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Filtering by Tag: Alex Rossi

The 100th running of the Indy 500, the dramatic Monaco Grand Prix & #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The 100th running of the Indy 500 was equal parts, competitive, historic and surprising. Racing before a sold-out Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi pulled off an improbable win by gambling, stretching his fuel mileage for the final 90 miles of the race as other competitors peeled off to pit. He became just the ninth rookie to win the race.

You were on hand for the Hundredth, what did you think of the race in general and Rossi’s performance?

SJ – You could really feel the energy this year. There was the same buzz you used to feel before the split (CART/IRL) in the mid 90’s. The whole city was just buzzing all month. It was great and I hope it will continue like this.

The race, as often happens at Indy, was a bit of an anti-climax at the end. The last five laps completely changed the whole picture of the race. But that’s Indy in a nutshell. Nearly every year the scenario changes completely depending on strategy and who’s really got it together when it matters in those last few laps.

This year’s race ended up being a typical, IndyCar race that was won on strategy rather than sheer speed. We saw [Graham] Rahal do it many times last season where he wasn’t in the picture until the races came to him strategically towards the end. That’s not to take anything away from Rossi. I think he did a phenomenal job all month, really. He was always there or thereabouts through practice and qualifying. For a rookie I think he did a tremendous job.

But he was never in the hunt to win at any point during the race on pace alone. The team made the right call and that’s what matters at Indy. They gambled and in the situation they were in it wasn’t a difficult choice to make. If you’re not running you can sometimes afford to roll the dice and hope the race will come to you, and it certainly did in this case.

Scott [Dixon] was kind of in the same boat frankly. All the guys at the front went full rich for the first ten laps after the last stop, and found themselves having to pit eight to six laps before the end. But his car was never really there all day. Scott was never really able to attack. He was just kind of hanging in there the whole time. He had slight contact as well which put the car just a little out of alignment. That’s a big loss at Indy because if the car is not dialed in there’s nothing you can do as a driver to make it go any faster.

It was just one of those days and he wasn’t the only one. Montoya had a bad day, Pagenaud had a pretty bad one as well, and so did others. It was a surprise in one way but not so surprising in another that an Andretti car won.

They were very strong all month. You knew that out of their five cars at least one was going to have a good chance of winning. They were right at the front from the first day of practice forward. The lap times were coming very easy to them. They were always in the hunt.

JT – Andretti Autosport was undeniably strong. However, it was a tale of two races for them. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell dominated the first half of the race but it was Rossi and Carlos Munoz who claimed the first two spots on the podium for the team. The contact between Bell and Helio Castroneves as they exited their pits led to a collision between Bell and Hunter-Reay which effectively ended the race for the teammates.

SJ – Yes, had that not happened I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hunter-Reay or Bell would have been right there at the end to shoot it out for the win. They were really strong most of the day.

JT – No one predicted Rossi’s win. Even from simply observing the TV broadcast you could sense the frustration of the drivers who had run at the front all day long and had nothing to show for it while Rossi’s gamble paid off.

Similarly, no one was more surprised by Rossi’s win than Alexander himself. In victory lane you could see that he hadn’t mentally processed what had just happened. Formula One had been the focus of his career up until this season and it’s hard to say if he really understands what winning the Indy 500 means. Undoubtedly, that will change.

SJ – That’s not the first time that has happened and that’s the irony of Indy. It always comes down to a combination of circumstances at the end.

I don’t think Rossi has any idea of the magnitude of his win just yet. His life will never be the same again. An American winning Indy is huge. Look at Danny [Sullivan]. He won 31 years ago and it’s still an accolade that travels with him everywhere he goes.

JT – You said that Honda looked very strong for Indy in our last blog, adding that you didn’t think they had been that far behind Chevrolet this season. That observation proved to be exactly right. Honda engines looked very strong throughout practice and qualifying and of course a Honda-powered car won. It looks like their development program as well as their lobbying of IndyCar paid off.

SJ – There’s no question. As I said, I think it’s more that Chevy has had better teams and drivers overall this season and the past and that’s why they’ve had better results. But in terms of performance, I think there’s very little between Honda and Chevy now. Clearly Honda had an advantage at Indy.

JT – Penske, the winning-est team at Indy, didn’t fare too well this year. Castroneves was competitive but his teammates were nowhere to be seen for most of the race. Montoya crashed out, Pagenaud fell further and further back from the green flag and Power was mired in the middle of the pack all day.

SJ – I think both Penske and Ganassi missed the mark this year. It was hard work for both teams to get up to speed. They did manage to get the lap times but it wasn’t coming easy. TK (Tony Kanaan) was running strong obviously but being on the pace wasn’t as easy as it has been in the past. It was a strange Indy 500 in that respect.

JT – The 100th running of the race did attract a lot of attention. Most notably from other racers and I think that’s positive. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, definitely. There were a ton of NASCAR drivers there. There was big interest from all areas of racing. I think even the Formula One guys are sort of curious about Indy Cars again. That’s what’s exciting. It’s starting to get the kind of buzz it used to have when at least a few F1 guys wanted to transition and have a look at it.

Nigel Mansell - Indycar 1994

Nigel Mansell - Indycar 1994

Fernando Alonso has made some noises about it. I think it would be just awesome if we could get one or two of the stars to come over and race – like when Nigel [Mansell] came over, that just blew it up.

When he came over, it elevated IndyCar to almost to a position where it became a threat to Formula One. I think the same thing could happen again if one or two guys would transition and take it really seriously. I still maintain that currently Indycar has the best racing in the world, if only more people knew about it they would have a huge following.

JT – Following the Indy 500 we had the Detroit double header this past weekend. As usual, both races threw out a lot of curveballs and the results were somewhat unexpected, certainly in race 1 at least.

Yes, again it ended up two races we have grown used to at Detroit with both the weather and fuel strategy playing their part in the final outcome. It was a mixed weekend for a lot of the front runners and in race 1 the race came to the guys who rolled the dice on strategy, exactly same scenario as last year. Scott had a rough two races, it looked like he was lined up to win the first one despite being held up for a very long time in one of the pitstops by some problems with the fuel rig. In the second one it was almost over before it started with Helio (Castro Neves) giving him a heavy hit right as it went green. I’m not sure exactly what he was thinking and both he and Scott were lucky they didn’t crash properly. As it were, Scott’s car sustained some suspension damage, which meant he was never in a position to attack the rest of the race. As usual though, the track produced some great racing.

JT – The Monaco Grand Prix had its moments - due in part to the changing weather conditions that overtook the race. A Mercedes won again but this time the result wasn’t a forgone conclusion.

SJ – It certainly was an interesting race in the first half at least. I think every single compound of tire was on track at some stage of the race. Everybody was trying something different. Once it all settled down it was kind of a typical Monaco where no one could pass and everyone was running in the same place.

JT – The difficulty of passing on-track at Monaco made Red Bull Racing’s disastrous pit stop for Daniel Ricciardo all the more frustrating for the driver and the team. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes capitalized on their mistake.

SJ – That’s Monaco. I always used to say when we were racing there that you need a 30-second lead to be absolutely sure of winning if you’re leading. Crazy things happen at Monaco that don’t happen at any other track - whether it’s a candy wrapper getting into a radiator inlet because the public sits right at the track edge or a screw up in the pits like this because you’re not operating from a normal garage where things are organized the way they normally are.

That’s difficult to achieve in today’s racing but 30 seconds is still just about what you need for a comfortable margin. What happened with Red Bull is unforgivable but that’s typical Formula One today. They have all these boffins that sit there behind their computer screens and look at the best theoretical strategies but no one seems to be thinking on their feet. When you have adverse conditions like this time, sometimes you just have to make a decision in a split-second and roll the dice.

Hamilton experienced a similar scenario last year. Mercedes just screwed up because the guys that sit behind the computers have never been in a race. They don’t know what it’s like to be on track. All they look at are theoretical scenarios. Monaco is actually quite simple compared to most other tracks as there’s really only thing you need to be concerned with, and that’s track position as it’s virtually impossible to pass even if you’re 5 seconds a lap faster.

That’s why Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher were always so strong. They were both genuine hard-core racers. They both came up through the sports car scene where you have to make decisions on pit strategy in almost every stint. Often you have to wing it, not looking at what ultimately may be the best solution but making a decision about what to do in the next three seconds.

JT – Daniel Ricciardo is clearly not pleased with Red Bull Racing after their pit strategy calls at both Monaco and the Spanish GP. He handled himself pretty well on track at Monaco in the aftermath however, doing his best to push Lewis Hamilton into a mistake. Hamilton made that mistake at the chicane, missing the corner and subsequently squeezing Ricciardo as he tried to pass. Race stewards chose not to penalize Hamilton.  How do you see the incident?
 

SJ – Again, it has to do with the runoff areas. Thirty years ago there was an Armco barrier there. Hamilton would have been buried in that if the same thing had happened. If all four wheels are across the track line to the outside of it then there should be a penalty for that in my opinion as it effectively means he’s blown the corner.

It’s even money whether Lewis gained any time by overshooting the chicane but the fact is he made a mistake and went too deep into the corner so theoretically I think that should be grounds for at least giving up the position, or a punishment of some sort – maybe not a stop-and-go penalty - but at least concede the position. Under previous circumstances he would have been in the fence.

I thought Ricciardo was absolutely superb all weekend. He was fantastic in both qualifying and the race. He was really hustling the car behind Lewis. It was quite impressive. I think it’s going to be very interesting to follow him and Red Bull from now on. They’ve made a lot of progress and they clearly have a good car. Ricciardo’s got the bit between his teeth and really should have won in Spain too under normal circumstances.

JT – Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen came into Monaco riding the high of winning the Spanish GP but had a pretty bad weekend.

SJ – He’s not a rookie anymore. He’s had a year in F1 and he raced last year at Monaco. But the track is extremely difficult and one small mistake can cost you big time. Still, that’s how all of the tracks used to be. Monaco is almost the only place like that left now. Montreal is similar, there isn’t a lot of runoff or margin for error but most of the other tracks offer no penalty for screwing up.

Ricciardo was clearly on it at Monaco and I think Verstappen felt that. I think it’ll be interesting going forward because the dynamic inside the team will change dramatically. I think there will be a lot more pressure on Verstappen from Ricciardo to deliver in every area.

JT – Once again, Ferrari wasn’t really a factor at Monaco. Sebastian Vettel finished a distant fourth and Raikkonen crashed out. The pressure on the team must be even higher.

SJ – In the earlier races this year, it just seemed that they couldn’t quite put together a top finish. The potential to win was there but circumstances prevented it one way or the other. But they’ve clearly fallen a little bit behind now.

Monaco is unique though so we’ll see what happens when we get to Canada. Certainly everyone is working hard trying to get the performance they need.

JT – McLaren scored their best finish of the season with Fernando Alonso taking the checkers in fifth. The team took advantage of the misfortunes of others but they seemed to perform better at Monaco. Meanwhile Williams F1 didn’t perform well yet again.

SJ – McLaren is definitely making strides toward the front of the grid. Little by little they’re getting closer and they are now to the point where their engine is running reliably. That gives them the opportunity to work on many other things. I think it will only be a matter of time before they’re fighting for wins again.

Williams was sort of in between the front runners in the last few years but now I think the other engine makers have caught up. The advantage they had in the past two years running the Mercedes engine has mostly gone away. Both Ferrari and Renault are definitely closer on the engine front now.

That puts more emphasis on the chassis and the way F1 is today, you need cubic dollars to get more performance from the chassis. You have to spend more and more money and hone and hone to get the last half percent from every area of performance. That’s what it comes down to. It’s not about being innovative or clever anymore.

So when you’re in the middle of the pack either you get it right or someone else does from year to year. If you don’t have the resources the top teams do you have to sort of gamble on which direction to go in your development and you’re not always sure whether you’ve gone out on the right limb or not. They’ve obviously missed the boat somewhere this year.

JT – Yes, and another Mercedes team in the mid-pack, Force India, got things right for Monaco with Sergio Perez finishing on the podium.

SJ – I must say, I’ve been critical of him in the past but I think he’s doing a phenomenal job now. He’s comfortable and not taking stupid risks like he used to. He’s well dialed in and he’s actually outperforming Hulkenberg at the moment which is quite impressive.

JT – Sauber teammates Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are not on the best of terms. They collided at Rascasse when Ericsson tried to overtake Nasr. He claimed that Nasr had been told to move over and let him through by the team. After several laps behind, he went for the pass. Nasr claims the team hadn’t ordered him to move and blames Ericsson for the crash.

SJ – That’s been brewing for quite a while, all the way back to GP2 where they already had a rivalry. It obviously doesn’t help anyone, particularly the team. You’ve just got to put your ego aside. If you’re fighting over 15th place well, you have to keep it in perspective.

I understand that they both had the red mist and got carried away in their battle but whether Nasr had orders to let Ericsson by or not, passing at Rascasse is nearly impossible – even if you’re five seconds a lap quicker. You come up on the apex of the corner and it’s always wide open when you go in because you have to give yourself enough room to get the lock to get around the corner.

But that doesn’t mean the corner is open. By the time you get to the apex you know there’s going to be a car in the middle. It was more than a low percentage chance to make a passing move stick there.

In the end, all this does is lowering their chances of impressing another team to consider them for the future.

JT – That offers a good contrast between Mercedes and Sauber. Rosberg was told to move over for Hamilton after not getting his tires to work and he complied.

SJ – At the end of the day F1 is a team sport and you work for the team. Rosberg’s mature enough to look at the bigger picture and that’s the difference. Less impressive however was the fact he lost a position to Hulkenberg on the last lap; I really don’t understand what he was thinking on that one. If he ends up loosing the championship by a point he will rue that moment for the rest of his life.


Stefan Johansson (1) & Alain Prost (2) / McLaren F1 - Detroit 1987

Stefan Johansson (1) & Alain Prost (2) / McLaren F1 - Detroit 1987

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:

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:

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reflections on 2014 and a look ahead to the world of racing in 2015.

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – As 2014 wound to a close there were several significant pieces of news. Among them, on December 11, McLaren finally confirmed Jenson Button would continue with the team, partnering Fernando Alonso.  That seems a sensible and popular choice. What’s your view?

Stefan JohanssonYes, I think it’s the decision that makes the most sense for a team like McLaren. Jenson has a wealth of experience and anytime you have a new development program as they do with Honda I’m sure his experience will be valuable. With a new development program like this one it’s always valuable to have the opinion from two very experienced and successful drivers. I don’t know enough about either driver but the danger could easily be that Alonso would get a car that suits him but not other drivers, and if a younger driver is there his input may not count as much as an established World Champions do.

I don’t know how much Jenson’s past experience with Honda played a part in McLaren’s decision. He’s probably one of the last hold-outs from Honda’s previous program in F1. I don’t know how many there are left from their previous venture in F1. It’s a fresh start for Honda really and I think for them to go back to F1, this is absolutely the right way to do it rather than trying to be an engine and chassis constructor.

I think any auto manufacturer that has tried Formula One has found what a huge challenge it is to do both the Chassis and the Engine. 

JT – With Button’s confirmation, Kevin Magnussen moves to the role of test/reserve driver for the team. That’s obviously not what he would have wanted but in the long term it could be positive. Many other drivers, including Alonso have done the same thing and gone on to have a great career.

SJ – If you look back at history that’s actually the way a lot of the drivers started out in F1, including Jenson and Damon Hill. I think it’s the way for Magnussen to go as well. It’s certainly not the end of the world for him at the age he is.

It also gives him a bit of a chance to reflect on his first year in F1. There’s no doubt that he’s extremely fast and a great racing driver. I think he’ll come back and he will probably be right with the program when he does.

JT – Funny that you mention Damon Hill. His former Williams F1 teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, spoke out in late December about the signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen (son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen) to Torro Rosso for 2015.

He called the decision an “insult” to F1 and said, “Before you are fighting against the lives of others, you have to learn, and it is not F1's role to teach.” He went on to add that the F1 minimum age – currently 18 – is not enough.

“"It should be 21. You should arrive in Formula One as a winner and with a wealth of experience. F1 is not the place to come and develop as a driver."

Many people agree with Villeneuve. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Really, I don’t think anyone can disagree with him. Things are so different today though. Guys aren’t really even racing anymore truthfully. It’s now about planning your strategy so that you hit the button for DRS or KERS at the right moment and you make the pass. There’s nothing the other driver can do at that point, or is even allowed to do.

So it’s really a matter of driving the car fast and trying not to make any mistakes. The only mistake you can make in normal circumstances today which punishes you is locking up the brakes. If you screw up and go into a corner too fast and miss the apex you end up in the blue part of the runoff area and it costs you time but off you go again.

The race won’t end for you. You may lose three seconds if you really get it wrong but that’s about the extent of it. So, from that point of view, a 17-year-old could certainly be out there. Any of the guys I’ve spoken with who’ve tested the current F1 cars say that they are so easy to drive it’s almost ridiculous. So it really comes down to race-craft at the end of the day.

But how can you tell if a 17-year-old has race-craft? There’s no doubt he’ll be quick but as you can see with Magnussen for example, who’s older but still very young, you can recall that he made some very opportunistic moves in the beginning of the season before he realized that he was racing a different caliber of drivers in F1 than what he had been used to. Many of the moves he tried to pull off early on just didn’t stick.

So, I’m sure Verstappen will be extremely fast but how will he fare when he’s in a dogfight with somebody who’s been around for a while or in the first few laps with a lot of cars ducking and diving? After that, when things settle down and you have a rhythm going, it’s just down to not screwing up and using the DRS and looking after your tires.

I totally agree with Villeneuve’s comment on the age of the drivers and the fact that you should come to F1 with a lot of experience and success. If you give him three more years in other lower formulas and you see a level of competitive consistency that makes it clear he’ll be able to handle whatever situations occur, that’s positive.

You also learn about dealing with teams that may not be the best and so many other variables. Those things have a huge impact.

JT – Yes, those are great points and if we look at a driver like Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been advising recently as he competed in F3 (and won the Macau GP), and compare him to Verstappen – Felix has had to compete and work hard for some time in the lower formulas. It’s clear he is very competitive. As you say, Verstappen looks to be quick but he’s done so little since he left karting that it’s very hard to know how well he races cars.

SJ – That’s true and with Verstappen, he came into F3 this year with no experience in cars really, straight from Karting. But sometimes it’s better when you’re completely fresh. If things go your way it’s going to be great. But you really see the depth of a driver’s skill and his qualities more in adversity than when they’re having success. You see it when they have to dig themselves out of a hole.

Eventually in your career you will have adversity and there’s such a fine line with confidence and making the right moves on track and making them stick. Sometimes you try to be too opportunistic and you make a move and it’s the wrong one and you end up losing a couple spots. All of that makes a huge difference.

I only saw Verstappen at Hockenheim and Macau and he wasn’t bad but he certainly didn’t do anything to impress me in those two races. He finished fifth I think in Hockenheim and in Macau he basically cracked under pressure, hitting the wall when Felix was behind him. Macau is tough and that could happen to anyone but it shouldn’t happen if you’re at the level where someone like him is expected to be. That’s not a mistake that’s acceptable in my opinion.

JT – Building on the comments you’ve been making for a quite a while now, Villeneuve similarly said, “F1 impressed me when I arrived, even though I came from Indy car. But this F1 is not exciting. The cars seem slow.”

“Verstappen arrives, does 10 laps and immediately looks strong," Villeneuve continues. "It seems that anyone can drive an F1 car, while in my father's day the drivers were considered heroes at the wheel of almost impossible monsters.”

SJ – It’s true, it’s just obvious to see. For example, look at the testing in Abu Dhabi after the race final GP with all the junior drivers getting an opportunity. Within 20 laps they’re within a tenth or two of Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo. It just shouldn’t happen.

There’s something fundamentally wrong if the car is that easy to drive that anyone with virtually no experience can just jump in and be even within a second of the regular drivers  – that’s wrong. A proper race car should be an absolute beast to drive. Then you’ll see the difference between who really knows how to drive, who has the car control, throttle and steering coordination to balance the car on the limit, the bravery, all the elements that constitute a great racing driver. And most of all, who can keep it together, on the limit, in a car like that for 80 laps or more without making any mistakes, that’s where the real skill of a Champion driver will show.

Now it’s just about precision, hitting your marks and it seems there’s no reward for pushing hard. The cars don’t respond to that. That’s what I used to hate with touring cars in the odd races I’ve done with them. You kind of hit the limit after a few laps and if you try to go beyond that you just go slower.

Vettel and Räikkönen are good examples of that with these current F1 cars. They weren’t comfortable with their cars all year. In frustration they then tried too hard and they end up going even slower. You have to have a level of comfort and confidence in the car being half a percent under the limit. But if you go over the limit you just go slower. 

JT – That phenomenon together with F1’s current rules makes the racing seem – to me – more like lapping as opposed to when you raced in F1. It seems as if the drivers, even while sharing the track with others, are in their own personal bubbles pursuing planned lap times in isolation from their competitors. They even get orders to turn down the performance of their cars to comply with F1 rules and save energy. It’s antithetical to racing.

SJ – Absolutely, they get orders three or four times a lap concerning what to do with all the switches and buttons on the steering wheels to save energy, tires and everything else. None of that is down to the driver anymore. It’s all controlled by data coming into the pits.

Like I said when I was in the Ferrari pits at Monza listening to the team radio in qualifying, when the drivers are finished with a run there’s not one single comment from them about what the car is doing. The engineer is on the radio telling them what the car is doing. “we can see you have a small understeer at the exit of the second Lesmo, we’re going to put half a degree of front wing in and they say ‘ok’.”

As soon as the dialog starts the engineers are telling them what the car is doing. It was really bizzare to listen to this and it must be a system they use as I am sure in the debrief the drivers will have more input and a lot more to speak about that will influence the direction they are going with the car set up.

JT – The saga at the back end of the F1 grid continues. Marussia (now being referred to as “Manor”) seems to be finished while Caterham is said to be in negotiations on a pending sale.

SJ – I don’t understand it really. The Marussia thing is a puzzle because they have TV money guaranteed. I would imagine that if anyone would be interested in buying a team they would be more interested in them than in Caterham.

It’s strange but I know there are some things brewing with people looking at both teams. How serious they are, we’ll see.

I don’t think these two teams are the only ones that are in deep trouble, I have a feeling at least two more teams are very shaky at the moment as far as being in a position to even start next year.

JT – On the sports car side, again we have to say that the Pirelli World Challenge series is looking very strong for 2015. The recently released roster of teams planning to compete in the GT (GT3) category looks fantastic and includes Scuderia Corsa for whom you are racing director. Apparently the team will field two full-season cars for Duncan Ende and Martin Fuentes and a third for a partial season for Mike Hedlund. Sounds like it should be very exciting.

SJ – It’s amazing how this championship has developed. All the serious contenders are now in that championship. What’s great about it is that they’re keeping it simple. The GT class is GT3 cars based on the global formula so anyone can come and race. There are so many of these cars around and there’s no messing around with complicated rules.

It’s great racing with relatively short races. I think it’s really going in the right direction so far. More and more teams are defecting from the Tudor United Sportscar Series. That’s certainly driven from the lower cost of World Challenge but it’s also clearly a result of a lot of frustration with Tudor.

JT – Scuderia Corsa also has a couple Ferrari 458s entered for Daytona.

SJ – Yes, we’re running the #63 car with Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, and adding Jeff Segal and Anthony Lazzaro. And we’re running the #64 again, an all-Brazilian car. (Daniel Serra, Francisco Longo).

And then we’ve got an entry for Le Mans as well this year which is great. That will be Sweedler and Townsend with a third driver. We don’t know who that will be yet. 

JT – The LMP1 class in WEC will have the potential to be more competitive for 2015 with the addition of Nissan to the grid and Audi’s return with updated/revised R18 e-tron quattros. Audi has complained recently about WEC regulations which don’t favor its turbo-diesel hybrids. Even for die-hard sports car racing fans the WEC formula is a bit complex to follow, don’t you think?

SJ – Yes, it’s getting too complicated again. It was great for a while because you could show up with pretty much any combination you wanted. But when us who are in the business are having problems understanding it, how are the fans going to be able to grasp it? It’s way too complicated.

Part of the problem in racing in general is that engineers and designers have way too much influence over the rules right now. The FIA has all of these committees, an engine committee, an overtaking committee, a committee for this, another committee for that. It’s become a democracy where everyone has a say, and historically this has never worked out well in motor racing. The best series, i.e. F1 and NASCAR was always run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to work great for everyone. One leader who had a clear birdseye view of the direction of the series, it didn’t always please everyone but in the end it worked. Now everyone is having views on everything, and as a result things haven gotten so complicated and difficult to manage, and it shows. 

JT – In IndyCar off-season news, many people are still trying to find rides. Among them is ex-Marussia, ex-Caterham test/reserve driver Alex Rossi. He’s an American with a lot of experience in the lower European formulas and some time behind the wheel of the current F1 cars but relatively unknown here in his homeland. Do you have any thoughts on him?

SJ – I don’t know much about Rossi but my first comment would be that he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. He’s obviously a very good driver but he hasn’t been exceptional in anything he’s done in Europe. He’s been good enough to win odd races but I don’t know how he’s risen to the positions he’s been in. I don’t know if he’s got financial backing or whether it’s come purely from results.

But for IndyCar racing it would always be good to have another American and even better if he’s quick and can win. He’s not well known here it’s true but that’s the risk you take when you focus on F1 which I commend him for going that route as it is way harder for an American kid to make it over there than just going the traditional route of Indy Lights and the Indycar if you’re any good.

I remember when I came over here, having spent ten years in F1. Everyone was asking for my resume, asking what I’d been doing before. Nelson Piquet had the same thing. He won the F1 world championship three times and the teams were asking for his CV! I remember when I met Jim Hall the first time and he asked for me for a resume! I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be an uphill battle!’

JT – The new aerodynamic bodywork package for IndyCars for 2015 is causing lots of speculation and some concern. Some have theorized that the package will bring pack-racing back to IndyCar because cars will be able to follow each other more closely on ovals. The previous period in which that was true for IndyCar/IRL was very dangerous. That should be something to be avoided, correct?

SJ – The problem in general is that everybody’s trying to slow the cars down with less horsepower. IndyCars should really have another 200 hp to make a difference in the racing. When I talk to Scott [Dixon] he tells me the cars now are like driving an Indy Lights car. They’re all about momentum. It’s a very different driving style.

On the ovals I remember getting wheelspin coming out of Turn 2 at Indy in qualifying in the CART era. It’s the same thing I come back to again. The cars at this level should be beasts and drivers should be weeded out accordingly. People always figure out a way to make challenging cars work but if they don’t have to they take the easy way out.

That then leads to situations where teams will go for a driver who’s mediocre but brings 80 percent of their budget with him rather than trying a little harder themselves and finding somebody who has greater skill and that can make a difference. You’ve got teams like Ganassi, Penske and Andretti who eat, breathe and sleep racing and they put the effort in and it shows.

I remember at Indy back in the day when I was racing, literally unless you got lucky and the car was really dialed in, you didn’t try to go flat all the way around until qualifying. It was such a big leap to try to go flat around there at that time. It was really something else and it definitely got your juices flowing, like it should. 

JT – Now for some reflections on 2014 in brief and a look ahead, what are your thoughts on Formula One?

SJ – I think the right man won the championship in the end. I think Lewis did an exceptional job all year. Nico [Rosberg] did too, but Lewis seemed to have a couple tenths in hand when he really needed them in the race and he usually had that in hand for 80 laps. Sometimes he didn’t have it on qualifying runs but there’s always a balance. So overall, I think Lewis deserved to win the championship this year.

JT – Do you think the racing in F1 will be better in 2015?

SJ – I think it will get a bit better. I’m sure that the gap to Mercedes will close up a bit. If they leave the regulations alone for another two or three years it will really close. I’m certain the gap will be smaller next season but we can also be certain that Mercedes will be the favorite again for the championship.

JT – Will McLaren be at all competitive in 2015 or will it be a year of development for them with Honda?

SJ – I think McLaren might be the surprise next year. If Honda is somewhere close with their engine - and having had a year in which they didn’t have to comply with any regulations while working on their engine and seeing what everyone else has done – they ought to be close I think.

I assume they haven’t had to be bound by the rule of having their engine frozen in development until they actually enter competition. It’s hard to say without really knowing the rules but that could give them an advantage. And it should have helped from the point of car development and put them back on the right track after their two or three years of having completely lost their way.

[Eric] Boullier (McLaren Racing Director) has certainly put some good new people in place in the team and they’ve already improved the aero on the car. That even showed at the end of this year. So I think they will be competitive, though it should never really be a surprise when they are – they’re McLaren after all and they have probably better resources than any other team on the grid. And Alonso and Button pushing each other should help as well.

JT – Will the new combination – Vettel, Räikkönen and new Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene – produce better results for the Scuderia?

SJ – Well, their 2015 car was obviously well underway before they made the recent changes so I think 2015 will be a tough year for them. They’ve hired a lot of new people and have some very good people from previous years but the boat for the 2015 car left the dock many months ago. It would be hard to change direction on it now. I’m sure it will be something of an interim year for them. It will be more interesting to see what will happen in 2016 and going forward, how the new regime will work in the long term. It worries me though when I hear the words “experiment” and “gamble” associated with anything in motor racing, whenever you attempt to apply any of those words into any plan, it very rarely works out well. The teams and drivers and that will rely on an experiment or a gamble will generally dig themselves into an even deeper hole.  It always takes some time for a completely new management to find its way. Remember it took the “dream team” with Schumacher, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne five years before they won the first title from when they joined Ferrari. These four guys where the best in the business at the time. The current team is clearly all very competent people from the different fields of business they have spent most of their careers, but none of them have any experience in F1 and they have now been thrown straight into the Piranha Club. Although some of the Piranhas may be a bit older than in their prime, they still know how to bite!

JT – How about Red Bull Racing - will Christian Horner, Adrian Newey, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have what it takes to win?

SJ – If Renault steps up on the engine front, I’m sure they’ll be strong. They still may have had the best chassis this year. If they can get another 40 to 50 horsepower out of the engine they will be closer to the front more consistently for sure. And remember, they still won three races in 2014.

Obviously, Ricciardo was the revelation of 2014. I thought he did an extraordinary job. He didn’t put a foot wrong all year and put Vettel firmly in his place. He did the absolute best that could be done with the car given the circumstances in just about every race. He’s no doubt part of the new generation that will be leading the way in the next five years.

JT – And Mercedes GP, will Lewis and Nico be dominant again next season?

SJ – I think that it will be a matter of which one of them gets it right on race day. They’re so close to each other in performance there’s almost nothing between them. However, their methods of getting that performance are significantly different.

I’m sure Nico has had a chance to reflect on where he was lacking this year. What impressed me with him this year was that every time he had problem or made a mistake he came back even stronger and stepped up and responded. I certainly wouldn’t count him out for the championship next year.

JT – Interestingly, Nico’s father (ex-F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg) generally seems to keep a low profile. I’m sure he’s been of help to Nico. But you don’t see him around the F1 paddock all the time like you do Hamilton’s dad or others. He also seems like the consummate, cool racing driver and a very good guy.

SJ – Keke’s great. I’ve known him since I was eight years old. We raced together forever and he’s just a terrific guy. He understands the business and he’s smart enough to know when it’s time to step in or stay out of the way. He’s been around long enough to see every racing dad and the effect they have on their kids. I’m sure he’s had an influence on Nico.

He’s an old fox too. He knows every trick in the book and then some. I’m sure he’s had a massive influence on Nico’s work ethic and mental attitude. Keke, for me, is the epitome of a racing driver. He’s got all of the qualities you’d want and is the coolest guy ever. When he was at his height in F1 he was off the charts in every respect, the bravest guy you’d ever find on a race track. He really was something else.

JT – How will the rest of the F1 grid fare in 2015? Any surprises?

SJ – It’s really hard to gauge the rest. For instance at Force India, you would have expected Nico Hulkenberg to blow the doors off Sergio Perez but if anything, maybe Perez had a better year than Hulkenberg.

But then he showed his less impressive side when he got a bit heated in Austin, making another knucklehead move. With these cars, some guys manage to find a way to drive them and then there are Vettel and Räikkönen for example, who clearly struggled. I suspect that Hulkenberg probably fell into that category as well.

I think figuring out the braking is the trickiest issue with these new F1 cars. With all the energy recovery and stuff going, if you can’t control the rear under braking, you’re screwed basically. The whole corner is wasted before you even get there. The car’s unstable, you’re not where you want to be on entry and as a result you’re off the power at the wrong point of the corner. Everything becomes a chain-reaction from the braking-point forward.

And as I say, the rest of the teams are so difficult to call in terms of how they will perform given the different levels of funding they have and struggles just staying alive.

JT – Will IndyCar hold any surprises for 2015?

SJ – No one really knows what kind of difference the new aero-kits will make but I think there’s a strong chance that one will come out of the gate better than the other. Who knows who that will be?

It will be interesting to see and interesting to see some different looking cars also. There will inevitably be a level of development for all the teams to get on top of the new aero kits and how to best understand the cars, some will get it right and some won’t. As always, the bigger teams will have a better chance of getting on top of it sooner due to the resources they have at their disposal.

JT – Four manufacturers will now be competing in LMP1 in the WEC with the addition of Nissan. That’s as many manufacturers as Formula One has – and there are more really if you count the GT class. How will WEC be in 2015?

SJ – It’s certainly growing stronger. There have even been a couple defections from Tudor with the ESM and Krohn guys racing in P2 and some teams going to GTE. I think the chances of the Nissan being competitive right away are small, I don’t think they have allocated enough resources to take on Audi, Porsche and Toyota to get to the level they are. In addition I believe their car is quite radical. But it’s still good that they are there and if they have the budget they’ll improve. And with a few more P2 cars, WEC could be a pretty good show. 

JT – To wrap it up, who was the standout driver of 2014?

SJ – Without a doubt it was Daniel Ricciardo in my opinion. He did far more than was expected of him, especially considering the circumstances. Personally I like his attitude too, he seems like a great guy who loves his job and it will be interesting to see how he develops in the next few years now that he’s the “boss” of the Red Bull team so to speak.


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