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Filtering by Tag: Alain Prost

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:

  1. Twit/Post a photo and list your top 3 drivers in the correct order along with the hashtag #F1TOP3
  2. TAG:

Max Verstappen's win at the Spanish GP, Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis & the #F1TOP3!

Stefan Johansson

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg offer their views on the first-lap collision that ended their races in Barcelona...

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.

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

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.

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

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.

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

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.


PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

PICK YOUR #F1TOP3 & WIN!!!

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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SJ chats with Jan Tegler: F1 Bahrain GP, Scott Dixon Wins Phoenix GP, and #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The F1 season is now well and truly underway. The Bahrain Grand Prix offered more action than the Australian GP but the result was similar – two Mercedes on the podium along with a Ferrari. Nico Rosberg turned a perfect start into a dominating second consecutive win. Teammate and pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was slow off the line and paid the price with contact from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas at the first corner. He fell to ninth but recovered to finish third. Kimi Raikkonen also had a poor start but rallied to finish second. What did you think of the race?

SJ – There were some interesting battles here and there because teams were on different strategies. It looks like the new system of tire choices has definitely helped to spice up the races some although I actually found it hard to follow the race on TV.

It’s very difficult to keep up with who’s on which tire or strategy, which puts more emphasis on the TV production and the commentators to keep the viewers up to date all the time. There’s so much going on with all the possible strategies and tires, and that’s not really presented on-screen. You almost need a computer next to you with timing and scoring and updates. And for a very good portion of the race you never saw what the leaders were doing. They weren’t on camera. That’s understandable because of the gap but it’s tough to follow.

The new start procedure has definitely thrown a spanner in the works. That’s good I think because there should be a skill element involved for getting a good start. There was quite a technique in F1 at different points in the past to getting off the start line quickly. Then they made it completely automated and now it’s at least halfway back in the drivers’ hands.

I wish it was completely back in the drivers’ hands and hopefully they’ll go in that direction again eventually.

Looking at Rosberg versus Hamilton, Rosberg has had things go his way so far. I think it’s just the way the dynamics go in a competitive team. It would appear that Lewis has dominated the last two years but if you think about how close it’s been both years it comes down to nuances. Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and in many cases over the last two years things could have just as easily gone Rosberg’s way, but they didn’t.

You only need one little hiccup to fall behind. Before, it was Rosberg who couldn’t get off the start line. There were times when he qualified in front of Lewis but blew the start consistently. Now it’s the other way around. That’s the way it goes and they’ve been so close to each other every year since they became team mates.

JT – Drama took place even before the start with Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari blowing an engine on the formation lap. Raikkonen lost an engine at Australia, Vettel doesn’t even make the grid in Bahrain, and they’ve had other engine problems in testing and practice. Could it be that the failures are the result of Ferrari pushing the performance envelope of their power unit very hard in an effort to catch Mercedes?

SJ – We’re certainly seeing more reliability issues than we’ve seen in many years in general terms so it’s hard to say. But it would not appear that the failures that Ferrari has suffered so far have been catastrophic - small things that unfortunately have had big consequences.

JT – Williams F1 had another disappointing race. Their strategy seemed to be wrong and though Bottas made a good start, things went downhill from there. I think that many expected more from a team that has finished third in the constructors championship the last two years.

SJ – It’s a bit odd really. I don’t know how they got the strategy that wrong in Bahrain. You can alter strategy during the course of a race but they didn’t really. To be fair, it seemed like everyone was struggling on the medium tires. Maybe that had something to do with it.

JT – On the other hand, Haas F1 surprised the entire paddock again with good qualifying and race pace from both cars, good strategy, and a terrific drive to fifth place from Romain Grosjean. Esteban Gutierrez looked to have good speed as well until his car experienced a mechanical failure. Apparently Haas’ competitors are now complaining that the new American team is really a Ferrari “B” team.

SJ – They’re very impressive. They’ve shown everyone that Australia wasn’t a fluke. As in Australia, they had real speed in Bahrain and executed their strategy and pit stops pretty well.

It begs the question, why aren’t more people in F1 doing the same thing? Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money to build every single part on a car, why not do a deal for a good portion of the package or as much as the rules will allow you with one of the major teams that have all the resources for R&D? Instead, focus on doing the best job you can with the race team and then have the potential to finish in the top 10 consistently. 

If you look at Sauber, Force India, Manor and the rest who sit at the back of grid and rise or fall a little bit every year and wind up being similar at the end of day, you have to ask why? What Haas F1 has done seems to me to be the obvious way to go.

But you hear people like Pat Symonds (Williams’ technical director) who I have a huge respect for. He was my engineer on a number of occasions over the years and is one of the best guys in the paddock. They worry that Haas’ model is going to change the world of Formula One, or question if it’s in the spirit of what F1 is all about. Well, something has to change. When the bottom teams are spending close to $100 million per year, something is seriously wrong. Everyone in the paddock is well aware that the model is unsustainable, yet everyone seems shocked at what Haas has done.

Haas has been very smart and done their homework well - shame on everyone else for not adopting the same idea.

It makes absolutely no sense to me to continue on with this “constructors” model. It’s an outdated concept that does not fit with the direction a modern F1 is made. A full budget for a winning team in the 1980s was something like $35 million per year. Now it’s close to $500 million. So it makes sense to do what Haas has done. What difference does it make if you can brag that you made a cleverer braking duct than anyone else? In the end, F1 should be about good racing - about the best drivers racing each other hard.

What we have now amounts to nothing more than “engineering porn”. That’s what I think of when I see these endless updates and aerodynamic elements and this and that and the other, with teams flying in crates of new parts every weekend. No one except the people inside the business can even appreciate or understand any of this. You can line up every single car next to each other and paint them white and hardly anyone will know the difference. So what’s the point of being a “constructor” when there is zero innovation allowed anyway? The whole idea is flawed.

JT – While Grosjean had a very impressive race, so did Stoffel Vandoorne, filling in for Fernando Alonso at McLaren. Surely, this raises his stock even further in terms of securing a drive in F1 in the future, right?

SJ – Vandoorne did a fantastic job. He’s the real deal no doubt. He’s beaten everybody in every championship he’s ever competed in. Throwing him into Alonso’s seat like that, he couldn’t have done more than he did really. That was a perfect job all weekend. It’s always a sign of a great driver when he can step up and grab the opportunity with both hands on the one chance he might get.

JT – Max Verstappen also drove well, finishing in sixth. His outburst on the Toro Rosso team radio at Australia was in the rear view mirror.

SJ – Well, his frustration in Australia was entirely understandable. The guy’s only 18 years old and everybody has to blow off some steam at sometimes. The bigger point though is that the second year in F1 in any team is always tougher. You come into F1 and there’s no real pressure, no huge expectations. You sort of just do your thing.

Last year he managed to pull off just about every move he made but it’s another season now and it’s very easy for things to go the other way - against you, as we saw in Australia. If you remember, Grosjean had a great first year and then got into all sorts of problems the second year although I don’t think he necessarily did anything much different. Things just didn’t go his way and once doubts start you tend to over analyze everything instead of just making things happen. Then you make the wrong move very easily.

JT – Force India’s performance was decidedly less impressive. Nico Hulkenberg started eighth but finished 17th while teammate Sergio Perez finished 16th.

SJ – Yes, I was surprised at how they just fell back in the race. They clearly went the wrong way on tire strategy like Williams did. It’s also unfair the way the tires are allocated. Grosjean didn’t want to be in the top eight in qualifying because it allowed him to have an extra set of super soft compound tires for the race.

I think that’s completely wrong. You shouldn’t be punished for out-qualifying other competitors and lose a set of tires. Everybody should be allowed to start with the same allocation for the race. It goes back to the qualifying saga actually. 

I don’t see what was wrong with the qualifying format that we used for years. You had an hour to qualify and three sets of tires. You just went out to qualify whenever you wanted to, using whatever combination you liked. At every single race, the last ten minutes were electrifying.

Senna or Prost would go out with two minutes to go with a new set and it was always a game of chess at the end of qualifying. Maybe the weather conditions were changing. What were the competitors doing? I think that was way more exciting than even the format they want to go back to now.

Or, if you were allowed to turn the power units up to their highest output - it would be awesome to see them with 1200 horsepower just for qualifying. 

JT – Lamentably, F1’s failed qualifying format was still in place at Bahrain and is still a point of contention for everyone in the sport. Qualifying didn’t improve the second time around with the new format and yet the teams, the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone seem stuck. Your view is that there’s more to the story, right?

SJ – To me it’s clear that all this has nothing to do with qualifying. I don’t recall a single person complaining about qualifying previously. Everyone was quite happy with it, and this is pure politics, unless everyone has completely lost the plot, which I really don’t think is the case.

My theory is that this is a political move from whatever the source is to destabilize the F1 Strategy Group (F1’s rule-making body which includes the FIA, FOM and six teams). I think the ultimate goal is to get rid of it or break it up somehow. Since the group was formed, nothing has happened. It’s been a disaster from day one.

To repeat what I’ve been saying forever, if you have the teams involved in the decision making nothing will ever get done. They can’t even agree on when to have a meeting let alone what they should talk about. They’re so suspicious and paranoid about each other.

If the goal of all this is to eliminate the Strategy Group, it’s a good idea in my opinion. Doing it all publicly shows that nothing can get done as long as this group exists. It’s the old trusted “divide and conquer” idea. The fact that you have this committee that has to approve any changes instead of simply saying - “That didn’t work, let’s go back to what we had before” – shows how broken it is.

This is a move to shake things up and force changes. When things don’t make any sense - which this one clearly doesn’t - you know something is up.

JT – Following the Australian race where the qualifying format proved to be a disaster, the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association) issued a public letter declaring their displeasure with the current governance of F1. What was your reaction to this?

SJ – I think it was a very bad idea. First of all, why is it necessary to issue a public letter instead of dealing with this matter behind closed doors? Anyway, all the letter did was state the obvious and I love the way Bernie dealt with it. Essentially he agreed with them but corrected their spelling and grammar, which only underlines the respect and reaction it got from the people it was meant to be addressed to.

As long the voice of the drivers is not one of the top guys, I don’t think anyone will give two hoots about what they have to say. Their current president is not even an active driver anymore. Judging by the various comments from various teams and the governing bodies, I think they did a good job at shooting themselves in the foot - that’s all.

 

JT – The second race on the 2016 IndyCar schedule also took place last weekend. Scott Dixon overcame strong competition and a track on which it was difficult to pass to win the Phoenix Grand Prix. While it wasn’t the most action-filled event, Phoenix did prove to be a safe race and Scott gained valuable points. He now sits second in the championship, five points ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya who he battled for the title last year. What’s your take?

SJ – From Scott’s point of view the race was fantastic. To have the points he has now is great because he’s normally not very far up in the championship at this time of year. It’s a good start to the season. He’s hard to beat when he gets going. He’s like a machine nowadays.

But a lot of credit has to go to the team also. They did a phenomenal job on all the pit stops and the strategy to not only get him to the front but also to keep him there. A lot of his main opponents pitted at exactly the wrong moment and went a lap down with the yellow flags coming out as they were either in the pits or just rejoined.

As a whole though, the race was quite uneventful. No one could pass other than on the restarts. Everyone was just stuck on one racing line and there was never an opportunity for a second line to open up. That limited most of the passing to whatever spots you could gain on the pit stops.

But at least it was a safe race and that was good. With the huge aero (downforce) they have on the cars it could have been pretty tricky and some people including myself were quite nervous that it might be another crazy pack racing event like we saw at Fontana and a couple of other places last year. That’s not the way to go.

Everyone knew the first two or three laps of the race and the restarts were really the only opportunity you had to pass. Hunter-Reay was pretty far back at the start and knew he had to take a few chances. He made some great moves, as did Tony Kanaan. They are both very experienced and aggressive drivers and it was impressive to see.

I know I’ve been talking about it for a couple years but you’d think IndyCar would realize that, just as in Formula One, big aero downforce is ruining the racing. It’s as simple as that.

The evolution of the new aero-kits has really resulted in nothing. We’re at greater levels of downforce now than we were a few years ago when these new cars were introduced. Again, I’ve said it before – theoretically, they could have stayed with what they had in 2014 and the racing would be better.

Now, if you get too close to a car in front it’s almost impossible to pass – same as in F1. If you got stuck behind a car that was on the end of the lead lap, as we saw, there was nothing you could do. You’re stuck at their speed and everyone was running around doing exactly the same lap time. I just hope at some point the penny will drop and everyone will have a major rethink on the philosophy of what a modern race car should be like. The way it’s going right now is not helping the racing at all.

JT – Another side effect of the downforce and the horsepower IndyCar powerplants make currently is that if you make a move on a competitor ahead, particularly on an oval, you lose nearly all momentum. That makes you vulnerable to those behind immediately.

SJ – Exactly, no one dares take the risk to pass – or rarely anyway, because of that. Their frustration just keeps mounting as a result and that’s when stupid things happen.

Maybe things will be different at Long Beach but it did surprise me that at Phoenix there was such a difference between Chevy and Honda again. I would have thought Honda could have closed the gap a bit. But the gap seems almost bigger than it was last year on ovals.

JT – IndyCar rookies Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi both did a good job at Phoenix. Chilton finished seventh but ran as high as fifth while Rossi ran in the top ten as well but was caught out by a yellow flag while in the pits – the same fate that befell Hunter-Reay twice.

SJ – They both raced well. Rossi would have had a great result if they hadn’t pitted when they did, and Chilton had a great result in his first oval race in Indycar.

JT – Felix Rosenqvist made his first-ever start on an oval in the Indy Lights round at Phoenix International Raceway. He qualified 13th and finished the race in 15th position. Not satisfying for him I’m sure but a great learning experience nonetheless and he’s still third overall in the championship.

SJ – Obviously not the result he would have wanted. But it was a great learning experience for him and I’m sure he will come back to the next oval mentally prepared and determined to get the job done. With as little preparation and practice as they had before this race, I think he just started out a little too cautious and that carried on through qualifying. Once the race got underway, track position was everything, not one single driver passed under green except on one restart. So he was basically stuck where he started all race.

JT – This was also the second weekend you ran the F1TOP3 competition on your website. Can you explain in more detail what that is?

SJ – Basically, it’s a very simple competition where we invite people to guess the top 3 in each Grand Prix in the correct order. If anyone gets it right three times or more they have a chance to win one of my watches that retail for $7500. Plus there’s a number of smaller prizes at each race like Headsets and T-shirts. Click bellow to participate: