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Indycar at Texas Motor Speedway, F1 Belgium GP & Max Verstappen controversy

#SJblog (source page)

Indycar at Texas Motor Speedway, F1 Belgium GP & Max Verstappen controversy

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar staged the continuation of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend.  Suspended due to weather from its original June date, the race was very exciting, producing the closest finish ever at the Speedway. Graham Rahal edged James Hinchcliffe by eight-thousandths of a second with Tony Kanaan just .0903 seconds behind in 3rd place.

Unfortunately, Scott Dixon didn’t see the checkers due to contact with Ed Carpenter. Dixon spun after coming together with Carpenter’s left rear wheel with his right front. He hit the Turn 1 wall and his race was over. It’s another setback for Scott and with the DNF he falls to sixth in the championship standings, 132 points behind championship leader Simon Pagenaud who finished in 4th place.

What did you think of the race and the outcome for Scott?

SJ – Yes, it wasn’t a great race for Scott obviously. It just seems to be one of those years when everything that can go wrong will go wrong. He didn’t have a great car all race and was just hanging in there but not really in a position to fight upfront.

The show at Texas is always good and this years race certainly did not disappoint. There just isn’t any more exciting racing to watch, although it’s nerve wracking to watch.  Those last laps were just awesome and crazy at the same time. I couldn’t think of a better show in any form of racing, period! If there was ever a finish like that in F1 people would go absolutely crazy.

Can you imagine if you had anyone of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen – the pure, good racers from Formula One out there duking it out with the IndyCar stars. It would be massively popular, incredible.

JT – Watkins Glen is the penultimate race for IndyCar. With the track’s recent repaving, it should be fast and challenging. The championship looks like a battle between the Penske teammates, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power but with a maximum 158 points available between the Glen and the final race at Sonoma, Scott still has a very slim chance for the championship. Amazingly, eight other drivers are still in mathematical contention.

SJ – Apparently the grip is just insane now with the repaving combined with all the downforce the current Indycars have. When the series tested there a couple months back the guys went quicker than they’ve ever gone before.

Pagenaud and Power, either one could win but with all of these guys still in with a chance... I mean, eight drivers! Remember, no one with two races to go even thought about Scott last year. It’s still do-able – highly unlikely but do-able.

JT – Formula One returned from their summer break to race the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa. Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg took the win ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Lewis Hamilton. The race had moments of drama, mainly due to incidents, but was otherwise not very interesting.

Max Verstappen drove erratically and in the first corner of the opening lap dove inside the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Running over the curb right next to the wall, Verstappen made contact with Raikkonen who was forced into his teammate. Vettel spun. Raikkonen and Verstappen had to pit for repairs. Later, Verstappen aggressively blocked Raikkonen. What did you think of the race and Verstappen’s driving?

SJ – Really, the main thing to talk about from Spa is the Verstappen controversy again, and the various incidents that unfolded at the beginning of the race. I have to say, I thought it was a bit rich for Verstappen to blame the Ferrari guys for ruining his race.

He blew it at the start effectively, he got passed by the two Ferrari’s going into Turn 1 and then tried to recover by a very, very low-percentage move on the inside that had virtually no chance of succeeding.

There’s always a bottleneck into the first corner at Spa. It’s a fraction-of-a-second decision and he was understandably frustrated from making a poor start and trying to gain back the ground he lost on the drag into the braking area for the first corner. I’m sure Vettel turned in on what he thought was the right line outside. There’s no way he’d try to squeeze Raikkonen there. Kimi had to straighten up a bit when he saw Verstappen in his mirror. Then he got into Vettel who was on his line and the rest is history. These things happen and it seems more common than not at Spa that at least a few cars get into each other at the start. But to put the blame on the Ferrari guys and claim they somehow collectively ganged up on Verstappen to squeeze him out is a bit far fetched to say the least. As is often the case, the one who’s busted is often the one who screams the loudest.

But for me the worst part is the blocking. It’s outrageous that no penalty was handed out this time. At what point do you draw the line? If a driver has to hit the brakes on a straight to avoid contact something is clearly wrong. It’s sad to say and I’ve mentioned it before but this is typical of the new generation of open wheel racers. They think this is completely normal it seems – like it’s ok to completely turn into someone when they’re coming alongside on a straight. The fact that this is their mindset is sad.

The argument was “well, I was just defending my position”

You defend your position on the entry to the corners, in the corners and on the exits, not on the straights. If you’re slower entering a corner and you leave the door open wide enough for the other guy to have a go it’s fair game, or you can choose to defend the inside line, which will normally result in a slower exit which will then allow the opponent to accelerate out of the corner faster than you and by doing so outdrag you on the following straight into the next corner. This is basic stuff. Now it suddenly seems acceptable to just pull out right in front of the car that’s significantly faster than you and by doing so force this car to effectively lift or even worse, hit the brakes in order to avoid hitting you. That’s like allowing a boxer that’s on the ropes to pull out a knife to stop his opponent making the knock out hit.

If a guy behind you is quicker and he’s come out of the previous corner with a better exit speed, at some stage you have to be able to pass.

I know for a fact the same thing happened in F3 a few years ago, at more or less the same spot where the driver trying to pass him had to apply 100lbs of brake pressure in order not to hit him. It would be very easy for the FIA to pull the data from Raikkonen’s car to see if the same thing applied this time too. If you have to brake because someone’s blocking you on the straight then something’s fundamentally wrong, especially when they stewards let you get away with it.

More than anything, this is now a philosophical problem that I believe needs to be dealt with swiftly. This is not something that is unique to Verstappen only, although Max is the poster child for the new generation of drivers and as such is getting all the publicity for obvious reasons. If you look at the Junior Formula’s this stuff goes on in almost every race, and sometime with some horrifying accidents as a result. I’m a huge proponent of drivers being brave and being willing to risk their lives to get the maximum out of the car. After all, that’s the essence of what a great driver has always been perceived to be and what it’s all about, but when you purposely put other driver’s lives at risk then it becomes the exact opposite of that. Blocking has nothing to do with racing. There is zero skill involved. There is nothing good about it. It requires no skill, no race craft, no bravery. It’s just an indication where the drivers moral compass is as far as I’m concerned. It’s just dirty, dangerous tactics that should be penalized immediately and consistently until it stops. I urge Charlie Whiting, the FIA and all the so called experts up in race control to go to youtube and watch the battle between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979.

This is real racing, between two real men giving it everything they’ve got, but still giving each other enough room, not once did either of them try to block each other. It’s pure hard core racing between two of the best ever. No one ever thought of blocking then. This is something that gradually crept into the system by some of the best drivers in history, and sadly, because of this the generations that followed now think this is the way to do it and it’s become the norm and completely accepted.

I personally think that Lewis Hamilton and Alonso are maybe the best and purests racers out there, and you never see them pull these kind kind of stunts. But if you open the door by half an inch to wide they will take the gap immediately, every drivers knows that and both respect and admire them for it, even if they will never admit it in public. Verstappen is potentially every bit as good as both of them, maybe even better, time will tell. I just hope he will at some point understand that you don’t need to win every battle to win the war.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, here we go again with a different race and a different steward in race control who has yet another different view from the one in the previous race, and on and on it goes. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but until you have a guy who is 100% dedicated to the job, with a strong character that can handle the pressure of the job, is current with the modern F1 cars, is respected by his peers and understand what’s going on at the track, this saga will just continue and cause more and more frustration among the drivers and the fans. Some of the ex drivers that show up for this job I frankly don’t think have a clue what they’re doing, or even care about it. They’re just there to add this job to their portfolio or use it to give themselves some added credibility in certain circles. I have no idea how the selection process works but it seems to be more or less “who’s around this weekend” when you look at some of the names. Considering how important their decisions ultimately are, it’s almost irresponsible on the part of FIA to not be more selective in whom they place in this role.