Jan Tegler - The Hungarian Grand Prix proved interesting primarily because of the performance of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen - particularly at the start. Both Ferraris got away from the line well with Vettel vaulting past Mercedes GP pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg.
Raikkonen was able to slot into second place behind Vettel, getting past both Mercedes as well in the first corners. Unfortunately, Raikkonen was forced to retire with a failing MGU-K energy recovery system. Otherwise, it might have been a Ferrari one-two. What did you think of Ferrari's perfomance?
Stefan Johansson - It was definitely impressive, especially the start where both Ferraris just took off from the line. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Mercedes got caught out because all their calibrations were done assuming the lights would go green the first time.
As it was, they had to do another start when the first one was abandoned. Apparently their clutches were now hotter and therefore whatever parameters they had programmed for launch did not work as well.
Why no one else had the same problem is another story of course. Maybe it’s just that the boffins at Merc are better at setting the ultimate launch control, maybe they forgot to anticipate for a restart? One thing is clear, it had most likely very little to do with the drivers and more to do with what dials and switches were put in certain positions.
JT - Mercedes on the other hand, did not cover itself in glory. Lewis Hamilton bogged down at the start and lost place after place. He followed that up by going into a gravel trap and later hitting Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, incurring a drive through penalty. Despite his poor performance, Hamilton finished in sixth place and actually gained points on teammate Rosberg. Meanwhile, Rosberg cut a tire while racing Ricciardo, dropping him from second position to eighth place at the checkered flag. Hamilton's luck seems to be carrying him forward in spite of his mistakes. What did you make of the Mercedes drivers and team performance?
SJ - It seems that once their original plan goes out the window Mercedes has a hard time recovering. More or less the same thing happened at Silverstone where they were able to recover, but at least a small part of that was thanks to the freaky weather conditions there.
It looks like their cars are struggling once they have to run in dirty air and a lot of their advantage is gone. Hamilton was certainly lucky that Rosberg did not score big this time but what struck me as rather weird was the amount of contact between all the drivers throughout the field. It’s unusual to see that much contact even when people race hard as they certainly did this time.
I know the track surface in Hungary is very strange with a very low grip level. It feels like the tires never dig into the surface, just kind of skimming on top of it all the time. Maybe that had something to do with it. But then, it’s been the same surface since 1985 so why it would be so different this time is still a bit strange.
JT - Red Bull Racing had its best outing of the season at Hungary with Daniil Kvyat finishing second while Ricciardo finished third. Both had some interesting battles during the race. Is their success an indication that RBR is finally improving or simply the result of circumstances during the race?
SJ - I’m sure they are improving. But this track helped all the teams that have a horsepower deficit which showed also in the performance of the McLarens and Toro Rosso - all helped of course by the poor and unusual performance by Mercedes.
JT - Toro Rosso and McLaren did have reason to celebrate with Max Verstappen coming home just off the podium in fourth place and Fernando Alonso taking the checkers in fifth with Jenson Button also in the top ten. It was McLaren's first points scoring race for both cars this season. Again, circumstances surely played a role in the trio's finishing positions but both teams may gain slight momentum from Hungary. What's you view?
SJ - The results for both were greatly helped by the circumstances that developed in the race and the unusual character of this track. Toro Rosso has been strong all year and it seems their chassis is probably one of the best this season. McLaren have huge resources and they’re relentless in trying to improve, so sooner or later they will be competitive, but I doubt very much we will see any huge improvements this year. Whether Hungary was a real turning point remains to be seen.
JT - Williams F1 had a poor outing at Hungary. They don't seem to be capable of finding consistent form, even with the benefit of Mercedes power. What has to happen for the Grove, U.K.-based squad to finally run at the front routinely?
SJ - I think they simply need more resources and funding in order to be a consistent player in the top 3-4 group. There’s no doubt they made a huge leap forward starting last year when they switched to the Mercedes engine. But maybe more importantly, they had a major shakeup in the design department.
Pat Symmonds is one of the top three Technical Directors in the business in my opinion and it’s kind of a mystery to me that he’s not working for one of the top teams already. But even with a guy of his caliber, you’re limited if you don’t have the budget to spend on all the development that the leading teams do. So in the circumstances, they are still doing an incredible job. It seems they have a harder time to always stay on top of the tire situation and their performance in the wet has been very poor, however.
JT - Formula One silly-season is in full swing as the teams take their summer break. Speculation by an Italian publication says Kimi Raikkonen will be given a contract by Ferrari for 2016.
Meanwhile, Haas F1 principal Gene Haas has admitted that the team is considering Jean-Eric Vergne, Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg as top prospects for filling the team's seats next year. Two of the three - Vergne and Gutierrez - are Ferrari reserve drivers while Hulkenberg is a Force India pilot.
Finally, Toro Rosso principal Franz Tost says that talks between the team and Renault about a takeover by the manufacturer have "gone quiet" and that Renault may now be looking elsewhere - Lotus F1 - for a team. What do you think of all this gossip?
SJ - It makes sense to me for Ferrari to keep Kimi for another year. His results have not been what any of them wanted but at least 50 percent of that has been down to either poor reliability or poor decision-making on the team’s part whether it’s race or qualifying strategy. I don’t see any reason to change the drivers until they have a car that can consistently fight for wins. It’s more important to focus the effort on that.
Considering how close Vergne and Gutierrez are with Ferrari it makes sense for Haas F1 to run one of the reserve drivers so they can at least evaluate how good they are in a racing situation as opposed to spending endless hours in a simulator which effectively is what they do now. I don’t know if it would make sense for Hulkenberg to switch teams if it’s not a huge leap forward. He deserves a shot in winning car.
I really don’t know what Renault is considering. I’m sure they are looking very carefully at all the options in front of them. The one that makes most sense to me would be Lotus I suppose. I’m sure Lotus’ current owners have had enough of dipping into their own pockets every year to keep the team going. They are clearly short of funds but they have a good infrastructure and good people.
JT - The 2015 IndyCar season continues to be unpredictable. Graham Rahal scored a popular win at last weekend's Mid-Ohio round, closing the gap to points-leader Juan Pablo Montoya to just nine markers. Fuel strategy and caution flags played a major part in the race but Rahal drove well.
Scott Dixon grabbed the pole for the race with a record lap and led from the start but an early caution flipped the field. Scott was mired in the pack for the mid-race but then came back close to the front before Ganassi Racing teammate Sage Karam spun on lap 68.
Rahal pitted on lap 66 just as the caution flag came out for Karam's spin, effectively putting him in front of the field when the rest pitted under the caution. Scott ultimately finished fourth. What did you think of the race and how does Scott view it?
SJ - Well, it looks like this year’s Championship might be decided on pit strategy more than real performance the way things have been going the last three or four races. Rahal was nowhere in the championship, and frankly nowhere in most of the races. But through some circumstances and some great calls on pit strategy he’s now a major contender to win the championship.
It’s obviously very frustrating for the guys who’ve been running up front but it’s the nature of the beast with Indycar. I always used to say it evens out over the course of a season. But this year it certainly seems those who have more or less been out of contention have benefitted. As such, they’ve been able to roll the dice on strategy more so than the guys up front who are more limited to stick to one strategy only.
From Scott’s point of view it was obviously extremely frustrating. He dominated the whole weekend and then got caught out by the yellow on the first safety car, making it hard to recover. Rahal’s pit-stops were timed perfectly. Whether that was luck or skill I don’t know but they sure timed the stops well and by doing so moved him to the front after the final stop.
Mid-Ohio has always been a tough track to pass on but with this new aero kit it has made it almost impossible as there is such a big wake behind each car now. Once you get in the dirty air the aero is completely ruined.
JT - Sage Karam's spin is under review by IndyCar and was quite publicly called into question by Montoya following the race. Montoya was leading when Karam caused the caution and ultimately finished in eleventh spot. What's your take?
SJ - I definitely don’t think for one second it was done on purpose. It was just coincidental that it happened the way it did.
JT - Andretti Autosport's Justin Wilson finished second behind Rahal at Mid-Ohio, driving well as usual. I think most observers agree that Wilson deserves a full time ride again for 2016 with a top team. Do you agree?
SJ - Yes, I agree, Justin has done enough to warrant a full time drive with one of the top teams. Hopefully he has shown enough to convince one of them to give him a shot.
JT - Just two races remain in the IndyCar season. What do you think of the championship battle and Scott's position in third? Pocono could be a bit of a lottery in terms of standings post-race but Sonoma has long been a track where Penske performs well. It will be interesting to see what kind of strategy Ganassi, Penske and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan choose for the remaining events.
SJ - Pocono will be very important of course. The championship is a long-shot for Scott now but with double points in the last race anything can still happen, assuming that Pocono goes well. I just hope the title won’t be decided on pit strategy but on outright performance.
JT - Among other developments, IndyCar announced that it will have a longer season for 2016 with more races on the schedule including some at tracks the series hasn't visited for a while and the possibility of a new venue.
SJ - I’m happy to see they have finally abandoned the crazy idea of the season ending in August. It’s been a nightmare for everyone involved. Let’s hope the new venues will be great and eventually become permanent fixtures on the calendar.
JT - Simultaneously, IndyCar competition director Derrick Walker announced his resignation. Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull has been very outspoken about the departure of another series official and has been suggested as a candidate to replace Walker. Whether that's likely or not, what do you think of Walker's move?
SJ - Walker’s departure has been expected for a while now. I don’t know all the details so I don’t think it would be fair for me to comment but I have a lot of sympathy for whoever is in that position as it’s pretty thankless job. No matter what decision you make you’re almost certain to piss someone off.
JT - In sports car racing news, some WEC teams have been taking advantage of the long post-Le Mans break to test. Toyota is the most recent, having tested at the Nurbugring last week.
Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon said that measures have to be taken to make the team's P1 cars more competitive and that the test was helpful. He also admitted that the team is basically working towards 2016 now, revising its suspension and braking systems and planning a new powertrain for next season.
Vasselon said further, "There was a need for a reaction and we will have a supplementary budget for the coming season, even if it won't be at the level of others." Is this an indication that LMP1 is becoming too expensive, even for manufacturers?
SJ - I don’t for a second think the budget for LMP1 is a problem for a company like Toyota. The numbers were talking about are barely a rounding error for them in the overall scheme of things and still a fraction of what they spent each year they did F1, for example. It strikes me more like they’re not 100 percent committed from the top for this project.