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

#SJblog (source page)

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.