsustainable for quite some time. I’ve heard the arguments about the distribution of revenues but I can see Bernie’s (Ecclestone) previous points about the situation. Okay, teams like Sauber that have been in F1 for years and have been committed – that’s one thing. They deserve more than they have gotten, I think. But also, don’t forget they’ve done a lousy job the last couple of years with their cars and because of this they are now facing the situation they are in.

But when you look at Marussia and Caterham for example, it’s a different story. They’re basically some rich guys who fancies owning an F1 team but they are not really committed, or they jump into it without doing their homework before they commit. It’s one of several projects they are working on or own; Airlines, Soccer teams etc. They’re just dabbling. Like I have said many times before, owning a F1 team is not for the faint of heart, and it requires a total commitment on every level not only to be successful, but also to merely survive.

Compare the Marussia and Caterham owners to Ron Dennis, I doubt very much that Tony Fernandez net worth is any less than Ron Dennis for example.  The difference is that over the years Ron has put every penny back in McLaren to make it better, more competitive, a winning team. He’s hired the best drivers, the best people, invested in new facilities and equipment, never compromising. As a result he has of course become extremely wealthy in the process but it certainly wasn’t that way in the beginning. I don’t see that with Caterham for example, and certainly not with Marussia.

For Bernie, why should he bail those guys out? I am sure he feels they’ve got to pay their dues, and I agree 100%. That’s always been the case in Formula One. It’s the top of the top, and the bottom teams always come and go, either because they didn’t do their homework before they got into it, or they did a lousy job of it while they were there.

Stefan Johansson - McLaren - Mexican GP 1987

JT – Surprisingly, even now in early December, the driver silly-season continues. As we chat, Jenson Button still does not know if he will remain with McLaren for 2015 as no announcement has been made. I understand McLaren’s desire to cross their ‘”Ts” and dot their “Is” but leaving him in limbo isn’t terrifically professional. You had a similar experience with McLaren didn’t you?

SJ – Yes, I was in that same situation in 1987, being kept waiting forever while the team brought Senna in. It’s the old adage – it’s not about the driver, it’s about the team, which is completely understandable, it’s their business and the driver is one of many employees, and in the end it’s up to the owners of the team to make the decisions they think will serve their company the best. Jenson I think has done an excellent job, but clearly not good enough to make it a slam-dunk decision, and as such he’s in a position where he’s just going to have to wait.

Jeson Button - McLaren - F1

JT – Some have speculated that Button could be picked up by one of the factory P1 teams now racing in the WEC. Porsche recently finalized its driver line-up so there’s no open seat there. But, with Tom Kristensen retiring, there is an open seat at Audi. In addition, there are rumors swirling about Audi Sport leaving sports car racing and going to Formula One. One wonders whether it would be better for Audi to leave for to F1 where they might get more exposure or stay in the top echelon of sports car racing, a category they have basically owned. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Well, it’s hard to say with Button. As we’ve seen it’s not easy to make the transition from F1 to these hybrid P1 cars. Every car is so specialized these days and it’s very difficult to rise to the level where you’re able to extract that last five percent of performance. I know one thing for sure though, it would be an eye opener for him and he will love the racing in sportscars.

Why would Audi go to F1? That’s the question. You have to ask really, what is the best category of racing today?

Now, we’re at the point where each category has its own appeal and traits that aren’t so appealing. But I don’t think it’s the be-all or end-all to be in any one of them. If you do have the choice to race in any series – which very few manufacturers have – the decision should be based on whatever works best for you. There’s the financial side and the pressure of the racing side. As for Audi, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Le Mans experience have served them extremely well not only on the sporting side but also commercially, the question is, would an involvement in F1 have made that situation any better, I doubt it very much.

From a drivers perspective, like Jenson for example, I’m not sure Formula One’s the most fun anymore. Listening to all the drivers, I don’t hear too many happy campers – guys who are actually enjoying the driving part of it. They enjoy their jobs and the perks that go with them but I don’t think they’re too excited about the actual racing anymore.

Felix Rosenqvist - Macau GP Podium - 2014

JT – On the domestic sports car racing front, Pirelli World Challenge seems to be gaining even more strength with the recent revelation that Andretti Autosport may be entering the GT category with a Nissan GT-R effort. Meanwhile IMSA seems to be losing momentum.

SJ – World Challenge is definitely becoming a pretty impressive championship. We’re (Scuderia Corsa) going to run two cars next year (Ferrari 458 GT3s). The format is good with short sprint races and the racing is great.

JT – You just returned from Macau and the Macau Grand Prix, a race you finished second in in 1984. You were there to support Formula 3 driver Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been aiding in his career. Felix won the race, F3’s biggest, most famous round. Overall, the Macau weekend including the GT3 race that runs there now, has really become a renowned event.

SJ – It was a great weekend and mainly to do with Felix of course. I went to a couple meetings with him there and took a look at things in general. It’s a critical point in his career right now, having spent probably one year to many in the same category it’s time to move on and look at the opportunities that are available, generally speaking, for any Junior category driver aren’t that many unless you have a significant budget to bring with you.

His result in Macau obviously did the job though and it has opened up a lot of new possibilities for him. He knew what he had to do before he got there and he did exactly that in the race. I was impressed with how he dealt with the whole weekend, knowing before he got there he only had one option to leave the place and that was to basically clean up. He’s had a rough season and a win in Macau was really the only thing that could salvage a bad situation going forward. It’s always a good sign when you see a driver that can knuckle down and stay focused and drive with the level of confidence you need to win, especially at a place like Macau where there’s basically no room for error. That makes a big difference.

Macau has a great atmosphere. Every year it gets bigger and bigger. It’s a top class world event now, very impressive – the whole organization and the build-up to it. The media exposure is huge too.

----- SJ Blog #48 -----

Stefan Johansson shares his thoughts about the 'radio ban' in F1, the unfortunate death of Andrea De Cesaris, and Vettel leaving Red Bull

Stefan Johansson

JT – You’ve had a busy schedule since our last blog including attending the Italian Grand Pix at Monza as a guest of Ferrari. The weekend was a poor one for Ferrari on-track and was not without news behind the scenes as well. Ferrari president and chairman Luca di Montezemolo was reported to be leaving the marque and the Scuderia. He eventually resigned the following week. What was the atmosphere like at Monza?

SJ – Monza is always and will always be a bit special, the atmosphere is great with all the Ferrari tifosi. There is no other track in the world that has the energy like Monza does, there is something very special when you drive through the gates into the huge park where the track is, I get goose bumps even to this day. It’s the only race track I know of that has soul, maybe because it’s been around for so long and there’s been so much triumph and tragedy there that somehow this collective energy is still there. For Ferrari though it wasn’t the best. I was with the team the whole weekend and it was probably one of the worst weekends they’ve had in a long time. All of their weaknesses showed, as it did for many other teams too of course. Clearly the engine is their biggest Achilles heel and Monza with its long straights demonstrates that better than just about any other track.

I was in the pits during qualifying with a radio on, it was very interesting to listen in and one thing that really struck me is that there’s absolutely no feedback from the drivers when they come in after a run now. They don’t say anything. Their engineers have already looked at the data and know what’s going on with the car. The engineer might say, ‘We can see that you have a small understeer in the second Lesmo (Curva di Lesmo corners). We’re going to put half a degree more front wing in for the next run. We think the differential will be better on setting four...” And so on.

The drivers don’t say a word, nothing about how the balance is on the car. They just look at the monitors in the pits. I don’t think it’s even a matter of Alonso or Kimi offering an opinion. I assume that’s just the way things are done now. I’m sure if they disagree they’ll say something but as it was they didn’t. The data corresponds to what’s going on with the car as it should and that’s it.

But it’s fascinating to me because normally after a run in any race car you’re just spewing out information, giving feedback on steering input, corner entry, car balance, power down on exit and much more but these guys didn’t say a word. I guess that’s the norm now in Formula One but it’s weird.

It was great to be back at Monza. I think 2003 was the last time I was there – with Scott [Dixon]. It was right after he won his first IndyCar championship and we were talking to a number of [F1] teams.

JT – Mercedes continued its winning ways last weekend in Singapore with a victory for Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, when teammate Nico Rosberg’s car failed to make the grid and then retired with a faulty wiring loom the race was essentially gutted. Mercedes clearly still has a large advantage in performance and there was little doubt Hamilton would be able to get the gap over the field he needed to make his strategy work. It left me and many others feeling a bit bored. What was your impression?

SJ – Again, that’s the nature of the beast this year. Mercedes has the performance and if they wanted to they could probably show even more. It is what it is. We knew pretty much what would happen at the beginning of the season. I think they are about even now on DNF’s so the Championship standings are a good reflection of where they both are. It’s so close between them each time it’s crazy, and it will always come down to the minor details of who get’s it right on the day. The final race will be the big showdown if they are still this close.

JT – On the bright side, the championship battle between the Mercedes drivers is closer with Hamilton leading Rosberg by three points. That should be enough to maintain some interest.

SJ – Yes, like I said in the previous question, there is so little between the two of them. One would hope that the other teams are catching up little by little but the championship is between the Mercedes guys and it’s most likely going to go to the final race with its double-points payoff – unless there are more DNFs from Mercedes in the five races left.

JT – Red Bull Racing had a good outing, finishing on the podium with Sebastian Vettel second and Daniel Ricciardo third. The Singapore circuit certainly didn’t hurt their performance as it’s not a power-track like Monza. A second-place for Vettel must be a breath of fresh air.

SJ – Obviously the car was more to Vettel’s liking in Singapore than it has been. I think the same was true for Räikkönen. He was very quick in practice. Those are the two top guys who really seem to have been struggling to find their true pace this year. Tiny nuances make a big difference to the balance of a car, especially in making it comfortable on the entry to a corner.

I noticed that with Räikkönen in Monza too. It’s so easy to overdrive the car and try a little bit too hard when you’re not comfortable or the pace is not there. And when you try too hard you end up going slower. It’s that tricky balance of feeling like what you’re doing is slow but it actually makes a faster lap time. When you have confidence in the car and you feel comfortable with it, you don’t have to trash it to get a laptime, you just slow everything down and it flows.

Pat Symonds [Williams Technical Director]

JT – Williams F1’s performance has been quite good this year. That’s a big turnaround from 2013. It looks like both of their drivers will return for 2015 and the team is much more confident. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I think it’s fantastic. Pat Symonds (Williams Technical Director) is my old buddy and engineer from the Formula 2 days with Toleman. I think he’d worked with Formula Fords before that but my Alan Docking car with Toleman was where he really began engineering. He was sort of Rory Byrne’s protégé at the time.

He’s an absolutely fantastic engineer, very pragmatic - a bit like Ross Brawn. He dials out everything that’s superfluous and focuses on what matters. That has clearly paid off for Williams. And obviously the Mercedes engine has been a big plus. Anyone who’s had their power unit this year has been made to look probably better than they really are.

McLaren & Honda F1

JT – The situation at McLaren continues to evolve. Honda has said they will be fully prepared for 2015 and the team is pressing ahead despite lackluster performances this year. It’s not certain what their driver lineup will look like and they seem to have lost Johnny Walker as a sponsor recently. What’s your take?

SJ –No one knows except them, but one thing is for sure, they’re not sitting still. They achieved all their success in the past through hard work and they’re probably working harder than they’ve ever worked. They’re all racers at heart and an absolutely great organization so I have no doubt that they’ll make a comeback and be a top team again in time. There will be a new era for them starting with this Honda relationship and it will probably take a little while to get to the top but I have no doubt in my mind that they won’t be back as a top team again.

JT – You mentioned Ross Brawn. He’s been on the sidelines all season on his sabbatical or retirement or whatever he considers it. One wonders if he might return to F1?

SJ – I haven’t really heard anything about Ross. I’m sure the teams are all trying to get him, as they should, but whether he wants to participate again, I don’t know. He seems to be enjoying being away from the sport quite well at the moment so who knows?

JT – Having observed F1 close up at both Montreal and Monza this year, what do you think of the sport currently?

SJ – The thing you take away when you talk to the drivers is that they’re not happy because they’re not able to race the way they would want to race. It’s managing the output from the power unit, the tires – there are so many other things to think about these days rather than just driving the race car flat out. But you have to adapt. It comes back to my earlier comments about the Engineers having too much say in the bigger picture of the Championship.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – F1 has raised eyebrows recently with its announcement of a “radio ban” after the Italian GP at Monza. The ban would no longer allow teams to send messages to drivers relating to car performance or driver-coaching. The FIA reversed course partially for the Singapore GP, allowing teams to message drivers about car performance. However, plans remain to ban both types of communication for 2015 in the interest of “fairness”. What do you think of the ban?

SJ – The FIA just decides to do this overnight. It’s a classic F1 knee-jerk reaction without much logic. In my opinion it’s like giving someone with a broken leg an aspirin. The problem is not with the radios and communications as such; it’s all the stuff behind that causes them to have this never-ending flow of information to the drivers. The cars have become so complicated to run that they literally need to give the drivers a lot of this information in order to keep the cars running to the end of the race.  As you know, I have been going on about the steering wheels for some time now and I believe if you banned all of the dials, knobs and switches on the steering wheels to start with you wouldn’t have to worry about the radio because there would be nothing to adjust. Just ban all of the adjustments in the cockpit, end of story. Let the engineers build a car that don’t need all that stuff, and let the drivers sort it out by using throttle control, steering input and let them adjust their driving style in accordance with how the car is performing under different condition in a race situation. It would make the cars a lot simpler, but a lot harder to drive, which of course all the good guys will love. A proper racecar should be a beast to drive, that’s what every driver worth his salt wants. And it would be so much more exciting for the fans to watch a driver wrestling with his car getting the maximum out of it.

The problem today is that the engineers basically write the rules in F1. As I’ve said many times, I respect and admire the engineers tremendously. They’re fantastic people but you can’t allow them to have this much influence. Any successful racing series has to be run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to be. Now it’s turned into more of a democracy and it’s just not working.

The technology in F1 is out of hand. I don’t know how many options there are for differentials now. That should be banned. Put a standard differential in the cars. These complex, variable diffs have no benefit to anyone. They’re there for the engineers to tinker with and come up with a smarter solution than anyone else, basically because they can.

Just get rid of all the technology that you don’t need. Ban all of the buttons on the steering wheel. Radio and pit-speed are all that’s needed. Let the drivers sort the rest out. If they can’t drive a car with 850 horsepower and three-times the grip they used to have. I hate to sound like an old crank, saying “it was better in my day” but if we could handle 1500 horsepower in the cars we drove with hardly any aero grip, I’m sure these guys could. The top drivers today are all fantastic drivers and I’m sure they’d love it.

It would be fantastic to see Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton power-sliding these things with 1200-1300 horsepower. Let the drivers figure the cars out and get rid of all the extra stuff – the technology that has nothing to do with being a skilled racing driver. Let a little bravery figure into the racing again. That’s what it should be all about.

JT – The debate about some F1 teams fielding three cars each to make up for any shortfalls in the field should struggling teams drop out has flared recently. Not all teams see it as a positive with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff opining that he doesn’t think it would be healthy for F1 or cost effective for teams. What do you think of the idea?

SJ – In some ways I think it would be better because there would be more stability long term. You’re always going to have the stragglers at the back of the grid and they will always be the clowns that make up the show.

The way F1 has progressed it’s becoming more and more difficult to be in that position. None of those teams make any money. It’s a money-losing proposition at best. That puts the series in the position of having another rich guy come along – and there always seem to be another one right around the corner – who has enough money to buy a team and have a bit of an adventure.

Of course it’s not until they actually get a team and own it that they realize they’ve got the tiger by the tail. At that point they better hold on because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Typically the life span of those teams is three to five years then they disappear having burned through a few hundred million.

If you had the top teams field a third car, economies of scale would kick in and it would be a great way to get better talent into the championship, I think – young drivers who are really talented and give them a proper go. There could be a lot of other benefits as well and I support it. There would still be eight teams and I think it would be better for the championship. The value of each franchise would be higher and I think the income from the series would be better for everyone as well.

JT – You were in Austin, Texas at Circuit of the Americas last weekend for Tudor USCC race and the WEC round there. What was your impression of the weekend?

SJ – There were a lot people and a lot of buzz in the paddock but there weren’t many fans in the grandstands. But historically, sports car racing in an endurance format has never been about spectators. A few of them become kind of cult events, like Le Mans, Sebring and recently also Petit Le Mans. The six-hour WEC races are tough to fill the stands except for the die-hard fans.

The balance of performance difficulties in Tudor continues. There aren’t many happy campers in the paddock let’s put it that way. When you try to balance different cars it’s always the same. Only one team or driver is happy – the people on top of the podium. Everyone else thinks they’re being shafted.

In my case, being with Scuderia Corsa now, the Ferrari teams are extremely unhappy because all of the Ferraris qualified at the back of the grid in both the GT categories. It’s clear that the balance of performance is not in their favor.

Mike Conway

JT – The WEC race was interesting until the rains came. Then it was wacky. Then the WEC’s odd pit/red flag rules wound up gutting the race up front, leaving cars that had made it into the pits to put on wet tires just before the red flag stuck there when race began again. As a result, several cars went laps down. Not a particularly logical rule-set in my view.

SJ – Yes that’s their rules but they’re really not sensible are they? That did benefit Audi as well but you’ve got to hand it to them. They know how to execute and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. For Toyota, it came down to driver error again. They fell off left, right and center. That probably had more bearing on the outcome of the race than anything else.

Mike Conway’s spin (when the rain began) was amazing. He managed to slide through like six corners without hitting anything. He went sliding through the Esses – straight through every corner. If that had happened on an old style track the outcome wouldn’t have been good. I guess that’s a benefit of the new style tracks.

I can sympathize though because it literally feels slower than walking when you go at the speed he was going and still it’s way too fast to keep the car on the road, and you have literally zero control of the car, none!

JT – Not surprisingly, Toyota and Audi have a gap to Porsche. Do you think Porsche will close the gap next year?

SJ - Yes, I’m sure Porsche will catch up and make things closer but one team will always have an edge. Really though, in those races ultimate speed is not the most critical thing. I think it’s down to how well you execute on-track and execute strategy; the team that spends the least amount of time in the pits is generally the winner.

JT – As in F1, the WEC drivers and teams have to manage the energy their hybrid powerplants produce so as not exceed what’s allowable by rules. I’d rather see them just be able to go racing without that arbitrary restriction.

SJ – Yes, true. Another interesting thing I learned when I was talking with one of my former engineers with Audi – he said the they don’t even change springs or roll bars or anything like that on the cars now. All the adjustments are made using the hybrid power systems. They don’t touch the car really – no mechanical changes, mostly changes to electronic settings.

There are downforce settings but most of that is done before any race. They may do a bit in practice but really they just rely on the computers now for settings of the battery and power supplied to each wheel from the electric motors. It’s ridiculously complicated. The prototype sports cars are probably even more complicated than the F1 cars these days.

Andre Lotterer (Audi Sport driver) said he was shocked at how the Caterham F1 car he drove underperformed compared to both the sports cars and especially the Formula (Japanese Super Formula) car he races in Japan. The Super Formula cars are real, proper racecars – mega quick.

Scott Dixon & wife Emma celebrate with Chip Ganassi

JT – Will Power finally clinched the IndyCar championship at the MAVTV 500 finale at Fontana last month. In fact, three of the top four drivers in the championship were Penske drivers, making Scott Dixon’s third place finish in the championship even more impressive - especially considering Ganassi Racing’s struggles in 2014.

SJ – It was a pretty stellar comeback for Scott considering where he was with even just three or four races remaining. It’s a pity they weren’t able to get on top of the weaknesses they had in the car sooner. He could have had a good shot at the championship. Still, to finish third in the championship after a season like this one was quite impressive.

As we’ve said, 2014 was a year where no one seemed to want to win the championship. The main contenders all kept tripping up. It was a weird championship but there was certainly no weakness on the racing side of things. Every race had great competition, and the Championship went down to the wire yet again.

Andrea De Cesaris

JT- Finally, last weekend was very bad for F1 in many ways, with the horrible accident of Jules Bianchi, and then the passing of Andrea De Cesaris in a motorcycle accident.

SJ- Yes, if we start with the accident in the Japanese GP from Suzuka. As usual, the media and internet has been inundated with comments and views about this, that and the other regarding the accident. To me it’s very clear and very simple, as soon as there’s a track worker or any form of equipment on the track there should be a full course yellow and the safety car should be deployed immediately, no discussion or personal opinion from anyone should ever enter into this decision, it should be automatic. It’s incomprehensible that they allow the race to run with only a local yellow when something like this happens. Drivers will only slow down to the bare minimum without being penalized as the race is still effectively running at full speed, except at the post where the local yellow is displayed. If they know there is a full course yellow, they can automatically back off completely and then slowly catch up with the pace car knowing it won’t affect their position or outcome of the race. The safety car method has been used in all forms of racing in the US for as long as I can remember, and it works. The other thing I don’t understand with F1 is that every race has it’s own local safety crews apart from the doctor and the pace car that goes to each race. In Indycar they have the same safety crew that travels to every one of the races, they are extremely well trained and know exactly what to do in every situation, they fly them and the safety cars and all the equipment to every race even when it’s Trans-Atlantic, which is a minor cost in the overall scheme of things. When you see some of the local safety crews in F1 it looks like amateur hour out there, which is mind boggling in itself considering how much has been done to improve the safety both on the cars and the tracks themselves.

On top of all this we then found out on Sunday evening that Andrea De Cesaris had been killed in motorcycle accident. This was shocking news and it made me really sad, as we have been great friends for more than 30 years now. We were roommates when we both started out in F3 in England, driving for Ron Dennis Project Four team. Andrea was one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met and although we were not in regular contact anymore it was like yesterday every time we met. We used to play Golf and Tennis and Ski together, needless to say every time it was like the World finals but so much fun at the same time. I could write a whole book about all the stuff we used to get up to. Everybody that was close to him in the racing community loved him and he will be missed by all of us. I think of all the drivers from that generation, he might have been the one who really had it all figured out in the end, many years ago he basically sold everything he had and decided to travel around the world following the surf crowd as he had at that point become an avid surfer and wind surfer, moving from one great spot to the other around the world depending on where the big waves were. At the same time he had become a very good day trader and spent the mornings doing some trading online, and then the rest of the day on the ocean, not a bad way to live your life if you ask me. He was a free soul and a wonderful guy to be around.


JT - We then had the shock news about Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari, within hours after Alonso had resigned from the team.

SJ- Yes, at first sight it looks like Vettel has played his cards very well in this game of poker that’s been going on for a couple of months now. It’s clear the deal between him and Ferrari has been in the pipeline for quite some time in order for him to announce his departure to Red Bull at such short notice after Alonso told Ferrari he was leaving. Likewise, I am sure Alonso has some ace up his sleeve or it will certainly look like he might be left in the cold with the only real option being McLaren, which at the moment would be a bit like jumping from the fire into the frying pan, although I’m sure it won’t be long for either of the two teams to catch up and become real contenders for the title again. Interestingly, they both had a year left on their contracts but were both able to exercise some performance clause in their contracts to allow them to leave. The final piece of the puzzle is of course Lewis Hamilton, who has not yet done his deal with Mercedes going forward.

It will be interesting to see how Vettel will adapt to the Ferrari situation and if he will bring any key people with him from Red Bull, much like Schumacher did when he left Benetton, basically bringing both Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne with him, which then formed the nucleus together with Jean Todt of the “dream team” that ended up dominating F1 for a very long time.

----- SJ Blog #47 -----