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