Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: Vettel brings joy to Ferrari fans, an unfortunate crash at Nurburgring & WEC bans grid girls
Jan Tegler – The Malaysian Grand Prix proved to be a pleasant surprise for most fans. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari stole victory from Mercedes with good race pace and terrific tactics. Given Mercedes domination to this point, Ferrari’s performance must give the team hope.
Stefan Johansson – Yes, Ferrari beat Mercedes fair and square. Everybody faced the same circumstances. There were no mechanical failures and no external drama that allowed Ferrari to pick up the pieces if you will. It was a great win.
I wouldn’t say yet that Ferrari will have that kind of performance in all the races ahead. I think the stars lined up perfectly for them in Malaysia with the high temperatures and other conditions and there’s no question they picked the right strategy. Staying out and getting to the front when Hamilton pitted was a good call. It was the obvious and in some ways easy thing to do because it’s always tougher when you’re leading - as Mercedes was - to make the right decision.
If you’re behind you can roll the dice, especially if you don’t think you’re going to win. It’s easier to gamble and hope things will fall in your lap. Running up front was the obvious thing for Ferrari because they didn’t have to deal with traffic. I think that - more than anything else - hurt Mercedes.
A, they’re not used to that and B, you saw how dirty the track was offline. If you had to deviate even two feet away from the racing line in some places you’d pick up so much rubber that it would take you a good four or five laps to clean the tires, or they might not ever get cleaned properly.
JT – When you were racing in Formula One there were periods during which multiple tire suppliers were in the series. Was spent-rubber just offline as much of a problem then?
SJ – Yes, it was bad. That was as big a factor then as it is today.
JT – While Vettel triumphed for Ferrari Kimi Räikkönen looked very quick as well, coming from the back of the pack after being hit by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr to finish fourth. Had he not suffered contact Kimi certainly looked as if he could have challenged for the podium.
SJ – Yes, Kimi would have been a threat as well no doubt. Even in Australia he was extremely unlucky. In both races he got clobbered by Nasr who was extremely lucky to get away with it in Australia. Of course he destroyed his own race in Malaysia basically (finished 12th) with the contact.
That’s two races in a row with contact in the first few laps for him. That’s not very impressive. But as is often the case the true quality of a driver will illustrate itself over a season. It helps to be young and up-and-coming because nothing’s expected of you. Had he been in a Ferrari or a McLaren for example and had the same two incidents, people would have been all over him.
Marcus Ericsson’s off looked like over-exuberance more than anything. He got a blinding start and picked up a couple spots immediately but he was probably so eager to do well it just caught him out. There was plenty of racing left and I think he was just very keen to do well and full of confidence after a great qualifying performance.
JT – You were surprised that the collision of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez resulted in a penalty for Perez, right?
SJ – Yes, I can’t believe Perez got a penalty. Anytime you try to make a pass on the outside, as Grosjean was, you have to consider it a low-percentage move. In that particular corner at Sepang you have no choice but to rely on the guy you’re passing to give you enough room to make the pass stick. And no matter if you’re on the inside or the outside, you need all the room you can get in that corner even as a single car, let alone with two cars abreast.
I can’t see how it could possibly have been Perez’s fault that he drove into the side of Grosjean. Where was he supposed to go? When they turned into the corner Perez was ahead so by default he owns the corner. At best it was a racing incident. If anyone should have been penalized it should have been Grosjean in my opinion. Besides, Perez tires were completely shot, so all Grosjean would have to do is wait for two more corners and he would have had a straight shot under braking for the next turn. He would have lost a second at the most.
JT – Looking at the big picture, the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and everyone in Formula One, aside from Mercedes perhaps, has to be happy with the result at Sepang. F1 needed a different winner like it needs air.
SJ – Absolutely, anybody beating Mercedes would have been great but there’s nothing like Ferrari winning. Everything gets magnified. Whatever anyone says, Ferrari is critical to F1. They have the most loyal and biggest fan-base worldwide. So their victory is a shot-in-the-arm for the Championship, no question.
JT – Really, even Mercedes may be not so disappointed. They can now claim they have someone to fight against.
SJ – Yes, I think they may be slightly worried about Ferrari but at the same time, they’ve got plenty of powder left in their bag before they need to be too concerned. But at least if Mercedes do have problems you know that Ferrari will be there to keep them on their toes. That’s what Ricciardo and Red Bull did last year. Also, this will effectively mean that all the complaining and moaning by some of the teams that Mercedes need to be slowed down and there needs to be more parity among the teams will have to stop as they have now been beaten fair and square by one of their competitors. Time for the rest to get back to the drawing board or to have done their homework better in the first place.
Ferrari has a good momentum now and there’s no question the car is good. It was quick right from the moment they rolled it off the truck in winter testing. The car’s obviously a lot easier to drive and the drivers are comfortable with it, which is very important. Typically, if a car is easy to drive and the lap-times come relatively quickly it generally means it has a big window of performance. Even if a car is quick in race situations, when it’s peaky any change in conditions or the wrong tire will throw its performance off. But if you have a larger window you can maintain good pace in changing conditions even if the set-up is not absolutely spot-on. That looks to me to be one of the strengths of the Ferrari at the moment.
JT – As has been mentioned elsewhere, the 2015 Ferrari’s improvements are in no small measure due to the work of Marco Mattiacci who led the team between April and November 2014 when work on this new car had begun in earnest. Maurizio Arrivabene, the new team director, and the team have certainly benefitted from the work Mattiacci did and the changes he made.
SJ – I really feel for Mattiacci because the improvements are not something that happened in the last few months. Quite impressively for a guy who hadn’t any great experience in racing, Mattiacci put together a very good package. He orchestrated the whole Vettel deal and he put faith in [James] Allison (Ferrari technical director). Had he been around he would have been a hero now, it’s funny how life works sometimes. That’s not to take anything away from Arrivabene, he’s clearly done a great job getting the motivation back in the team and it seems they are moving forward as one unit. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to rattle the Mercedes guys as the season goes on.
JT – The team from which Sebastian Vettel jumped – Red Bull Racing – continues to have drama with its engine-supplier, Renault. There’s a very public split with Red Bull complaining that Renault has actually taken a step backward from 2014 with their power unit. Meanwhile Renault has intimated that Red Bull’s desire for them to shortcut development in pursuit of performance is the reason they are now so far behind.
SJ – You can see extreme frustration and shock on both sides in the realization that they’re probably less competitive than they were last year.
But I find it comical in F1 in general that everything is aired in the open these days via the media. Nothing seems to happen behind closed doors anymore. You hear Force India complaining that they needed a hand-out before the Australian GP and now this with Renault and Red Bull.
I can’t see how it helps anyone. In Force India’s case, I’m sure they’re having conversations with Bernie. Why does the media need to know this?
I also find it amusing that Cyril Abiteboul (Renault F1 managing director) doesn’t back down from anyone, calling Adrian Newey a liar.
JT – Abiteboul has also said that Renault has never been given enough credit for Red Bull Racing’s success.
SJ – That’s true. Every time Red Bull won the championship it was all about how good the team is but Renault barely got a mention. But I also think that is to a large degree their own fault for not being more active in promoting this. Cosworth used to be the same, does anyone know it was not that long ago they were the most successful Engine builder in F1 history, and it was only at the end of the Schumacher era with Ferrari that they managed to pass them.
JT – As poorly as things have developed for Red Bull, McLaren continues to be the biggest under-achiever in F1. Neither Fernando Alonso nor Jenson Button could get their Honda-powered machines to the finish in Malaysia. Despite the retirements, team principal Ron Dennis said he was impressed with the team’s performance.
SJ – I guess if all else fails, lower your standards. Obviously, there’s no way a team like McLaren can be satisfied with where they are. Maybe they can be satisfied with the progress they’ve made since the previous outing. There were massive improvements from most of the teams last year between every race so McLaren-Honda will probably experience the same thing.
But I can’t see how you could be impressed with the outcome in Malaysia. And with all of the turbulence that teams are experiencing - apart from Mercedes and Ferrari maybe – I don’t think there’s ever been an easier time to score points in F1 than at the moment. Even Red Bull isn’t a lock in for scoring points. Toro Rosso is almost better at the moment. Whomever has their act together the first half of this season should be able to score a lot of very valuable points, that no doubt will come in handy for next year as more and more of the teams are now relying on Bernie’s handout to keep them afloat.
JT – Interestingly, if you consider Honda’s performance across the major series in which they race globally right now, things don’t look so good. Their F1 power unit isn’t reliable let alone powerful even after a year in which they could freely develop it. In endurance racing, their HPD ARX-04b LMP2 coupes are so flawed they have been withdrawn from competition. And as mentioned, the Honda aero-kit looks inferior to the Chevrolet package in IndyCar thus far.
SJ – Yes, it’s amazing really. They’ve had several efforts over the last years that haven’t gone so well. It’s hard to understand why their P2 cars are performing so poorly given that the regulations in that class are very tight and pretty straightforward.
The Zytek (Z11SN) which is a 14 year old design now is still winning! It won Le Mans last year. (Jota Sport won the LMP2 category of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Z11SN)
JT - You’ve been on the road for the last couple weeks, traveling first to Sebring to be with Scuderia Corsa at the 12 Hours then in St. Petersburg for the opening round of the 2015 IndyCar season and the second round of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge (PWC).
The IndyCar race featured the debut of the busy-looking aero-kits from Chevrolet and Honda - new for 2015 with greatly improved downforce. Juan Pablo Montoya won for Team Penske but the race turned into something of a caution-festival with multiple yellow flags resulting from bodywork littering the track after quite a few instances of contact between cars. What did you make of it?
SJ – It’s not unusual for street circuit races to have contact but I think it’s evident that this new generation of cars are not helping to reduce the number of cautions. There are so many appendages hanging off of them that even the slightest touch just covers the track in debris.
I think that will be an issue for most of the season. The drivers are going to have to be very cautious about contact. As for how they look, it took me a good part of three years to get used to the previous cars and I finally started to get my head around them last season. But when you see these new aero-kit cars on track, they look like they’ve come out of a school project somewhere. It looks like they’ve just bolted on stuff anywhere there’s an empty space on the cars.
Of course when you’ve got a free hand you can do what you want. You go after as much downforce and aero as the rules allow. I know we said it in the last blog but the one thing that there wasn’t anything wrong with in this series was the cars. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last iteration of cars when I first saw them to be honest. But I almost had to eat my words because the racing they produced was definitely great.
It was obviously a not a great weekend for Scott [Dixon]. The team started pretty well but worked their way backwards much as they’ve done every other year there. St. Pete seems like the bogey-track for those guys. I don’t think Scott’s ever had a really good race there. He was quite happy with the car the first day of practice. I think it was circumstances that contributed to the difficulty of the weekend.
They didn’t get things quite right in practice then Scott got held up in qualifying by Pagenaud, which meant he didn’t make the top 6 cut. In the race the Air-jack broke on the first stop so they were much sitting ducks for the rest of the race. The first three races in any series you race in are hugely important because as the season goes on it gets harder and harder to score in every race. If you can just have a nice clean run in the first races you generally benefit from a good points score.
But Scott has certainly won championships before coming from behind. The good news is it definitely looks like the Chevy aero package has the edge on the Honda kit at the moment. So for now, he’s definitely in the right equipment.
JT – The week before the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg you were on hand with Scuderia Corsa for the 12 Hours of Sebring. The team’s Ferrari 458 Italia drove to a 3rd place finish in the GTD class with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Anthony Lazzaro at the wheel. Considering the pace of the Vipers and Porsches, a spot on the podium was a good result.
SJ – As it turned out luck was with us and we got valuable points. The BoP (balance of performance) is really not in the favor of the Ferrari or Audi right now. Our car was nowhere all weekend. There was such a big gap, especially to the Porsches. The 458 is something like 300 pounds heavier than the Porsches. That’s ok around Daytona but at Sebring with the long, long corners and bumps the weight makes the car very hard to drive.
The drivers were fighting the car all weekend. I think, in the circumstances, they all did a great job. For most of the race we were in 7th place then got up to 6th, pitting out of sequence. We dropped back to 10th at one point but we were up and down in the bottom half of the top ten mostly.
We were in 8th place with 45 minutes to go and then all hell broke loose. Both Vipers dropped out and some of the Porsches had problems. Long story-short, we ended up 3rd. That’s a big bonus.
JT – Dixon had a pretty good race along with Scott Pruett and Joey Hand in the # 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford Ecoboost Riley DP. They struggled too but wound up 4th overall.
SJ – They had the same problem our Scuderia Corsa car had really. The BoP wasn’t in their favor and the car just wasn’t quick at any point.
JT – Unfortunate news came from the Nürburgring a week ago where Nissan driver Jann Mardenborough’s GT3-class GTR went airborne at the Flugplatz. It vaulted a catch-fence and went into the crowd, killing one spectator and injuring several more during the first VLN race of the season. It’s tragic and calls into question the future of the GT3 class on the Nordschleife.
SJ – As much as I love the Nordschleife - because it is so daunting and crazy in a way - the GT3 cars have obviously outgrown the circuit for racing at that level. The way those cars are designed doesn’t help either.
Looking at the underside of the Nissan in the air, you can see how big the flat-bottom it has is. That was the problem with the prototypes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When we ran at Le Mans with Audi after Michele [Alboreto] had his accident they told us that when his rear tire deflated under braking and the car slipped, four degrees of positive yaw was enough to make the car go airborne. The underside of the prototypes used to be the same as the current GT3 cars– just a big flat surface. If you get enough air underneath it just takes off. They’ve since tapered off the flat part with plank going down the middle of the floor with an angle on the rest of the floor to prevent this from happening.
Even the little Miata (MX-5) I drove at the Ring last year went airborne over the Flugplatz. Up it went and it would take you about 100 yards to gather the thing up. What it must be like in a GT3 car I don’t know.
At least back in the day when we raced there properly (in Group C prototypes) we had 5,000 pounds of downforce or something like that! We had so much downforce you didn’t need to worry about taking off. The cars were stuck to the ground.
What’s going to happen after this accident I don’t know. But as always something serious has to occur before anything is done to prevent this kind of thing. Banning GT3 will be sad but it might not kill the Nürburgring 24 because that race has been popular for a long time. I remember people rolling up to race in diesel vans and all kinds of crazy stuff. The race was more for fun.
Then little by little, the manufacturers started to show interest and they showed up with full factory teams with pro driver line-ups. But it didn’t used to be that way. And the 24 is an institution and a fascinating event because it’s dangerous and it has all the right elements.
JT- Finally, this may not have anything to do with racing as such, but it was announced today by the WEC that all grid girls will be banned in 2015. What is your take on this?
SJ- I don’t know what to say really. My first thought is, this is an April fools joke, but it’s already the third so that’s not it! My second thought is, how do they have time to fit an issue like this into their agenda, when there are clearly a multitude of far more important matters to deal with, both on the competition as well as the commercial side of things with this series. It’s the same nonsense as not allowing the F1 drivers to change the livery on their helmets. Who cares! I am trying to picture the conversation in the meeting when they decided this, a number of guys sitting around a table, “next up, grid girls…they are really projecting a sexist image of our sport and should be banned…”
Sadly, this whole political correctness agenda that seems to have crept into every aspect of society today, is now well and truly manifested in motorsports too. Frankly, someone must have had to spend a lot of time thinking about “what can we do to look more socially responsible” and this is the best they can come up with. It’s pathetic and sad. You would think they would do everything in their power to attract more sponsors to the Championship, especially as they can barely scrape together 10 cars for each of the categories they run, this is the exact opposite of that. If I still owned a team I would go out and hire 20 Chippendale dudes and line them up on the grip just to piss them off.