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SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Pre-Season Testing,  New Qualifying System & Indycar Testing

#SJblog (source page)

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Pre-Season Testing, New Qualifying System & Indycar Testing

Stefan Johansson

JT – Preseason testing has been underway in Barcelona. As always, it’s hard to discern much until the first race in Australia but one thing does stand out. Most of the teams have been able to run significant numbers of laps, suggesting reliability is generally better. I suppose that’s to be expected with the current formula having been in place for a couple seasons. Even Haas F1 has shown good reliability.

SJ – It’s impressive. Testing is so limited now, not just in F1 – in every category. IndyCar has a very limited testing schedule too as do most other types of racing. With all the various simulators and other devices being used they have managed to eliminate a lot of the work that used to be carried out on the race track.

What strikes me again now that the rules have been the same for a couple years is that if you put all of the current cars side by side you really couldn’t tell the difference from one to another. They all look the exactly the same apart from minor details. It’s always said that F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle for innovation but eventually everyone finds one solution that works the best, but at a staggering cost to each individual team.

JT – Meetings have continued between the F1 teams and the FIA to discuss a rules package for 2017. The cars will apparently become slightly larger with wider tires and will have an aerodynamics package that produces slightly higher downforce (though not as much as was proposed earlier this year). They will also be heavier and will include some form of “halo protection” for the driver.

In addition, F1 and the FIA have apparently agreed to a new “elimination-style” qualifying format in an effort to introduce unpredictability to qualifying and keep cars on track more throughout the sessions. The format could be introduced as early as the first race of this season in Australia. What are your thoughts on these developments?

SJ – If we start with the rules package and the proposed changes, I personally think - along with most drivers it seems - this is completely the wrong direction.

I would prefer to see cars with less downforce, not more, and instead gain more grip through better tires. That would be very easy to achieve and combined with a significant increase in horsepower, would be the right direction.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record but this constant obsession with downforce has no use or benefit to anyone or anything except to make a race car go faster. It’s nothing more than engineering porn and in my opinion it’s time to look at a different way to make the cars go faster.

Also, I have a feeling that no one is really sure about what the new rules should really be. If this is the case they would be far better off not making any changes at all. At least with rules stability the grid will close up and the cost will eventually go down as it’s always more expensive to develop a whole new car from scratch than fine tuning an already existing package.

Regarding the new qualifying format I’m not sure what to say. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the current format personally. The new format seems a little confusing to me and I don’t think we will know if it will work until we’ve seen a couple of qualifying sessions being completed.

I assume the big picture goal is to shake up the races by hopefully having a more unpredictable qualifying and as such hopefully having some of the faster cars not starting in a position that reflects their true speed. But with DRS it won’t take many laps before things are back to normal again anyway.

I think it’s far more important to find a real - not artificial - way to make the races more interesting. Just as one example, how about having tires that can be driven at 100 percent all the time? These would be tires capable of being raced either the full distance of a grand prix or a partial distance if a team chooses to switch to a new set, or go with a softer compound, depending on the track and the conditions.

I can’t recall one good example in any category of racing where artificial methods of making the  racing better has actually worked. The best system by far is the one used in America where they use the pace car every time there’s an incident on the track or anything that could potentially cause any danger on the track.

Some people say it’s not fair, and maybe it’s true, but over the span of a season it generally works out about even for everyone. At least it does make the races a lot more interesting in many cases. Who can ever complain about the Indy 500 for example? That race is almost always decided by a late caution flag followed by a shoot-out for the last 10-15 laps or even less many times.

JT – Bernie Ecclestone recently said that he wouldn’t spend his own money to attend an F1 race. Colorful commentary from Bernie is nothing new but his sentiment is being echoed elsewhere. Still, the teams and the FIA seem reluctant to significantly alter the current formula.

SJ – I think it’s Bernie trying to stir the pot a little and at the same time it probably have something to do with the fact that Mercedes is dominating but there have always been periods where one team dominated. McLaren won almost every race one year (1988, lost only one race) between Prost and Senna but it was still very exciting.

I think a big part of the problem now is that even casual race fans can see that the drivers are not fighting the cars anymore, and the cars simply don’t look as aggressive as they used to with their narrow tires, narrow track and lack of noise. I won’t say these cars are easy to drive because a race car on the limit is never easy. But drivers don’t have to wrestle them enough for the public to appreciate that they’re actually fighting to control them.

The cars don’t move, they’re on rails the whole time. I think this is the general consensus among the drivers too. That combined with the fact that the races are not run at full speed. The drivers are limited by how bad the tires are working, just trying to make it their next pit stop. The fans can see this and it’s obviously not helping the racing at all.

Since the very beginning of racing, what fans enjoy when they go to watch a race is seeing their favorite drivers being really on the limit, driving a car to its maximum potential. F1 cars and drivers are supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. Today, even a qualifying lap around Monaco looks like they could be on a warm-up lap. The cars don’t move.

It’s interesting that a number of the big F1 names have voiced similar comments recently, and I’m sure guys like Hamilton and Alonso would love to get their hands on a car with half the downforce and 300 to 400 horsepower more than the current cars have.

Instead they’re now trying to add downforce both in F1 and IndyCar which will make things even worse. As I keep saying, less aero and more horsepower would make the racing more exciting even if lap times were the same. Drivers and teams would have to find speed in different areas. The gap between the great and the not so great would be bigger and the quality of the racing would be much better.

I was talking with Scott [Dixon] and he was saying how insane the amount of grip the IndyCars have now is, especially this year with the new aero upgrades. An IndyCar doesn’t have power steering either. It’s to the point where it’s become seriously physical to drive an IndyCar now. The irony is that one of the reasons for the new IndyCars cars (aero-kits) was to lower their downforce to stop the pack racing that was the cause of some of the bad accidents. Now, we’re back to even more downforce again. 

JT- IndyCar just announced a new team of no less than three Race Stewards in an effort to try and improve the way the races are called. What are your thoughts on this?

SJ - I would prefer to see one guy in charge. I can’t see how three guys will be able to agree on a call in the time frame they sometimes have to work with. Unless they somehow find a way to divide their responsibilities during the race in order to make the right calls in the time frame required, I can see things becoming more complicated with a bunch of penalties issued after the races are done. I think that’s the last thing anyone wants. Having said that, the guys they have chosen are all very competent, good guys that really understand racing. So let’s hope it will work out.

JT- You were on hand for the recent 24 Hours of Daytona with Scuderia Corsa. The team’s Ferrari 488 GTE finished a strong fourth in the GTLM class while its GTD-class 458 Italia Ferrari ended the 24 hours seventh in the category. What was your impression of the race overall?

SJ – It was good to see a P2 car win overall finally. The GTLM race was very good. That’s the best category now for sure - strong teams and really good drivers, it’s very competitive. That’s where the best racing is in IMSA.

In the WEC, P2 is the category now. The amount of good drivers, teams and cars is very impressive.

JT – Given the number and quality of the entries in P2, it would be kind cool if they could race on their own apart from the other WEC classes.

SJ – Yes, there are almost enough cars to have an independent race for P2 now, and if they had their own category there would certainly be enough cars very quickly. It would be fun and probably make a lot of sense in many ways.