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Stefan Johansson Monaco 1985 Ferrari.jpg

The Blog

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Jules Bianchi's unfortunate death, British GP, NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indycar's latest & LMP2

Stefan Johansson

RIP Jules Bianchi

Jan Tegler – We begin this extra-large edition of the blog with the sad news that ex-Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi passed away last weekend after head injuries he sustained last October in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. His car impacted a mobile crane being employed to recover Adrian Sutil’s Sauber which slid into a runoff area the previous lap in rainy conditions.

Many have observed that the race should have been under a safety car at that point. What’s your view?

Stefan Johansson – Obviously it’s very sad and a strong reminder that Formula One and Motor Racing in general can still be dangerous when the circumstances are not right. Maybe now is not the right time to discuss this matter but I do agree the race should have been under the control of a safety car after the first incident. That’s an aspect of competition American racing has gotten right. Any time there’s recovery or safety equipment on-track or anything that does not belong on the track for that matter, there should be a full course caution or a safety car. I think that should be a standard around the world. If you try to use any form of subjective judgment of the situation, things like these can and will happen from time to time.

Massa and Bottas

JT - The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was somewhat more interesting than most of the F1 races this season. The Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas managed to get past the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg by lap three. They held off the Mercedes until the first pit stop cycle but once the cycle was complete Hamilton was back in the lead. Notably, neither Mercedes driver was able to pass the Williams on-track. Conversely, both Williams passed the Mercedes on the circuit.

There was some controversy over Williams’ decision to allow their drivers to race even though Bottas lobbied to have Massa let him go past. Some thought the team handled the situation incorrectly, arguing that if Bottas had been allowed to go by Massa he could have gapped the Mercedes enough to stay in front after the first round of pit stops. By the finish, the Williams had dropped to 4th and 5th respectively.

SJ – Apart from the fact that Mercedes is still clearly dominant, it’s hard to say where Williams are now. They’ve obviously caught up a bit from where they were at the beginning of the year when they were down on performance compared to Ferrari. I don’t know if Ferrari has lost a bit of pace or if it was just Silverstone that didn’t suit them. But in the end, I don’t think any of them have closed the gap to Mercedes at all.

I think Williams made the right decision with Massa and Bottas. You should let the drivers race, especially in the situation they are. It’s not like they have any chance of winning the championship. I think sooner or later Mercedes would have gotten by them anyway.

It’s true that the Mercedes weren’t able to get by the Williams before the first pit stops and it comes back to the typical scenario I’ve been talking about for years now. When almost all of the cars’ aerodynamic downforce is dependent on the efficiency of the front wing you’ve really got to get a good run on the guy in front of you to get by when you’re in dirty air behind them.

I guess the DRS (drag reduction system) helps at some tracks more than others but Silverstone has such fast and flowing corners that if you don’t get really close to the car in front of you, you can’t get a good run. The straights aren’t long enough for the DRS to make a difference.

Silverstone is unique because of its combination of fast and medium-speed corners and aero is king. Had it been a more twisty track with lower speed corners, harder braking zones or 90-degree bends, I don’t think it would have been a problem to pass. But you’re completely dependent on aero to get good mid-corner speed and have proper acceleration from a corner. Every corner at Silverstone demands that. If you’re in dirty air you can’t attack early enough and you’re just sitting behind the other car waiting for your front end to take a bite.

Alonso and Button - McLaren

JT – As you mention, Ferrari doesn’t seem to have made much progress recently after having made consistent gains in performance earlier. Where are they in terms of their speed? More disappointingly, what is the situation at McLaren? You and many others expected them to be better by this point in the season but Alonso was only able to manage a 10th place finish (scoring his first point of the year) at Silverstone. Jenson Button didn’t even complete one lap, crashed-out ironically after Alonso spun into him.

SJ – Again, it’s hard to say. All of the teams are now developing their cars at a high rate, particularly the top teams. But really, the gaps between them are remaining about the same.

Scuderia Ferrari - Monaco GP

It seems Ferrari have taken a step backwards if anything. The gap certainly has not closed. There is no doubt they have been made to look better than you would normally expect by the fact that Red Bull and McLaren are both completely lost.

The gap to pole in Monaco for this year’s race was seven-tenths of a second, which is exactly the same gap Alonso (in his Ferrari) had to the pole last year (Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing machines qualified third and fourth) - the only difference being that the cars in between (the Red Bulls) were further back this year so instead of being fifth, they (Ferrari) were now third.

At McLaren there are a combination of problems, all made more challenging by the current rules. If you don’t get a car right from the moment the season starts you’re almost buggered the whole year. Renault is kind of in the same boat as Honda, not as bad – but there are really only two manufacturers who’ve got their engines sorted – Mercedes and Ferrari.

Everybody keeps talking about the “golden era” of the McLaren-Honda relationship when they basically cleaned up for a couple of years with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. What people tend to forget is that relationship didn’t start until Honda had already spent five years in F1, developing their engines to what they finally became. The early days were no walk in the park. I know that very well as I drove the first car they entered in 1983 with Spirit and the scenario was not that much different than it is today.

I used to joke at the time that I stopped doing all my physical training during the week because I got more than I needed on the race weekends with the engines blowing up in every session and I had to run back to the pits to get in the spare car to finish the session. Eventually they got it right of course, and then dominated before they decided to pull out. It was a similar scenario the second time when they poured enormous resources into the F1 project for several years with nothing to show.

They then decided to pull out again and more or less gave the team to Ross Brawn. And we all know what happened after that. Had they stayed in another year they would have won the World Championship! The bones of the current Mercedes Team are effectively what Honda started, and paid to set up!

McLaren-Honda F1

And with these rules, I can’t understand why you’re allowed to do as much as you want with the car (the bodywork, etc) – you can bolt new parts on every session – but you’re not allowed to touch the engine. And it’s not like this aero and chassis development costs nothing. When you’re already spending nearly $500 million, who cares? Let the teams go at it. The concept of saving money is already completely broken.

It’s always more expensive for teams to try to circumvent rules than it is to have more open rules. That’s why it’s ridiculous to talk about cost-capping F1. There are so many clever people in each team that you’re never going to be able to stop them spending money to find ways around the rules. The only way to manage it in my opinion is to make as many of the parts on the cars which are irrelevant to their overall design common parts, and pick out the most costly development areas and limit those. Everyone knows what they are but it’s almost like no one wants to give up their toys.

Max Mosley

Or, you don’t limit the teams at all. Let them go until they all kill each other. Some people worry about the manufacturers leaving. But if you look at their presence, as Max Mosley said years ago, the manufacturers don’t care really. They just throw money at F1 as long as it serves their purpose, and when they change their mind, they’re gone, in literally one board meeting – they’re out. This is exactly what happened to Toyota, Honda and BMW. From one moment to the next, they were all gone.

Audi Spots

JT – The same appears to be true for sports car racing. And if you look at the LMP1 class in the WEC now, some of those manufacturers are spending just about as much as the top teams in Formula One.

SJ – Yes and they do it for one race essentially, Le Mans. The way the manufacturers view racing has always been the same. In every series where manufacturers involve themselves heavily and start duking it out they basically ruin it eventually.

They all pull out at some stage and then it takes about three or four years to rebuild. At that point the racing is great with a lot of privateer teams with some factory backing whether it’s for the engine or whatever. Then the manufacturers return and you have another cycle.

The only manufacturer who’s been different in that regard is Audi. They stayed committed to Le Mans even when they had no one to race and afterward when rules were clearly stacked against them. They fought on and managed to win partly by being clever on strategy and great execution, and by the other teams simply screwing up when they should have won.

Sauber F1

JT – Discussions among F1 manufacturers, top teams and those at the back of the pack continue on the issue of “customer cars”. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, I don’t understand the attitude of some the smaller teams. They say customer cars will ruin Formula One and that they have 300 people employed and what will happen to them? At the same time they’re scrambling for every penny because the cars are so expensive to make now and they can’t afford to pay their people or their suppliers in many cases.

Back in 2003, I came up with the idea of a “B” team or “shared resources” concept (a customer car, essentially). We were going to do it with one of the top three teams at the time. Unfortunately, the sponsorship fell apart so the project never happened. Our budget then was $80 million in total – engine, car, travel – for the whole thing, and it would have been a potentially winning package.

It’s important to remember that none of the back marker teams out there now would exist without a whale of some sort. That whale might be a wealthy individual who buys into the team and then hangs around for two or three years before he disappears. These days, it’s mostly Bernie [Ecclestone] or FOM who end up being the whale for everybody. Or, it’s the drivers bringing the money.

None of these lower tier teams have any real sponsor now. Look at Sauber, they don’t have one sponsor except for what the drivers have brought with them. Manor’s the same and Lotus has been scraping the barrel for years now. So why wouldn’t these teams like the idea of a customer car?

Niki Lauda - F1 1978

If I was Manor and I was offered a Ferrari I’d jump at it! Who wouldn’t? Their budget would be less than it is now. The car would already be developed and sorted and you could run the team with probably 60 people. It just makes business sense.

And with the limited resources these teams have they’re never in this lifetime going to design and build a car that’s going to be competitive with a Ferrari or a Mercedes anyway. They won’t be able to afford it. The traditionalists argue that F1 has always been about innovation and new technology but that’s complete nonsense.

There really hasn’t been any breakthrough innovation or new technology developed in Formula One since the 1970s. They’ve basically been fine-tuning existing technologies. There has been some development in aerodynamics specific to the race cars but mostly that technology has been borrowed from other realms (the aerospace industry).

And ridiculously, even that borrowed technology is banned in F1 before it’s fully developed for the sport. The blown-diffuser technology Red Bull was using (2010, 2011) gave them an advantage for a year essentially and then it was banned.

With a customer car you still get to be part of the show, you still get money from Bernie and you could actually make some money if you do it right. As far as I’m concerned it’s the way to go.

Haas-F1-Ferrari.jpg

JT – Isn’t that what Haas F1 is trying to do with Ferrari currently?

SJ – Exactly, they’re pushing it as close to that as the rules will allow currently. They’ve done their homework, they’ve listened to the right people and it’s the way to do it.

F1 Steering Wheel

JT – Recently, Juan Pablo Montoya suggested a simple solution for improving the racing in F1 remarking, “If you take away the tire sensors, the temperature sensors, and just leave the pressures, the racing will get better by 10 percent straight away. I’m certain of that.” What are your thoughts on his idea?

SJ – Yes, that could improve the racing but that’s only one small item. I think the first thing they should do before anything else is get rid of all the nonsense on the steering wheels (differential settings, ignition timing, brake balance, energy storage, DRS, fuel consumption, engine modes, and much more).

The driver should be able to manage the car himself without all of these aids or settings. I guarantee any driver worth his salt would love it. The bravado that’s been a traditional element of racing is a huge part of its attraction. I know as a driver how good it feels when you’ve been taming a car and you’ve had it on the ragged edge, controlling it with the throttle and steering. That’s what it’s all about. The fans can see that too.

All the driver aids can be great to help you go faster and it makes the driver’s job easier. In the early stages of development you might have an “unfair advantage” which is great but from a pure pleasure point of view of driving and in terms of a challenge it’s all nonsense.

NASCAR Sprint Cup

JT – The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway last week saw the series using a lower downforce package for the Cup cars. The drivers reacted very positively, saying it was much more satisfying to drive cars that must be tamed and which penalized drivers for overdriving or under-driving.

SJ – Exactly, and it’s not surprising. The type of pack racing we saw at Fontana (IndyCar) might satisfy spectators but it’s got absolutely nothing to do with skill. You could put literally anyone in a car under that kind of racing condition and they would be in the middle of the pack. It’s a recipe for disaster.

It surprises me when some people suggest that this was the best race IndyCar has ever had. It was exciting to watch in the beginning but soon there was the realization that something ugly was about to happen. Is that what we want – a gaggle of 26 cars where it’s pure luck if you get sucked up to the front of the pack? There’s no difference in the handling of the car from the first lap to the last during a stint - every car is exactly the same speed as the next.

On the other hand, you don’t want racing where it’s impossible to attack. You have to find the right balance and a car should be at least somewhat difficult to drive, deteriorating as a stint goes on. When you have ten laps remaining before the end of a stint your car should be a bit of a handful.

You could de-emphasize aero or give cars another 200 to 300 horsepower. Find a balance between power and downforce. People keep saying cars will be too fast if you give them more power. Who says what’s too fast?

Have there actually been any measurements of how much greater an impact is if you’re doing 238 mph instead of 226 mph? I doubt it’s much. If you have an accident at those speeds it’s going to hurt no matter what. Who can say what the magic number is for cars being too fast? I think it’s great if they’re faster.

F1 Tires Issue

JT – You also mention the role tires could play in all of this.

SJ – Yes, we’ve talked about how much people are spending on aerodynamics in Formula One many times but what strikes me is that simultaneously, they have a tire that is very bad. The series mandated that the tire should be terrible, in a way. What kind of logic is that? Teams are spending hundreds of millions on aero and other developments to make the car go faster. Then, they are forced to run a tire that is artificially made to be bad in order to help the show? It makes absolutely no sense.

If you opened up the tire supply in F1 to several manufacturers the tires alone would improve lap times by 6-7 seconds in no time. And they could last as long you wanted. Just look at the tires the P1s run at Le Mans – four stints on one set! That’s four hours of running and they do the quickest lap times on the fourth stint sometimes. And that’s with cars that are both heavier and have more horsepower than an F1 car.

So I would get rid of a lot of the aero – half of it. If you have that kind of grip in the tires you don’t need as much aero. A lot of the dirty-air problem cars following other cars experience will be gone. You can gain all of the lap time and more back with tire grip. Give the cars another 200-300 horsepower, better tires and you could easily go 10 seconds faster than they do now.

That brings the driver back into the equation more because they’d actually have to look after their tires over a stint. Now, the tires just fall off a cliff after five laps which leaves you cruising along slowly trying to make it until the next pit stop. You could have tires that would last a stint, two stints or possibly a whole race.

It will be a no-brainer for tire companies to make tires that allow the cars to be six to seven seconds a lap quicker. Think about how much F1 teams spend now to gain one second of lap time. We always used to joke when I was racing about how much money the teams would spend on wind-tunnels and other developments, huge amounts, and yet you bolt a new set of tires on a car and you’re two seconds quicker right away - for a cost of $2,000.

I can’t understand why no one is thinking about this. The tire companies would enjoy developing tires like they used to and not being strangled by a bunch of restrictions and they would get great marketing from it as a result.

Indycar Iowa

JT – IndyCar has raced on two ovals in the last two weeks - the Milwaukee Mile and Iowa Speedway. Addressing last weekend’s Iowa Corn 300 first, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport finally turned their season around with a win.

Meanwhile, there was potential for a big shakeup in the championship after Juan Pablo Montoya’s Penske suffered a suspension failure early in the race. Scott Dixon would have gained considerably in points with a good finish but he too did not finish due to component failure. Scott now finds himself third in the standings behind Montoya and Graham Rahal who finished in fourth place at Iowa.

SJ – Iowa was interesting. It’s ironic that there were a bunch of mechanical failures - failures that you never see in IndyCar these days – and that both of the main contenders for the championship experienced the failures. When Montoya crashed we all thought this was going to be the first weekend he actually had a problem all year and Scott could finally gain on him.

But it was straight back to square one again - a seal on Scott’s right rear half-shaft failed and that was it.

After having so many problems early this season it looks like the Hondas are finally catching up to the Chevrolets. Ryan won and Graham Rahal was quite strong again. The Rahal team’s strength looks like it’s bled over a bit to the other Honda teams because they all seem to be running stronger. Maybe Iowa was more suited to the Hondas as some tracks might favor their aero kit.

In Scott’s case, he was sort of chasing the track all night. He started out with the car being quite loose and the team dialed that out with wing and tire-stagger. Then it started pushing like crazy and they were trying to dial that out. But he was making the car better, waiting to pounce at the end of the race. Then the shaft failed and well, that’s racing.

Sage Karam and Ed Carpenter

JT – Near the end of the race, rookie Sage Karam made some moves on track that displeased several drivers including Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal who both voiced their displeasure with him strongly. What did you think of his driving?

SJ – I completely sympathize with Carpenter. I think what Sage did was absolutely over the limit and it wasn’t just Carpenter he screwed up. He was chopping a lot of people all day long.  On ovals in particular, there is a certain code of conduct, especially when you run more than one line around the track. You can’t just move up and down the track and take the air off the other drivers’ cars.

It’s not fair to the other drivers because particularly on an oval you have to pay some respect to each other. If everyone drove that way, there wouldn’t be one car left on track. You could see very well on camera that Karam just drove Carpenter up into the wall basically. You stay in your line and you race hard but it was already tight when he decided to move Carpenter all the way up. Carpenter had the choice to either keep his foot in it and crash or lift and actually get on the brakes. I would certainly have been plenty angry too.

Indycar - Bourdais

JT – IndyCar’s Wisconsin 250 at the Milwaukee Mile was a fun race to watch with good competition. Sebastian Bourdais drove very well, scoring an upset win. His KVSH Racing team was fined after the race for violating the minimum car weight rule, however. Nonetheless, Bourdais’ driving and Jimmy Vasser’s strategy worked to a tee.

Scott Dixon finished seventh. Pole-winner Josef Newgarden finished third and continues to show that he’s matured as a racer.

SJ – I enjoyed it too, it was definitely fun to watch. Bourdais did a great job and when you’re that hooked up (Bourdais almost lapped the field) on an oval it’s awesome. Scott had a similar experience back at the Texas race. He just checked out. When the car is working that well, it feels amazing.

Bourdais’ team made a really good call as well. Pitting out of sequence and putting him in clean air was the way to go, much better than being in the middle of a pack. Even with a good car, by the time you work your way through that traffic the tires go off.

Scott got shuffled back in the last laps due the air being taken off his front wing on a couple occasions. He wasn’t happy but that’s racing sometimes.

LMP2 - 2017

JT – The FIA, ACO & IMSA recently announced the four chassis constructors (Onroak, Oreca, Dallara, Riley/Multimatic) eligible to build LMP2 prototypes under new global regulations for the class in 2017. IMSA P2 cars will be able to utilize engines from multiple makers but the FIA/ACO will mandate a single engine/electronics supplier for the WEC, ELMS and Asian Le Mans Series. American teams will be able to compete at Le Mans and in the ELMS using the U.S.-based engine packages but will have to revert to generic bodywork from the chassis constructor they choose.

The sanctioning bodies claim the new regulations will bring stability to the class, creating economic conditions under which the chosen constructors can build cars for a global market profitably. One has to wonder if it will work out the way officials imagine it will. It will certainly limit the diversity which makes sports car racing appealing.

SJ – I don’t agree with the limit of four cars. I don’t see why you can’t have the class be more open. If you can and are willing to build a car to the regulations you should be able to do so.

You know what’s going to happen anyway. Out of the four constructors, one or maybe two will be the car/cars to have. Then the other two or three constructors won’t be able to sell cars anyway.  It’s the natural culling that happens in every championship. You’re always going to have one car that’s a little better than the rest. Look at CART and IndyCar. First the car to have was the Reynard, then the Lola and in more recent years, Dallara. The same in F3, and on and on it goes, it happens in every championship.

Dallara has basically decimated everybody in whatever category they’ve entered. So chances are that the same thing will happen again. Whether it’s Onroak, Oreca, Dallara or Riley, you can be sure there will be one car that’s going to be quicker than the rest. All you need to do is look at the history in every racing series.

If someone’s willing to put the money and effort into building a car why not let them do it? That’s what the spirit of racing is all about.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: MAVTV 500, Austrian GP & the fantastic GT3 Series

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – Scott Dixon scored well in Texas, winning on the oval. His weekend was less successful in Toronto, finishing eighth. Both IndyCar races were good however – much better than this season’s F1 events. Last weekend, Scott finished sixth in the exciting MAVTV 500 at Fontana Speedway (California).

The racing was incredible with multiple drivers racing side-by-side on many occasions and more than 70 lead changes. But it was also scary - a return to the kind of pack racing that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.

Drivers warned IndyCar prior to the race that the increase in downforce mandated for the new Chevrolet and Honda aero-kits for the weekend would result in this but IndyCar paid them no heed. After the race most of the drivers voiced strong opposition to the pack racing. You were on hand at Fontana. What did you think of the race and what do think IndyCar will do to address the situation?

Stefan Johansson – Yes, Scott did a great job in Texas. In Toronto, strategy got [Joseph] Newgarden to the front which is what makes IndyCar great. You can roll the dice and sometimes-smaller teams can win by gambling a little on strategy.

At Fontana, it wasn’t just the guys in the cars who thought the racing was too crazy. Like many others watching, I thought the racing was exciting at the beginning of the race but as it got closer to the finish all I could think was, “This is not going to end well.”

With everyone getting race-y in the last 50 laps things started to get out of hand. I think on one lap there were six cars abreast going into Turn 1! It was completely over the top. All of the drivers were absolutely in unison that there’s no way they’re going to race like that again.

I think all the teams have had just about enough of these new aero-kits. One of the main reasons the series went away from the old Dallara chassis was because they said they had too much downforce. And now, with these new aero kits they change the level of downforce, again adding more? It defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.

As I’ve said before, they should have taken all the money they spent on the kits which are costing everyone a fortune and spent it on promoting the series instead. (Only a little over 3,000 people were in the stands at Fontana.)

IndyCar is maybe the best racing series in the world right now - pure racing with good battles throughout and uncertainty of the outcome. Why not direct whatever resources there are to make more people aware of that instead of petty rule changes that only the die-hard fans will even notice or appreciate?

The Fontana race was a perfect example of this, it was maybe a bit to gladiatorial, but for anyone watching it was one of the most unbelievable races ever in my opinion.

JT - The Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring was somewhat interesting on the first lap but then settled down into a mostly processional affair. Like most of the F1 rounds this year, there wasn’t that much wheel to wheel racing. Nico Rosberg (starting second) did a good job of beating Lewis Hamilton (on pole) to the first corner and holding him off for the next few corners. Thereafter, he was never really challenged.

Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen somehow came together with Fernando Alonso and the two wound up in the fence with Alonso’s McLaren atop Räikkönen’s Ferrari. It was bizarre and neither driver had a good answer as to why it happened. Kimi has said he lost control of his car for some unknown reason and Fernando couldn’t avoid him.

SJ – This seems to be the norm these days, especially with the Mercedes pair. Whoever gets in front at the beginning of a race stays in front. It’s almost like they’re not even trying to race each other. They just hold position. I wouldn’t say there’s an agreement within the team but it certainly looks like no one’s even trying to race.  

It’s tricky to say what’s going on with Kimi. He’s certainly not a million miles off the pace of his teammate but it seems to be harder for him to get things right with the car than it is for Vettel or than it was for Alonso. I think he’s also had more bad luck in terms of putting everything together in the races and more importantly in qualifying. It doesn’t take much for everything to go pear-shaped, especially if you qualify poorly.

JT – There have been intra-team battles for the F1 Championship in the past of course but I don’t think I’m alone in finding the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry a bit tepid – not really that exciting. What’s your view?

SJ – I agree. There’s certainly nowhere near the level of interest there was between Prost and Senna when they were racing for the championship at McLaren. It seemed a little better last year between Hamilton and Rosberg but clearly something’s changed within the team. Either they’ve been told not to race each other too hard or something else.

At least there was a bit of hate between them last year which made it somewhat interesting. But we don’t even have that this season. Everything’s great – Lewis says Nico did a great job when he wins or the reverse with Nico saying Lewis was great. There are a few sad faces from either of them when they don’t win but everything else is happy and chummy.

JT – There’s always gossip in Formula One but you know things are not going well overall when you hear as much comment as we’ve heard recently from drivers and ex-drivers, team-owners, and F1 chiefs about the state of the series.

Lewis Hamilton has argued that the current cars are harder to drive than they look. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa contends that F1 is more competitive than ever, maintaining that the racing during the often fondly-remembered Senna/Prost era wasn’t as good as today.

Nikki Lauda was quoted recently, saying F1 isn’t exciting now because there’s not enough danger or risk associated with it. Bernie Ecclestone says F1 cannot improve because the teams have too much say in how the sport is managed. Ex-FIA head Max Mosley opines that F1 needs to simplify its currently complex formula and that Jean Todt should be more proactive regarding the series.

What do you make of it all?

SJ – One thing is clear and we’ve mentioned it many times. You cannot run F1, or any racing series for that matter, as a committee. Especially not if the teams are to have any say in the rules or decisions being made. You can’t get the teams to agree on anything. Every single person you speak to in the paddock - anyone with an interest or passion for the business - has their own opinion on how it should be run or what rules they need to implement.

I’ll say it again, there are only two racing series that have been consistently successful - F1 and NASCAR.  Both have been run like benevolent dictatorships by people who understand their business better than anyone else. The teams should not have any say in the way the rules are written or how F1 is run.

There is a governing body, the FIA, and there’s the commercial rights holder, FOM. Between the two of them they need to come up with a fair and sensible package that’s simple and easy to understand. F1 has gotten so complicated now - especially on the technical side - that people inside the business can’t even understand it. It’s a championship for engineers and boffins today.

In terms of the racing, the art of racing is to drive a car on the limit. No one’s doing that anymore. They’re all either driving under the limit or driving over it. When you have tires that can only stand five hard laps before they go off and you have to spend the rest of the stint just maintaining enough speed to make it to the next stop while constantly taking orders from the pits on what settings to use on the steering wheel - I can completely understand the frustration we now start noticing from a number of the drivers.

Everyone’s using the track width and then some. If they lose a little time it doesn’t matter. They just go on. The fine art of keeping a car on the limit whether you’re racing or on your own is kind of gone now. That’s because you don’t have to be on the limit most of the time and you’re not really penalized even if you go beyond it. I think the public can see that too.

Who wants to see a guy blow a braking zone by 20 yards, lock up, miss the apex by a country mile and then just carry on? A lot of guys aren’t even on the racing line anymore. You couldn’t do that in the past because you risked damaging the car or yourself or both. Few tracks had any form of run off area. If you went out past a curb, you were either in the wall, catch fencing or a sand trap. The asphalt in the huge runoff areas we have now is much safer but it allows people to be careless or just ignore the track limits completely.

Spa is a perfect example. Pouhon, the downhill double lefthander, used to be a mighty corner. It’s off-camber, super-fast and getting it right was a balancing act every time. Now, you just hammer a car in there and if you go too fast, you don’t even go over a curb. It’s just kind of a painted suggestion and you don’t even notice it. You just drive outside it.

In the middle of the night during the 24-hour race (the Spa 24 Hours) everybody is just going flat through there. They don’t even lift. You’ve got the track and another track width on top of that and you just keep your foot down. Eau Rouge is the same now. It’s all asphalt to the outside so if you go too fast there’s no real penalty. It used to be one of the most awesome corners at any race track in the world. You don’t even think about it anymore. On the third lap you’re flat – easy.

I don’t necessarily agree that F1 should be more dangerous because racing is still dangerous when the circumstances line up against you. But there has to be some form of punishment or consequence for going over the limit. It should also be more difficult to find the limit.

All the modern tracks are too sanitized in a way. If you took away the concrete wall that follows the Porsche curves at Le Mans for example and made huge run off areas instead, that whole sequence of corners would be a no brainer. Configured as the Porsche curves are currently, it’s a matter of digging as deep as you can to keep your foot in it the whole way. If you get it right and are able to stay flat throughout, the time you gain is massive. You can lose a couple of seconds through that section alone if you don’t get it right from the start.

JT – The recent FIA Formula 3 European Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps is another example of drivers having little regard for track limits. It was nearly as fraught as the races which preceded it at Monza. There were multiple accidents and incidents of contact with many of the drivers behaving poorly or inexplicably. You were there in-person. What’s your take?

SJ – It was pretty bad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse standard of driving - certainly not at the level of where Formula 3 is. Some of the drivers are just clueless when it comes to race craft. It’s one thing to be racing hard and have incidents but what’s happening right now in F3 is just stupid and completely unnecessary. The guys are making moves that don’t gain them anything and they’re certainly costing the teams a lot. It’s weird. It’s like some of the drivers have zero race craft.

Some of them may be coming directly from karting but I think most have had a few years in the junior formulas that follow karting. It’s bizarre. Aside from the big crashes we saw at Spa, there was one guy who must have gone across the chicanes ten times – just straight through them. He never got penalized because he didn’t gain anything I guess. But he also didn’t lose any positions. He just kept his foot in it and rejoined after the chicanes, and just flew out into the middle of the pack about where he was before. It was like watching someone playing a video game.

Again, there’s no penalty anymore for going over the limit so everybody’s on the limit or a little above it. It’s odd that you can now exceed track limits and it’s become the norm. In the past, if you blew a chicane at least you’d have to stop until the rest of the field passed through it. Then the marshals would wave you out onto to the track to rejoin, meaning you effectively had blown your race. There has to be some kind of punishment for going over the limit.

Worse, the same kind of thing was going on in Austria during the F1 race. Cars were leaving the track completely but just kept going. They lost maybe half a second but just carried on.

JT – The 2015 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was a good race with interesting battles in just about every class. Scuderia Corsa did very well on debut with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal finishing on the podium in GTE AM with the Ferrari. You were there with the team throughout the week. It must have been enjoyable. The battle between Townsend and Patrick Long in Patrick Dempsey’s Porsche late in the race was very good.

SJ – That was a great battle – very professional from both drivers, very fair. Patrick was a little defensive but didn’t block, used his mirrors well and drove with full awareness. Townsend had some fantastic stints as did Jeff and Bill and it was terrific to watch. It was a great result for the team, being on the podium on the first trip to Le Mans. Everybody was over the moon.

And every category was pretty tight. The P1 duel between Audi and Porsche was great, and although it didn’t go down to the wire it was still pretty tight all the way.

It was somewhat disappointing to see Toyota being completely off the pace this year. It’s hard to understand the reason after they had the fastest car last year pretty much everywhere. It seems they’ve done almost no development on their cars at all. I can’t imagine they just sat still and expected the others to do nothing, so maybe there were other reasons why they didn’t make more progress.

P2 went right down to the wire. The JOTA Sport car (Gibson 015S-Nissan) was catching the KCMG car (ORECA 05 Coupe), having gained three laps back on them on pure speed. The GTE Pro fight between the Corvette and the Ferrari was great too until the Ferrari lost its gearbox.

JT – Nissan’s debut in P1 was not good. Only one of their three GTR LMs was running at the finish but didn’t complete enough laps to be classified. None of the cars ran with their 2-megajoule hybrid system functioning. They had numerous problems including braking issues and massive understeer. They claimed they would easily out-qualify the P2 cars but only one of their cars managed to post a time faster than the fastest P2 car. Even then it was only a few tenths quicker and more than 20 seconds slower than the lead P1 cars.

SJ – The bottom line is that their performance shows a complete lack of understanding of the business. Any engineers you talk to whether they’re in Formula One or sports cars unanimously agree that this car will never work. It will never be a competitive proposition.

To claim that they would easily out qualify the P2 cars is a very odd statement considering they’re not running in that category, so who cares? The fact that they not only did not do that but they were over 20 seconds slower than the cars they were competing against?  I can’t imagine Audi, Porsche - or any other manufacturer for that matter - showing up to the biggest motor race in the world that far off the pace - and unreliable on top of it.

Having something different may get Nissan noticed and maybe they can market that. But aside from it being cute just because it’s so different or the political correctness around their effort, racing is still about winning. That’s why we go racing – to win races.

To think that you’re going to win - and claim that you’re going to win - with this design against Audi and Porsche and Toyota is not realistic. I can only imagine that someone sold the executives a bill of goods and none of them understand enough about racing to say, “Hang on a minute!”

The way racing is today, everybody operates in a pretty narrow box to be competitive. With the big role that aerodynamics in particular plays now, everyone eventually migrates to the best solution and the best solution usually leads to cars that look a specific way.

Look at the cars in F1. They all look the same because that’s what works. The same holds true for prototype sports cars. They all have very aggressive, stubby front ends and similar aero shapes as you go to the rear of the car because that’s what works.

JT – GT3 racing continues to impress globally. The Blancpain Endurance Series round at Paul Ricard boasted 60 entries. That follows earlier rounds which had similar size grids. It remains a good formula.

SJ – It’s fantastic. When you look at Blancpain and the GT3 regulations, you have to say that [Stefan] Ratel (SRO Group principal) has done a terrific job. The racing works brilliantly, very even. It’s just a shame that Le Mans couldn’t apply the GT3 concept.

P1 has what, eight cars maximum racing right now? And they’re going to slow them down again  because somehow they’ve determined that their lap times are too quick. I don’t understand how that’s determined. Historically, a certain lap time is too quick? Who says so, whether it’s sports cars or F1?

There was a time when F1 cars had aerodynamic side skirts that basically sealed them to the track. Their ultimate speed was determined by how much the drivers could withstand before they started to blackout. That should give you an indication of how far you could possibly go speed-wise. You wouldn’t have to go that far but why not go as fast as reasonable?

My point is, if you took the GT cars, whether they’re GTE or GT3, and let them run without  restrictors they would have all another couple hundred horsepower at least because that’s how much they’re strangled now. Their lap times would be right down in the mid 3-minute, 40s. In 1997 when we won the race (Stefan won with Joest Racing in a Porsche TWR-Porsche WSC-95) our pole time was a 3:47 in the Porsche prototype.

You’d be right there in terms of good, fast laps and then you’d have effectively 56 cars with almost identical performance racing each other. I think that would be pretty cool. And I think they should just make GT one category. The whole division of GTE and GT3, it’s just nonsense. Everybody has to make a special car for Le Mans. It’s ridiculous. 

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Indy 500, Monaco GP & the FIA Formula 3 European Championship

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – IndyCar followed up an exciting Indy 500 with the “Chevrolet Dual in Detroit” last weekend. Both Honda and Chevy claimed wins during the doubleheader. The racing was curtailed by rain on Saturday and heavily influenced by it on Sunday. Carlos Munoz took his maiden win for Andretti Autosport on Saturday while Sebastian Bourdais won for KVSH Racing on Sunday.

It was a mixed weekend for Scott Dixon with a 5th place finish on Saturday and 20th place finish Sunday after contact with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball. You were on hand, what did you think of the racing and the weekend for Scott?

Stefan Johansson – Overall, the weather really put a damper on the whole weekend, especially on Sunday it was just miserable. The weekend wasn’t great for Scott but not a total loss. The way the strategy played out on Saturday turned out to be alright but not great. They were the first car to roll the dice and go to wets but they were about five to six minutes too early once it went green.

They lost about 15 seconds per lap before the rest decided to come in and go to wets. This meant the others had enough time to stop under green, rejoin and still be ahead of Scott. After that there wasn’t enough time left to make an impact on the people in front. Finishing in 5th place wasn’t bad considering the incidents on track and the fact that the race didn’t go the full distance.

On Sunday, things were going well near the end of the race. Scott and Will Power were the only two cars that would have made it to the end on fuel. Running in the top ten, I think Scott had a good chance of winning at that point. But then he was taken out in the accident and that caution basically saved everybody else.

Sebastian Bourdais did a great job and his KVSH Team got him out in front of everybody else on their last pit stop so in the circumstances they deserved the win.  Sebastian is a terrific driver. He didn’t win four Champ Car titles for nothing. He did everything he needed to do given the opportunity on Sunday. It was great to see my old buddy and sparring partner Jimmy Vasser win another race.

Overall though, it was a typical Detroit race, where strategy is more important than speed a lot of the time. Again, the show was great and both races ended up being exciting to watch.

JT – Looking back to the previous week and the Indy 500, Scott seemed to do everything he could have done, driving a perfect race, leading the most laps until the car experienced problems in the final stint. The race was a good one otherwise with a pretty impressive battle between Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power for the win in the last five laps with Montoya prevailing. 

SJ – What happened right at the end was that the radiator got clogged with debris and the engine temperature shot through the roof. He basically had to back off completely. He was running 223 mph laps earlier in the race and could do that all day long on his own. But with the engine temperature so high all he could manage was 217 mph with a tow. He just had no power left and he had to go to safety settings on the steering wheel to preserve the engine.

It was a good race no doubt but personally, I think Scott would have walked it and won if he hadn’t had the overheating. The car was so fast and he was really just cruising all day. He was completely in control of the race. I think he had enough to stay out in front of Montoya and Power.

Unfortunately, if not for all of the “ifs” and “buts” we’d all win lots of races but racing is heartbreaking a lot of the time.

JT – The Indy 500 again proved to be the best racing of the big three on Memorial Day weekend, eclipsing the Charlotte 600 and absolutely burying the parade that is the Monaco Grand Prix.

SJ – It just goes back to what I’ve been saying for a couple years now. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that IndyCar is the best racing in the world right now week-in, week-out. I really believe that. Every race is exciting and there’s action all the time – passing, incidents and good hard competition throughout the field.

It’s just a shame IndyCar can’t relay that to more fans. The Indy 500 had great TV ratings but apart from that race, there is nowhere near enough attention attracted by the series. Instead of spending all the money Chevy and Honda have spent on the new aerokits – millions of dollars for sure – if that would have been allocated to good marketing I think it would have benefitted IndyCar significantly more than these aerokits that no one but die-hard fans sees a difference in.

It’s always easy to be smart in hindsight but I don’t think you can say these aerokits have improved the racing, and I don’t think there were a lot of people who really understood the reason to do it to begin with. As I’ve said many times now, the one thing there was nothing wrong with in IndyCar was the cars themselves and the racing.  They produced great racing and they were affordable to run. All this did was add extra cost for the teams, something many of them could certainly do without. I don’t even want to think what Chevy and Honda spent between them developing these kits.

JT – The Monaco Grand Prix paled in comparison to the Indy 500 to put it politely – a dull race up to the point where Mercedes’ gaffe in pitting Lewis Hamilton from the lead led to his losing the race and gifting the win to teammate Nico Rosberg. It really was simply an embarrassing outing both for Mercedes and Formula One. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, there have been so many comments and arguments there isn’t much to add. It was just a gigantic screw-up on every level. In a way, that kind of sums up the way F1 is at the moment.

Toto Wolff’s (Mercedes team boss) comment - “Data doesn’t lie. We had to go with what the data told us to do in that situation” - it’s simply ridiculous to say that. You’ve got 12 laps remaining. Unless the car has some sort of failure, you just don’t stop in Monaco, end of story. You could be five seconds a lap quicker than the car in front of you and you literally can’t get past. Anyone with the slightest amount of race craft knows that.

I think what triggered the panic at Mercedes was that Lewis was complaining that his tire temperatures were dropping. In fairness, it’s always toughest for the leader to make a call when a caution or a safety car comes out. Whatever he does, the others have the opportunity to do the same or the opposite.

In this case, the general rule of thumb is always – “if in doubt, stay out”. With less than 15 laps to go at Monaco you should never stop unless you have a limping car.

One thing is clear. If Ross Brawn had still been with Mercedes calling the races you know that would never have happened. Ross has the race craft; he and Michael [Schumacher] during their heyday were terrific with race strategy. One reason they were so good and why they snookered everybody so many times on strategy is because they were both trained in sports car racing.

It’s the best form of racing to hone your race craft. You have to make strategic decisions all the time - in every race – for six hours, 12 hours, 24 hours. You can make a season’s worth of open-wheel decisions in one 24 hour sports car race. There’s so much more to consider in every regard – tire wear, fuel consumption, weather conditions, track position.

I think Mercedes’ mistake sums up the mindset in F1 right now. Race craft is a thing of the past, certainly from a driver’s point of view. You don’t need it as a driver. You just listen to your engineers. They tell you to speed up a bit or to slow down, or change a setting on the steering wheel and drivers just drive to whatever commands they get.

That’s one of the reasons so many of the drivers are now paying attention to sports car racing. Nico Hulkenberg is the latest to be part of the trend but I think there are a lot of drivers sniffing around wanting to do sports car racing because they’re racers and they want to race. The racing in F1 isn’t satisfying them anymore to the point where they really get a kick out of it.

For any driver worth his salt, you want to drive a car on the limit for as long as you can. When you can’t do that, what’s the point? The excitement is gone.

JT – Speaking of the mindset in F1 currently, what’s your take on the recent meetings of the series’ “Strategy Group” to discuss proposals for making F1 more exciting? Will anything come out of them?

SJ – No. In my opinion, creating this Strategy Group is one of the biggest mistakes they’ve ever made. It’s had different names over the years but it allows the teams and more importantly, the engineers and designers, to be part of the rule-making process. It’s a disaster and the people involved will never want to change things. They’d like to add more complexity if they can, not less.

If the engineers and designers could have eight wind-tunnels instead of two or more simulators, they would. It never ends. There are two governing bodies in F1, the FIA and the FOM (Formula One Management). They are the ones who should make the rules. They need to be mowell thought out, well-formed rules that can be maintained over as long a period of time as possible. Rules stability will always bring the costs down and make the overall grid more competitive as a result.

The bottom line is that you can’t run any racing series as a democracy. That has been proven over and over again, with Champ Car being a recent and perfect example. I sat in on a lot of the meetings the team owners had and I simply couldn’t believe some of the things I was hearing - never mind the shenanigans going on behind closed doors.

There are, or at least were, two consistently strong series in racing, F1 and NASCAR. And they were both run like benevolent dictatorships but with an iron fist. They were both able to see the bigger picture and where things would go in the future. In the case of F1, Max [Mosley] and Bernie [Ecclestone] together ran the sport pretty well. They didn’t always please everyone and occasionally they would throw a grenade into the proceedings to make people wake up a bit. Then everybody would scream and shout for a couple of weeks. A little later, they’d back off twenty percent from their original positions and after the furor died down everybody would just get on with the job. Lo and behold, that actually worked.

Now the people in the sport waste their times in these meetings and the best they can come up with is a return to refueling during pit stops?

Frankly, who cares? Do they think fans are going to stampede to races again because they have fuel stops? As Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing team boss) said, the only decision they’ve made so far is to ban drivers changing their helmet designs during the season. Last year it was allowing drivers to pick their own car number.

Nothing will result from the meetings. It’s hard enough to get them to agree on where and when to have a meeting because they’re all so suspicious of one another and whatever secret agenda they think the other teams might have. As long as the teams are involved in decisions on the rules-making process it will never work.

Worse, from all of the meetings they’ve had over the last few years not one single proposal has touched on really bringing costs down. Refueling was banned because it was too expensive in the past. How on earth do they think it will be less expensive now?

And being F1, refueling couldn’t be done with gravity-feed fueling rigs in 15 seconds or however long it might take. No, they want it to be done in two to three seconds to match the current time it takes to do tire changes. Imagine, they’d need some ridiculous amount of pressure to the push fuel into the cars that quickly. That’s a recipe for disaster to begin with - why add that complication?

And with pit stops that short what’s the point anyway? I would like to see them bring the human element back into it. How about having two guys in total to execute a pit stop like teams in sports car racing do? Those guys are seriously good at what they do and then you have something that could actually make a bit of difference to the outcome of a race.

Strategy would be more in play because pit-deltas would be close to half-a-minute if not more. Deciding whether to pit or not would make a big difference. The small time it takes to stop now is almost pointless and everybody is pretty much on the same strategy most of the time.

Now, there are four guys on each corner of an F1 car during a pit stop now plus a couple more with the front and rear jacks so it’s 18-total. To me it makes no sense.

JT – Another feature of the current rules that you’re puzzled about is the development “tokens” made available to engine constructors for 2015. Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault were given 32 tokens for power-unit development before the season began to “spend” as they saw fit. Honda was given nine tokens (an average of what the other three engine builders had left ahead of the season’s first race).

SJ – Why don’t they do the same thing - allow only so many development tokens - for the chassis, or the other way around where they leave the engine development open the same as it is for the chassis?

Apparently, it’s ok to have 80 different front wing configurations in a season. Ferrari proudly announced that they started the “development arms race” as they call it. They’ve got a new brake duct with 35 pounds more downforce and ten pounds less drag or whatever the numbers are. Who cares about a brake duct? That alone has probably cost them four or five million dollars to develop.

That’s the level of ridiculousness F1 has got to now. But there are so many things that would be easy to implement to bring down costs. Crash-testing is one area. Each team is required to do crash-testing on their tub and more importantly to pass it, which is not a very easy task by all accounts. Each team is spending a fortune just to pass this test. Why not just give the teams a standard tub and nose that’s approved by the FIA with all of the crash-testing already done? They could just bolt on their own aerodynamic bodywork on top of it.

That alone would take a huge cost burden away. But the big teams in particular don’t seem to want any changes. That defies logic in my opinion. A more competitive, broader field benefits everyone. Without too much effort, a winning F1 team should be able to run for $100 to $150 million per year. Also-rans should be able to do it for $30 or $40 million a season. And in the end, it’s always the top teams that do the winning no matter what. IndyCar is a perfect example of that where it’s basically Ganassi and Penske and occasionally Andretti who do all the winning, despite the fact that all the teams have the same cars.

Teams wouldn’t even strictly need sponsors because everything would be paid for by Bernie and any money they earned above their costs would be profit. At that point, the value of each franchise would go through the roof because people would find that F1 was a business you could actually make money from.

And let’s face it; F1 is still by far the most glamorous and high profile sport in the world. Anyone with enough money and a big ego will always line up to have a go at being an owner. Now, you’re lucky if you can give a team away and have someone else assume its debt. That’s what it has come to. There’s not a team that would be able to sell their operation at a profit right now.

JT – Apart from F1, the cost and viability of auto racing across the spectrum is questionable now, wouldn’t you agree?

SJ – Yes, it’s a tough time in motor racing in general. We keep talking about the teams and series but the promoters are having the same problems. There’s no coincidence that there’s no German Grand Prix, the Italian Grand Prix is currently in doubt. Spa (the Belgian Grand Prix) is right on the limit every year as is the British Grand Prix. No one can make any money.

JT - We’ve mentioned it previously but as time goes on, the FIA driver ratings system seems more and more pointless as a spectator. Obviously, the system is aimed at attracting more gentlemen drivers to sports car racing and generating business for teams but for fans it’s another level of needless complexity.

SJ – I think it started with good intentions. It was basically a way for “gentlemen” drivers who were also supporting the teams financially to be able to compete on high level. Now, all these teams scout the whole world for fast young Formula 3 kids.

These kids are talented and professionally groomed but haven’t been rated yet. It goes against the whole idea of giving the gentlemen drivers a break with the assumption that they’ll bring money to help fund the teams. The rating system is completely out of whack.

The way it used to be sort of worked itself out organically and the end result was more or less the same as it is now. The teams with ambition always find a way to get the results. Those with less ambition end up running a guy who helps foot the bill. All the ratings system has done is basically kill the careers of a lot of very talented professional drivers who simply can’t get a drive because their rating is wrong and there’s not enough room in the teams for them.

JT – One of the more bizarre features of last weekend’s racing was the cancelation of the third leg of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship race at Monza after nine laps due to poor driving standards. Multiple accidents in race-one led to drivers being warned about driving standards. After more incidents in race-two and crashes early in race-three the competition was abandoned. On a positive note, Felix Rosenqvist won all three rounds.

SJ – Felix certainly did the business in Monza with a hat trick both in qualifying and all three races. It can’t get any better than that. Unfortunately, due to the poor driving and all the safety cars, etc. they only handed out half-points for races two and three.

There used to be a kind of silent code of conduct amongst drivers but sadly it’s a thing of the past. There were no real rules as to what you could or couldn’t do in terms of blocking for example - there was just a quiet understanding of how far you would go. And if there was ever a dispute it would get sorted behind the transporters between the drivers themselves and then it would never happen again.

Unfortunately, I think it all started in the mid to late 1980s with some of the drivers that the current generation still looks up to. The code of conduct was just ripped into shreds and then some of the other big names in the 90s took it to a whole other level after that. Because these guys were the stars of their time, now that’s how young drivers think they should drive.

I also think it’s partly because they don’t think they can get hurt anymore. Years ago you were never sure if you’d walk again if you did stupid things like they do now. There’s a whole different mentality today and until you’ve had a big one or two you tend to feel like you can walk on water.