JT – The Spanish Grand Prix proved to be a surprising race. Red Bull Racing’s 18-year-old driver Max Verstappen took the win ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. He drove well and made no mistakes. Impressive as that was however, the most notable thing about the race at Circuit de Barcelona was the shunt between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton which took both Mercedes out of contention on the first lap. What did you make of the incident?
SJ – I really think it was just a racing incident. A combination of things came together in a fraction of a second, literally. I don’t think there was any intent from either driver to do anything particularly sinister. It was a chain reaction triggered by Rosberg’s lack of power.
When you’re in a situation like that you commit one way or the other. It’s instinct. Unfortunately Lewis committed one way and Rosberg committed the same way at the same time. Maybe you could argue that Lewis should have backed off but all of this happens so fast – in a couple tenths of a second at the most.
Without the facts that we now have as to Rosberg being in the wrong engine setting I would have said it was Lewis’ fault. But with the information we have, that changes things.
Rosberg’s move was somewhat aggressive but that’s what you do these days unfortunately since they introduced the rule that you can make one move to block the car behind. But it doesn’t specify how bold that move can be. So you just simply shut the door if you can.
My argument has always been that you race fairly and you should leave at least a car width if someone gets a good run on you. But that’s not the ethic these days. So the nature of racing now means that this can happen. You act on instinct with these rules in place and in this case, I don’t think you can blame one or the other. It was a racing incident.
JT – Max Verstappen has been praised for his performance and he’s certainly a talent. But one gets the feeling the hype about him may be a bit out of proportion. What’s your view?
SJ – I think he did a phenomenal job and no doubt, he’s the future of Formula One. But Barcelona is also a track which maybe more than any other track on the calendar lends itself to a scenario like this. Don’t forget, Pastor Maldonado won a race there too under very similar circumstances, when Alonso was chasing him the entire race but could not find a way past.
It’s a track which is virtually impossible to pass on. Your only real opportunity is at the end of the front straight. But because of the way the aerodynamics are with these cars it’s almost impossible to follow a competitor through the last section and be close enough to get on the power and have a good run on the car ahead at the end of the straight - even with DRS. If you are in equally fast cars the turbulence from the car in front will be enough to kill the aero on the car behind and he won’t be able to get close enough to get a run into the braking zone at the end of the main straight. The speed difference between the Ferraris and the Red Bulls wasn’t large enough to make passing realistic. As long as Verstappen didn’t make a mistake – and full credit to him for being mistake-free – all he had to do was drive his own race. He didn’t have to fight for the win the way he might have had to at another track. Still, he did a sensational job.
On the other hand, Carlos Sainz has gotten almost zero credit and he also did a sensational job. He finished 6th in a car that’s clearly not anywhere near as competitive as the Red Bull. But that’s F1. The media build guys like Verstappen way up. Then if they fail, they bury them just as fast.
JT – Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo fought hard with Sebastian Vettel, at one point trying to pull off a pass from well behind at the end of the straight. Vettel wasn’t too impressed with the move.
SJ – It was an opportunistic but pretty low-percentage move. But at least he had a go. It could have worked and you have to hand it to him because he’s just about the only guy out there willing to have a go. Generally, he does it in a good way.
There were two top drivers involved here and therefore there was no accident. Vettel gave him enough room to go wide instead of trying to close the door.
JT – Ferrari was able to get two cars on the podium but given that Mercedes fell out of the race completely it might rightly have been expected that they would win in Barcelona. They failed to capitalize on the opportunity. The team and its director Maurizio Arrivabene are known to be under a great deal of pressure. The outcome for them in Spain has to be troubling.
SJ – Yes, not winning wasn’t part of their game plan. The problem is that the top teams around them have made pretty significant progress. Renault has had a history of building race-winning engines. It has taken a while this time around but I think they now understand the current formula and they’ll come on in leaps and bounds going forward.
You can tell Renault has made a big step forward and it’s likely the next upgrade they get will be another big gain.
JT – What if Ferrari doesn’t win over the course of the next few races?
SJ – That’s a good question. Who knows what will happen? More heads will roll likely but is that going to help?
When Ferrari was winning everything (1999-2004) they had a dream team that will probably never exist again in Formula One. Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher – these are some of the best guys ever in F1 and they all made a pact to stick together and drive Ferrari forward through thick and thin. That’s what made them successful. They never wavered and always stuck together. But it still took three years before they were winning, and I’m sure during that period there were more than one occasion when their positions were threatened from the people at the top.
JT – With the F1 season now underway in Europe it seems likely that the lower tier teams will fall even further behind. Haas F1 for example, seemed to get a dose of reality at Barcelona. Things didn’t really go their way.
SJ – As I’ve said many times, the first few races of the season are the least difficult to score points in all year. I think Haas will experience that this year just as Sauber did last year. It gets tougher and tougher to get points as the season goes on.
But all credit to them because they’re the only new team on the grid. The fact that they showed up in Australia with a car that was that competitive immediately is a huge compliment to them and the approach they’ve take to F1. Again, it boggles my mind that no one else has taken that same approach. Why not utilize the rules to the maximum and buy the technology and parts the rules allow you to?
JT – Off track, the news prior to the Spanish GP was the promotion of Max Verstappen from Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing and Daniel Kvyat’s demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso. There was a lot of comment about the decision both from the press and the F1 paddock. What are your thoughts on this?
SJ – Well, Christian Horner (Red Bull team chief) made some comments about Kvyat being a young driver who is still learning, etc. But I find it mind boggling that a top team like Red Bull would hire a driver that needs to learn. Why?
There are so many good drivers around that’s already been through the learning process. Verstappen is an exception and of course that will spur the same trend even more now. The whole grid will be 18-year-olds before you know it. Take a guy like Andre Lotterer for example, and others similar to him who have so much race experience from doing sports car and other forms of single seater racing. He’s blindingly quick and every bit as good as Kvyat will ever be and probably better. But no one even looks at him.
I don’t understand it. Why on earth would you take a young driver and have him learning to race in Formula One? F1 is the last step, assuming you’re good enough to go all the way, that’s the ultimate goal for any driver, or at least it should be. Where do you go after F1? You should cut your teeth and learn from your mistakes in the junior formulas of open wheel, sports car racing or other categories. When you get into Formula One and get paid to drive you better be ready to deliver every weekend as far as I’m concerned.
I don’t think there’s any excuse for being young and not experienced enough in F1 whether it’s mentally or with race craft. If you’re not capable at that level, you’re not good enough to be there in the first place. At any given time, there are hundreds of quick drivers in different categories of racing, but less than a handful of them know how to race. Why aren’t those guys racing in F1?
JT – A good example of that is Stoffel Vandoorne. It occurred to me that in the hoopla over Verstappen’s win, Vandoorne has been forgotten. He scored for McLaren before either of their regular, world champion drivers this year – with a car not nearly as capable as the Red Bull Renault Verstappen won with. And he absolutely dominated GP2 but he’s not on the F1 grid.
SJ – Exactly, that’s a perfect example. We don’t know yet how he would handle the pressure of racing week in, week out. It’s one thing to jump in a car on a one-off. But when you have to deliver consistently in a top team – that’s when your real quality shows.
But it’s clear that everybody rates Vandoorne very highly. He’s been stunningly fast and won in everything he’s ever raced - from go-karts through GP2.
JT – On the other hand, you are impressed with Red Bull’s ladder system.
SJ – Yes their system, though it’s brutal at times, definitely works now. They’ve produced some pretty spectacular drivers. Vettel, Riciardo and now Verstappen and Sainz – all of them came through that system. It’s the way to develop talent really, and similar to the Marlboro system that was in place when I came through the junior formulas.
You get a little bit of support, enough to keep you going and if you’re good enough you make it all the way. It took a while to get it going in the right direction but Red Bull has done a fantastic job with that system.
JT – A larger and larger group of people are now echoing your view that the current F1 regulations should be left in place. But it appears that the rules will be changed again for 2017.
SJ – It’s clear that they should just leave the regulations alone. Whatever “fixes” they will come up with will only be damaging. They won’t make much difference competitively and they’ll just send costs through the roof again. Everyone will go through the same expensive development process yet again.
We’re now three years into the current format and we’re finally starting to see the grid leveling out. The development curve is tapering off. Why go back to the same arms race again where the big teams will again have a huge gap to the smaller ones at an astronomical cost?
Whether we like the current formula or not, I would leave it alone because if nothing else the rules stability will bring costs down and level out the grid. It’s the manufacturers who are pushing the changes. In fact, Bernie [Ecclestone] recently commented that certain people are plotting his demise but they don’t know what they’re plotting for.
I think that’s absolutely true. They may want to think twice before they take him on. History shows that that may not be the wisest move.
JT – That’s a good point. Nevertheless, Ecclestone will not be around forever. The bigger question is what comes after Bernie?
SJ – I think that’s a big concern for everyone. But I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question. There will be problems for sure.
Having said that, the way F1 is run now is by committee. As we can see, that yields grid lock and any reforms are really only to do with nuances – changes for the sake of changing more than anything else. No one can agree on anything of significance. F1 needs to be run by a very small group of people if not one person like it has been in the past. That group or person has to have a very clear understanding of how racing and Formula One work, commercially and technically. I am not so sure that the people who are most active in trying to dislodge Bernie understand that point well enough.
JT – IndyCar’s fifth race of the 2016 season, the Angie’s List Grand Prix, took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ahead of the Indy 500 last weekend. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took his third consecutive win ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. Scott Dixon came home in 7th. As usual there was a first corner pile-up and passing was difficult.
SJ – It just wasn’t a great race for Scott overall, starting with qualifying which was a mess not only for him but for a number of the top contenders. He made good progress at a track which is very difficult to pass on and then he got shuffled back again in the pack during the race with the different strategies playing out. Then he got some front wing damage and it was just one of those races.
Pagenaud is driving impressively, especially with as close as the competition is in IndyCar and as difficult as it is to put it all together and win. It’s a great start to the season for him. Both him and his crew are really on top of things at the moment.
JT – Honda’s engine appeared to be improved in the Indy Grand Prix and looks to be better in last week’s lapping sessions on the speedway. Do you think the Honda-powered cars will be competitive with the Chevy-engined machines for the 500?
SJ – I think Honda has actually been pretty close to Chevrolet all year. Chevy has had the best teams, and overall, they probably have the best drivers too. That stacks the odds in their favor. But it does appear that Honda will be closer. We really won’t know until the race gets underway. It seems to me that the Honda cars so far are able to get their speed much easier than the Chevy cars.
JT – The question has been asked in recent years, what is the importance of qualifying for the Indy 500 these days? How important do you think it will be to qualify well this year?
SJ – I don’t think you have to be on the pole but you certainly want a spot towards the front because with the current aero kits passing has been made more difficult. I haven’t heard what the drivers are saying about passing at the Speedway yet but if the other tracks are anything to go by – Phoenix for example – it’s considerably more difficult and you definitely want to be up front.
The more tinkering IndyCar does with these aero kits - the more downforce they pile onto to them - the worse the racing gets. It will be a shame if the passing we’ve seen during the last few years is diminished because all of this aero. That’s really what Indy is about.
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