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The Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry continues at the Austrian GP, Scuderia Corsa triumphed again & Chip Ganassi is inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame

#SJblog (source page)

The Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry continues at the Austrian GP, Scuderia Corsa triumphed again & Chip Ganassi is inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame

Stefan Johansson

JT – Qualifying for the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix was a messy affair due to wet weather. Hamilton won the pole with Nico Rosberg 2nd. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Jenson Button made the most of it qualifying in 3rd and 5th positions respectively.

However, Rosberg actually started from 7th after a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. Sebastian Vettel lost his 4th place qualifying effort due to the same penalty - a gearbox change - and had to start 9th. This allowed Hulkenberg and Button to actually start in 2nd and 3rd positions. The “penalties” for having to change a gearbox and other similar penalties for changing other components seem absurd. What’s your view?

SJ – The weather definitely helped to mix up the qualifying so it was hard to read anything into the pace of some of the cars but grid position is always important, although less so on most tracks since the introduction of DRS.  

You are correct that some of the rules they have introduced to F1 over the years are very confusing and make no sense in many ways. These grid penalties are a perfect example. I guess the intention when they introduced them was to bring costs down and discourage teams from bolting on a new engine or gearbox in every session or race, which was often the case back then. But of course, these rules make everything even more expensive because the engineering required being at such a high level to design and fabricate parts utilizing materials that last a long time.

But, what I don’t understand is that when you have an accident and damage an engine or gearbox, why should you be penalized? You’ve already suffered the penalty of having an accident. No one’s having an accident on purpose. So why should you get a penalty for replacing components damaged in an accident? This has nothing to do with reliability.

It makes no sense. If you crash in qualifying and can’t compete for the best grid position, you already have a penalty.

JT – Button ran well for McLaren finishing 6th but Fernando Alonso had yet another bad weekend with his McLaren-Honda failing to finish due to a “battery pack system failure”. Nico Hulkenberg went backward immediately, ultimately failing to finish, scored in 19th position.

SJ – Button had a strong weekend in general and McLaren is getting closer and closer although it’s taking some time. I still maintain that they will be a force to reckon with eventually. They have great people and great resources and it will all come together eventually.

Yes, Hulkenberg went backwards in a hurry. Obviously, his car wasn’t suited at all to race conditions. Perez had a tough race also.

We touched on this in the last blog also and it seems to be a very narrow window, especially in race trim, where the drivers and teams get it either right or wrong with their choice of tires, pressures and the general car set up. You’re either in the operating window or out it. Some cars just totally fall off the cliff while other cars suddenly get hooked up.

One of the Manors (Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th) for example was all of a sudden in the right range and it ran very competitive lap times. Pascal Wehrlein could not explain where the pace came from but the car was running very competitive all day. There’s a very weird dynamic with these tires and it seems much more prevalent this year than it’s ever been before.

JT – We’ve spoken about it previously but the racing in F1 remains hard to follow via television. The television broadcasts are very fragmented and the broadcasters do a poor job of keeping viewers informed about relative positions and circumstances facing cars and drivers throughout the field. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, I find it incredibly hard to follow. With all of the pit stops and the cameras directed in what seems to be random fashion, you have real problems knowing what’s going on. There’s no real scoreboard or pit board that you can access as a TV viewer and it makes understanding the dynamic of the race very difficult. You almost need your laptop next to you with the online scoring board to be able understand the dynamics of the race. But you need to be real “anorak” to go that far.

It’s frustrating because you sit there really trying to pay attention to what’s going on and suddenly cars are missing or out of place from when you last saw them. I understand that some are pitting and others staying out but most often you don’t have any detailed information of what happened.

JT – The race’s main talking point was the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg on the final lap. Hamilton had drawn to within one second of Rosberg and used his DRS to catch Rosberg heading into Turn 2. As he attempted to overtake Rosberg, the two made contact. Rosberg’s car was damaged, resulting in his falling to 4th place. Hamilton’s car continued apace and he took the victory. What’s your view of their coming together yet again?

SJ – Poor old Nico seems to come up on the short end every single time the two of them have a get together. He seems to always have his car in the wrong place. It’s tricky, Lewis obviously has terrific race-craft there’s no doubt about that. He gets in a dogfight and generally comes out ahead. I guess the fact is that Lewis will simply not back down, under any circumstance. So, the only result is that he will either come out ahead or there will be contact, or sometimes both like in this case. It could have just as easily gone the other way where Lewis would have ended up with a wounded car. This makes it even more difficult for Rosberg as he knows by now that his options are very limited and there’s a very good chance they will make contact if they are fighting for the same piece of road.

But sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. You can have a year where every time you make a move it sticks and the other guy comes out on the short end. Then you do the same thing the next year and it goes wrong every single time. You end up with a broken car or a spin or whatever.

JT – The die seemed to be cast when Hamilton got within DRS range. Rosberg was a sitting duck and you knew any pass would be contested.

SJ – It’s one thing when you’re racing for second, third or fourth place and another when you’re racing for the win. If it’s for the win, you go for it. That’s how you’re programmed as a racing driver. You either have team orders or you let the drivers have a go.

It’s incredibly difficult because you’ve got two guys who are so close competitively in the best equipment, fighting for the win pretty much every race. It’s a perfect storm really. I don’t actually remember a dynamic quite like this – having two drivers in a team who are so close, always dominating and fighting for the win.

There was Prost and Senna of course but even that didn’t get as serious apart from one occasion at Suzuka. (A collision at the final chicane between Prost and Senna during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix put them both off the track. Prost retired, Senna continued, taking the win. Following the race Senna was controversially disqualified for using the chicane's escape road to rejoin the circuit. Thus, Prost won the 1989 title.)

But most of the time their battles sorted themself out with one or the other being further ahead and separated in the races they each won. In 1988, McLaren were as dominant as Mercedes has been but it was never quite like this. I think a lot of that also had to do with the fact that they could not use the DRS function, which effectively makes the guy in front a sitting duck if you’re within 1 second or closer.

JT – If you look at the overtaking aids in Formula One and IndyCar - IndyCar seems to have a far better solution. Like you just said, with DRS in F1, every driver is a sitting duck when the following driver gets within one second. Push-to-Pass in IndyCar seems to be far superior as not only can the driver attempting an overtake use Push-to-Pass, the driver in front can use it defensively.

SJ – The IndyCar Push-to-Pass method is 100 percent better. Without DRS, the Hamilton-Rosberg incident would never have happened. I’ve never liked DRS from its institution. It’s a strange way to try to spice up the show. I don’t really think it’s fair and it doesn’t help the racing. If the driver behind gets within a second there’s nothing the lead driver can do. It has nothing to do with skill or bravery or whatever else is required to pass the guy in front. It’s lost the art of racing to very large degree in my opinion.

The IndyCar system is as close to perfect as you can get, I think. You can defend as well as attack and you only get so many attempts in a race. It’s up to you to distribute it and decide when and when not to use it. In addition, the public is informed of how many Push-to-Pass boosts are left for each driver. That makes it interesting. But in F1 the guy in front is completely helpless, waiting for the attack. It’s not fair and it doesn’t help the show at all.

This is the irony of F1. You have these insanely complicated, technically sophisticated, ridiculously expensive cars and then you add a crude wing opening system, which dumbs down the technology the series, emphasizes.

The other thing I don’t understand, we have these cars that are simply masterpieces of engineering, so sophisticated and complicated in every way in order to optimize every half a percent of performance from both the chassis and the “power units”, and then the series mandates the tire manufacturer to effectively build a crap tire to supposedly make the races more interesting. Then there’s the radio ban. Again, they allow the teams to develop this sophisticated and insanely expensive technology with endless options on the steering wheel to adjust the cars literally from corner to corner, and then you have to ban advice from the pits about how to use them because it effectively means that engineers are driving the car. Now they can’t even inform the driver if there’s a safety issue with the car. Perez had huge off because he was not aware his brakes were about to go, his team knew but were not allowed to communicate with him over the radio.

It defies all logic. Thank god the tracks are all so clinical and safe now. You could have had at least a couple broken legs otherwise.

JT – Meanwhile, Ferrari still struggling for pace against Mercedes, opted to keep Sebastian Vettel on super soft-compound tires for 27 laps. On lap 27, his right rear Pirelli exploded and he crashed out of the race.  It was a gamble that didn’t pay off.

SJ – We don’t know what happened yet, so it’s not really correct to comment, as it could have been something like debris or whatever that caused the tire to blow up in the first place.

JT – When you raced in F1 were the tires prone to these types of catastrophic failures?

SJ – What happened back then if anything was that tires would blister. But you could still carry on. It’s just that they lost so much performance that you basically had to pit for new tires. They didn’t delaminate or anything like that.

JT – Heading to Silverstone and the British Grand Prix, there’s an 11-point gap from Rosberg back to Hamilton. That lends some interest to the racing going forward but what gets lost is that Mercedes is still dominating. No one is close. 

SJ – A tight points battle like this is what Formula One needs… with a bit of hate and rivalry. That brings out the fans. But yes, Mercedes is still destroying everybody and it’s clear the title fight will become even more intense with every race going forward. This is all great for F1 though, all we need is for Ferrari and Red Bull to close the gap a bit more and we will have some very interesting races for the remainder of this season.

JT – Suspension failures were a recurring theme throughout the weekend in Austria. New curbing was installed at the Spielberg circuit in place of the astro-turf previously in place and it seemed to cause more problems than it solved.

SJ – Four big accidents from suspension failure is highly unusual. The thing is, every single track on the F1 schedule is like a dance floor now. There are no bumpy, rough circuits left. That’s part of how Formula One is today, every track is more or less perfect in every way. I’d like to see what would happen if they ran a current F1 car around a place like Sebring for example. It would probably have no wheels left after 10 laps! I’m only joking but it definitely adds to the challenge.

Dealing with the imperfections of all the cool old circuits used to be a big part of the racing and that’s what made them great. The fact that they were bumpy and horrible made them unpredictable and difficult. It made it a great challenge to get your set-up right and a great challenge to drive.

You had to be super precise over the bumps – to be able to feel them and lift at exactly the right moment and then get right back on power. When you felt the front tires hit a bump you mashed the throttle. By the time you got your foot down, the power would be coming on just as the rear tires passed over the bump. You could pick up two or three-tenths if you got it right. It was another added element of skill and it was a real challenge to get it right lap after lap during a race.

There are varying opinions on whether the rough circuits were a good thing or not but the current cars have been designed around these tabletop flat circuits so when they encounter taller curbs like in Austria they can’t cope.

I think Hamilton had a good point. Why not just bring back grass at the track edge like it used to be? That enforces the track limits automatically, because if you put a wheel on the grass you’re going to spin or at least loose enough speed for it to never give you an advantage which often is the case now. Just have grass for 20 feet from the track edge and then you could have asphalt and all that nonsense to catch the cars that go past that.

The point is, you won’t gain any time by going into the grass with all four wheels like you do now by keeping your foot in it over the curbs or even on the astro-turf. The Mercedes accident in Austria would most likely have been avoided as Lewis would have never attempted to go on the outside as there would not have been enough room to carry the speed through the exit.

As it is now, everyone is abusing the track limit rule and there is no enforcement. If you have all four wheels past the white line, there should be an automatic penalty as far as I’m concerned, end of story, just as you can’t cross the blend line leaving the pits. It will take a few races of screaming and shouting, but if everyone knows where the limit is, everyone will very soon fall into line and that will then become the norm. As it is, the tracks are already designed this way and I can’t see a good solution to fix the problem any other way. If the ball is past the white line in Tennis it’s out, I don’t see why they can’t enforce the same rule in motor racing.

JT – IMSA raced at the newly repaved Watkins Glen last week. Scuderia Corsa triumphed again, following up success at Le Mans with a GTD win for the No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3. The team is really in good form.

SJ – They’re having an incredible season. It’s fantastic to see. The 488 is obviously a great car. What they’ve always been really good at is strategy. Between Giacomo [Mattioli] and the engineers, they have always done a better job than anyone else; they’re just doing a superb job. That’s how we won the Championship at Petit Le Mans last year too, by simply understanding the rulebook better than the rest and thinking on their feet during the race. They snookered everybody and won the championship.

JT – In the GTLM class the Ford GTs dominated once again. Only the RLL BMWs could get close to them. Finally, IMSA is going to adjust the balance-of-performance, having announced additional weight and a boost reduction for the Fords while others get weight breaks and larger restrictors for this weekend’s race at Mosport.

SJ – Yes, the BoP saga continues, I so wish there was a different way to sort all this out. I hope they will eventually find a way to make everyone happy.

JT – In related news, Chip Ganassi was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame last week. What a career he’s had with 11 IndyCar titles, multiple Indy 500 wins, Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 wins, six Rolex 24 wins and now a GTLM class victory at Le Mans.

SJ – You’ve got to admire and respect what he’s accomplished over the years. His team has won pretty much every major racing event and series in the world, in every category except Formula One.

His Hall of Fame induction is well deserved. Having been able to observe his teams at close range, he’s the dream team owner for a driver. He gives you every bit of support and every tool you would ever need to be able to win. There are no compromises and no excuses.

I couldn’t think of a better owner to drive for. I only drove for him for one year (2005 GRAND-AM Season with teammate Cort Wagner) but having been around Scott [Dixon] all these years you can see it’s a really amazing operation. The people he has around him are all top talent and the best in the business. His leadership is very impressive in that he understands the business inside and out, he’s passionate about his team and he gives his people all the tools and motivation they need to perform at all levels within the organization.


To make F1 a bit more fun and engaging, we've implemented a fun game named #F1TOP3, where Formula One fans around the world have the opportunity to win prizes, including brand new limited edition Stefan Johansson Växjö Watch (valued at $7,500)! It's relatively easy: click on the black button above and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

A quicker alternative is to post on Twitter & Instagram with the following:

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