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Filtering by Tag: Audi

2016: Year In Review

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 81

JT – With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on some of the year’s racing headlines, trends and impending changes as the new year arrives. But before we get to that, let’s chat about your first experience racing an LMP3 car earlier this month at the Gulf 12 Hours on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit. 

You were teamed in United Autosports’ No. 22 Ligier JS P3 with Jim McGuire, Nico Rondet and Matt Keegan. Qualifying featured an average of all drivers’ lap times in each car to set the grid. The sister No. 23 Ligier of Alex Lynn, Shaun Lynn and Richard Meins lined up 7th with your car 6th. You set the fastest time among bronze drivers in qualifying and finished third in class with your teammates after both segments of the 12 Hours. 

What was it like to drive the P3 car and how did you enjoy the racing?

SJ – It was good fun. I hadn’t been in a proper car for a while. It’s been four years since I last raced a prototype. It felt a bit rusty to start with but as the weekend went on I started to get sharper. It started to feel pretty good in my last stint of the race. I guess if I had to rate myself over the weekend, I’d give myself a “5” out of 10. There’s definitely room for improvement but I really enjoyed it. It’s always been the same for me over the years when I’ve been out of a car for a longer period of time, after three races you’re more or less back to where you need to be.

The Ligier LMP3 is a great car, fantastic fun to drive. I really like the concept of the LMP3 class with economical, proper prototypes. The cars have no driver aids. They’re very pure and basic, but like all modern race cars very underpowered but certainly not easy to drive. The chassis is very reactive and because it doesn’t have driver aids it’s actually more difficult to handle than the other classes of cars. It’s not that different than a LMPC car and has a similar raw feel to it. 

JT – What did you think of the Yas Marina circuit? You hadn’t raced there before, correct?

 Correct, I have been there a few times for the F1 race but I had never raced there before. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke designed track. The facility is outstanding and visually it looks amazing when you first see it but it’s not very interesting once you drive it. There are four 1st-gear corners, ten 2nd-gear corners and one each which are 3rd, 4th and 5th-gear. So, the track is really all 1st and 2nd gear corners with the exception of turns two and three which are somewhat tricky to get right. The rest is all typical modern F1 tracks, with the identical template kerbs on every corner and although they are by no means easy to get right it’s purely another technical track where car performance and precision are the key factors to a fast laptime. Not one single corner where you have a take deep breath and go for it.

And there are three chicanes built into a track that started with a clean sheet, which is kind of strange when you can choose any combination of corners you wish? Chicanes were originally invented as a kind of last resort to slow cars down when a track was suddenly deemed too fast for certain cars. When you start from scratch designing a modern track there should be no reason to include chicanes. It’s amazing and frustrating that this trend keeps on going on almost every modern race track being built today. Why doesn’t someone at least attempt to do something really extraordinary when you have the opportunity starting from scratch. 

Source: F1

Source: F1

JT – Looking back at the 2016 F1 season, it unfolded pretty much as expected in general terms. Mercedes GP was head and shoulders above the other teams and dominated, winning 19 of the 21 races on the calendar, setting a new record in the process. 

SJ – Yes absolutely, they dominated. The only times they were beaten is when others picked up the pieces after they made errors, bad starts or had problems with reliability. Apart from that the races were pretty much a foregone conclusion before they started. 

Ultimately, Rosberg did a brilliant job winning the championship. It’s been so close between the two of them the past couple of years and this year was no different of course. Rosberg was able to turn it on mid-season to gain a big enough advantage over Lewis, where he did not have to get into a dogfight for position but merely had to maintain his points gap even if Lewis won every race towards the end. I believe this was the key to him being able to drive disciplined and error free to get the points he needed to seal the title. I don’t think there’s much left to say about his decision to retire a week after the final race, everybody interested in F1 have voiced their opinion one way or the other. In the end it’s his decision and no one else’s. I personally respect the way he bowed out of F1. When you think about it, what would a guy like that want to do next. Would he want to hang in there trying to break every record? 

Source: F1

Source: F1

I think it really comes down to the goals you set for yourself. His goal was to win the Formula One World Championship and he did that. Other drivers – Senna, Schumacher, Hamilton – they have different goals perhaps. And then some drivers simply love racing and can look beyond what the goals are and just enjoy the moment, enjoy racing for what it is and still do a great job by doing that. Bottom line is that every driver is different and it would have been a much easier decision for Nico to say I carry on for a few more years rather than make a decision that is completely life changing to him in every aspect, it takes someone with a lot of courage and will power that reach that conclusion. 

JT – For the last couple decades F1 has focused on Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton – all guys who share a determination to be relentless in their pursuit of winning races and championships - sometimes to an unhealthy degree. I think Rosberg has demonstrated that there’s another way. It may not be a new idea but his outlook is refreshing and perhaps good for Formula One. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree entirely. There is a fine balance between doing the right thing and being relentlessly obsessed with winning at any cost, including cheating if that is an available option – and the notion that we should somehow admire that without questioning the means of how the winning is achieved.

In the end, the relatively brief moments we spend fighting to win races and championships are miniscule relative to the bigger picture of life in general but also in the life of a racing driver. I think we all evolve as human beings to appreciate that at some point later in life. Everyone has their own morals, desires and ambitions in life but I think what Rosberg did was classy and graceful. 

He figured out what he had to do, did it his way and succeeded. That’s very admirable. 

JT – The Formula One cars we’ve known for the last few years are changing for 2017. Most fans won’t miss the cars that have raced in recent seasons but as you’ve said repeatedly, though the formula is changing somewhat, the direction chosen probably won’t improve competition.

SJ – Yes, we’ll have a completely new style of cars for better or worse. The cars will probably look a lot better but whether they’re going to be better in terms of racing remains to be seen. I doubt it very much personally. We have gradually over the years arrived at a situation, primarily thanks to the designs of the cars with these incredibly complex front wings and the amount of downforce they produce, where we then have to create an artificial device (DRS) that will enable overtaking with the purpose of making the racing more exciting or interesting. Add to that the tires which have been mandated to be much worse than they could or should be, again with the purpose to spice up the show with a very short life span and low grip levels. Yet we are now adding even more downforce to the cars, granted it’s supposed to be generated from the bottom of the car and not the front which will help the turbulence for sure, but the fact remains that the cars are already almost in the corners when they brake so I can’t see how by adding a very significant amount of downforce will be helpful in this regard. The cars will be on rails literally and there will be even less opportunity to pass than there currently is. Some argue that it will only be the brave drivers that will be fast which is complete nonsense in my opinion, anyone can drive a car with a lot of downforce as long as they are fit enough to handle the forces, it’s when you start taking it off to a significant degree the difference between the great and not so good will start to show.

Technical Analysis Sketch by Giorgio Piola

Technical Analysis Sketch by Giorgio Piola

You have to assume that Mercedes will maintain some kind of advantage but whenever there’s a reset like this there is an opportunity for someone else to get it more right than the others and that advantage then tends to stay for a while as we’ve seen with Mercedes the past few years. There are also a lot of changes within Mercedes for next year. Rosberg has left and Paddy Lowe (technical director) is apparently leaving too. I have a feeling that Red Bull will be in the strongest position to challenge Mercedes next season. The engines are all getting closer to each other every year and we can assume that starting next year there will be very little difference in terms of power between the different engine manufacturers, so the emphasis will be moving back more towards the chassis and who can get the best out of the tires. The cars will have a massive increase in downforce, and it will be a somewhat new frontier for the teams to find the best package for the start of the season, and this is why I think Red Bull will be very strong as they already had arguably the best chassis this year and with Adrian Newey fully focused on the F1 program again. 

Also, all the teams that have a “B” team or a satellite team or whatever you want to label them, Red Bull/Toro Rosso, Ferrari/HAAS and Mercedes with the teams they support will most likely have an advantage in the early stages as they will have 4 cars or more to collect certain data from during the initial testing.

JT – Mercedes GP is still lining up a replacement for Nico Rosberg. Williams F1’s Valtteri Bottas is seen as a leading candidate. No matter who is chosen, they will likely experience friction with Lewis Hamilton.

Photo by Motorsport.com

Photo by Motorsport.com

SJ – There was friction between the drivers before so why should it be any different in 2017? 

How much friction depends on how big a threat Lewis’ new teammate could be. That’s normal and not a bad reflection on Lewis in particular but merely the way it is, especially in a team where you have two driver with an equal chance to fight for the championship. We had the same scenario between Vettel and Webber when they were dominating and both had a real chance of winning the title, Prost and Senna, Mansell and Piquet. It was war without weapons and no different to what we have seen between Lewis and Nico the past few years. Unless you have a clear number one driver like Ferrari had with Schumacher you will always have that dynamic if the title is at stake. 

JT – At McLaren, Fernando Alonso will have Stoffel Vandoorne as a new teammate. Vandoorne spent 2016 racing in the Japanese Super Formula. The series features 2 liter turbocharged engines from Toyota and Honda in Dallara SF14 single-seater chassis. Comparable to current IndyCars in terms of pace, the Super Formula cars are challenging to master and the generally experienced field of drivers assures stiff competition. One would imagine that racing in Japan in 2016 was probably good for Vandoorne in terms of experience.

SJ – The racing in Japan is super competitive and those cars are on a very high level of performance. It’s a great training ground for sure and it shows how competitive it is when someone like Vandoorne goes there and struggles to win races. (Vandoorne won two races in 2016.) And it’s the same for every European who goes there. It’s a very tough series.

JT – The 2017 Formula One calendar is firm and it shows that F1 events are always in flux. For the first time in many years there will be no German Grand Prix. Other events which have struggled recently including the Malaysian GP were able to secure a date. But attendance has been off at many venues, including at European races like the Austrian GP at Red Bull Ring which has seen a precipitous drop and financial losses. F1’s mix of circuits globally is always a point of debate.

But F1 will always have problems in one region or another. Typically they go to places where money is, although the European races are not big spenders. But I think it’s worthwhile to retain some of the classic venues to mix with new circuits. 

JT – A proposal for a budget cap for F1 teams has surfaced again, this time from Liberty Media, the new group taking control of F1. The budget cap idea has been put before the teams several times in recent years but has never gained support because the top teams claim that the caps cannot be enforced. What do you think of the latest move to try to institute some kind of spending limit?

SJ – I agree 100 percent that you can never really truly enforce a cost cap. The teams will always find ways to spend money, and the creativity they have to accomplish this will just make it even more expensive in the end in my opinion.  I think what should be done with that in mind is to limit the areas where large amounts of money are currently being spent.

The number one area by far to focus on is Aerodynamics because everything on a current race car evolves from the Aero package. This is the single most important area for car performance, yet it has very little benefit if any at all outside the realm of making a race car go faster. The amount of money each team is spending on aero development is astronomical. I spoke to one of the Senior Management guys in one of the top teams recently, he told me they have a total of 250 people in the Design and Engineering department, of which half are aerodynamicists. Then bear in mind that each team probably have a similar ratio of staff depending on how big their budgets are. And all they are free to do is basically just fine tuning of a very restricted package, hence nearly every car looking identical. There is no innovation, just an enormous amount of money being spent on gaining ½ percent here and another ¼ percent there which all adds up in the end. 

Almost every single driver and many designers I speak to today is in agreement that aerodynamics or downforce is not the way to go. It’s a point I’ve been making for some time now, it’s killing the racing in every category and is making the average drivers look much better than they really are. Even Adrian Newey, who is the best Aerodynamicist in F1 history came out this week and said he is in favor of a Wind Tunnel ban. 

The best and only solution in my opinion in order to keep the costs down and to make the racing more interesting but still give teams the freedom to innovate in other ways is to set a fixed limit on the downforce the cars can produce. Whatever the number is, something significantly less than what they’re getting right now, the focus would go from how much aerodynamic downforce cars make to how much grip the teams could gain back in other areas. It would be easy to monitor the level of downforce through the ECU and the load sensors in the suspension. 

It sounds controversial as it requires a complete rethink but it’s in my view it’s no different than limiting the size of the tires, the engine size, or the amount of fuel the cars can carry. We have limits and restrictions in almost every area of the car so why not limit the amount of downforce to a level that is sensible and that will also improve the racing.

Limiting downforce and putting the emphasis on other areas of development would also assist in the prevailing debate of political correctness which says that Formula One should benefit automotive technology for the street somehow. If you take all the effort, brain power and money that’s been spent in wind tunnels for the past 25 years and concentrate those resources in other areas, I guarantee you that in five years there will be breakthroughs in technology that we haven’t even seen yet. 

This could include technology that gives cars a massive leap in mechanical grip, a lot less drag, greatly improved tires and much more. At the least, it could open up new areas of exploration instead of endlessly focusing and fine-tuning the aero within this very defined box. New materials we never knew existed and other technologies would be discovered and developed at a pace we can’t imagine. 

If you free up the engine restrictions you can make similar gains as well. Set a certain parameter regarding how much energy consumption is allowed but let the engines make as much horsepower as they can get within those parameters. Make the engines powerful and not just efficient. If they can get 1500hp by only using the allowed criteria of energy consumption that’s great. Allow any technology that people want to try, remember the turbine Lotus in the 70’s, pioneering stuff that is also exciting and interesting for the fans.

Make the cars spectacular looking and difficult to drive, a car with 1500hp and half or less of the current levels of downforce will be a beast to drive, and that’s what the fans and the drivers want. 

Again, in that kind of competitive environment there would be new engine technology pioneered or developed that could be infinitely better than any hybrid or electric power plants that are currently being mandated as the only option for a power plant. Changing this focus will bring on new innovations that no one has thought of yet just because they have now been challenged to think of them. Motor racing in general and F1 in particular is the most competitive environment you can find, and if you unchain these guys and really allow their creativity to come out I guarantee you that we will see some incredible stuff in the future. 

There are more scientist and engineers alive in the world today than have lived in all previous human history put together, this is an important fact. In the past 20 years there have been literally new discoveries in Science and technology every week and this is increasing at an exponential rate. Radical new technologies are coming into existence all the time. If the emphasis of F1 or motor racing in general is to stay relevant, maybe it’s time to do a reset and allow some new and radical thinking instead of rehashing the same old Aerodynamics concept over and over at an astronomical cost each time there’s a new rule change. 

JT- With the announcement that Audi is pulling out of WEC we are now down to two manufacturers racing each other for the Championship and the overall win at Le Mans. What are the likelihood of more manufacturers joining the series and what effect do you think it will have on WEC going forward?

SJ- It’s hard to say, but I find it nearly impossible for a new manufacturer to join in the current situation and with the current rules the way they are. LMP1 is now on a level of F1, maybe even more in some aspects. The budgets are certainly very close to a top team in F1 and for a new team to join with a genuine attempt at winning would be a monumental task. We may see some half serious attempts like the Nissan project last year but I would be very surprised to see any manufacturer mount a serious effort at winning the 24 hours under the current system.

Much like F1, the development of the cars have reached a point where the racing is not very interesting any longer, the GTLM and LMP2 categories are far more interesting to follow than the LMP1 is now, with great drivers in both categories and great teams running the cars. It’s hard racing all the way.

I personally think we’re at a point now where we could take the GTLM cars and make them the main category. The goal for the ACO has always been for the fastest cars to be in the 3 min 30sec laptime bracket, they seem to think this is the safe area to be in for overall laptimes. The GT’s are in the low 50’s now and if you took of all the restrictors they would gain a significant amount of horsepower which could translate to a laptime somewhere in the mid 40’s probably. Allow each manufacturer to then develop the cars bit further, add some wider tires and wider wheel arches which would make the cars look a lot more cool and aggressive and the laptimes would be in the 30’s in a couple of years. The racing would be awesome with a whole grid full of the same cars essentially. The manufacturers would be going for it and the customer teams could buy the same car as the one winning the race. They wouldn’t be as quick, but not that far off, certainly not 10 seconds or more which is currently the case between the manufacturers and the privateers. The fans will be watching the same cars they can buy in the showroom and we would probably have 7-8 Manufacturers represented, maybe more. If you take away the BOP restrictions, it’s up to each manufacturer to make a road car that is good enough to compete for overall victory. We would see some incredibly cool looking cars, that will then also be available for people to buy. Like we have seen with the Ford GT, there will be a line of people wanting to get their hands on these when they become available to the public.

F1 Japanese Grand Prix, U.S. Grand Prix & Formula 1’s Penalty System

Stefan Johansson

 - #SJblog 78 -

JT – As the 2016 Formula One season races toward its conclusion, the grands prix are coming thick and fast. Here, we cover both the Japanese Grand Prix and the U.S. Grand Prix.

Last weekend Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton took their title fight to the Circuit of the Americas. The race was like most this year – not really compelling or exciting. Lewis Hamilton got away cleanly from pole and led from start to finish. Teammate Rosberg left his second-place grid position well but a good start from Daniel Ricciardo saw the Red Bull Racing driver emerge from Turn 1 in second place with Rosberg third. Ultimately, Rosberg recovered to finish second with Ricciardo third.

We’ll touch on the details momentarily but first I’d like to observe that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a race – open wheel or sports car – at COTA that was especially memorable or exciting. The track doesn’t seem to lend itself to great racing. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree. It’s the nature of the track. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke-designed track basically so it’s built to the same template as most of the rest he’s done. Unfortunately, they don’t produce very good racing in general because they all seem to have one corner followed by a kink or another corner and you can never get a proper run on a guy ahead of you as you’re going through them. The corners leading onto the long straights are all sort of aero-dependent which means that if you get somewhat close to the car in front you lose your front end which means you have to lift slightly and then the gap remains too big to have a go when you arrive to the braking zone – often even with DRS engaged. It’s the same problem you have on so many modern circuits.

JT – With his USGP win, Lewis Hamilton cuts Nico Rosberg’s point lead from 33 to 26. Rosberg did what he needed to do by finishing second, scoring enough points to limit the damage. So their championship battle continues to the next race, the Mexican Grand Prix. What did you think of the USGP?

SJ –Well, there’s not really much to report. Again, whoever gets through the mess at the first corner in the lead – that’s pretty much where they end up. With the cars at the front so closely matched it’s pretty predictable from there on.

JT – As mentioned, Daniel Ricciardo passed Nico Rosberg for second place at the first corner but lost the spot to Rosberg later in the race. Ricciardo blamed the Virtual Safety Car triggered when teammate Max Verstappen’s Red Bull car came to a halt on the circuit for his loss of position. He observed that by pitting under the VSC Rosberg lost less time and thus emerged second after his stop. VSC’s have been seen as preferable to traditional “safety car” or “yellow flag-caution” periods but a number of incidents in sports car racing have some including Audi Sport questioning whether they are consistently more equitable. What’s you view?

SJ – With a full safety car, the whole pack gets closed up and that can be unfair if you have a significant advantage. That’s what we have had in IndyCar since forever and it offers opportunities for much more interesting racing even if it’s not always fair.

If the rules state that you have a safety car when there’s an incident… then it just becomes part of the racing, it’s part of what you do and you build your strategy accordingly. It features in IndyCar pretty much every race. How often have we seen a driver go a lap down at Indianapolis and still end up winning the race by playing the strategy the right way for example?

So safety cars are good and bad. Over the course of a season, your luck with them usually evens out – sometimes good, sometimes bad. Overall, a virtual safety car can be more fair because everybody’s supposed to slow to a certain speed immediately when a VSC is called. On the other hand, I’m not sure exactly how they monitor that because it would be difficult to monitor the gaps between each car. It looks to me that you can at least gain a few seconds by simply slowing down just a fraction later than some others do and by doing so reducing their gap to the car ahead.

And Rosberg obviously took advantage of the VSC. There was nothing Ricciardo could do about when the VSC was declared, so that’s also a smart call, good strategy from Mercedes.

JT – Both Red Bull and Ferrari stumbled. Max Verstappen pitted even though he hadn’t been called to the pits by the team then succumbed to engine failure. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish due to a loose wheel after his second stop. Sebastian Vettel finished a distant fourth to both Mercedes and Ricciardo’s Red Bull.

SJ – Raikkonen’s DNF was a mishap which could happen to anyone I guess but as far as Ferrari’s progress…. well, once a season is underway it’s hard to overcome whatever car deficit you have. As deep into 2016 as they are, it is what it is now. They just have to try to regroup and get it right for next year. Also, loosing their technical director James Allison mid season obvisously does not help.

Source: Formula 1

Source: Formula 1

JT – McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Williams’ Felipe Massa made contact as Alonso passed Massa for sixth place in the late stages of the race. They disagreed about who was at fault for the contact which punctured one of Massa’s tires but the stewards ruled it a racing incident and no penalty was administered. Later in this blog you speak about the inconsistent application of rules in F1 and the variability introduced by having a succession of different driver stewards. This incident adds to that theme, doesn’t it?

SJ – That corner (Turn 15) is probably one of the easiest corners to cover the inside on any grand prix track worldwide. It makes zero difference if you’re on the outside racing line, inside or wherever you are in that corner.

I think it would have been easy for Massa to stay to the inside of the corner. And when you leave the door wide open a driver like Alonso will always make a move. Knowing how difficult it is to pass around there the only option is really to go for the “surprise” move which is exactly what Alonso did. You have to make a move when the driver ahead least expects it because there’s hardly any other place to pass on that track.

It’s the same thing Rosberg did to Raikkonen in Malaysia but Nico got a 10-second penalty. Alonso got nothing and it’s the same old story – rulings at random. These were almost identical incidents but the stewards’ rulings were not identical. One time you get a penalty, next time you don’t.  What do you do as a driver?

I think [Mark] Blundell who was the steward in Austin did the right thing but it shows there’s no consistency whatsoever in the control tower.

JT – With five races remaining on the Formula One calendar, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sat anxiously on the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix knowing a good points score would be critical for both in their two-man battle for the championship. When the lights went out Rosberg (on pole) got away cleanly. Hamilton, starting second, bogged down and fell to eighth by the time the field exited the first corner. He recovered to finish third after a heated battle with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who finished in second place.

As you’ve said in previous blogs, the Mercedes driver who gets the start right generally wins. We saw that once again at Suzuka.

SJ – All season long, it seems that’s what it’s come down to now. More than anything else between these two, it really comes down to who gets the start right and at least in Lewis case also some reliability issues. That’s it. That’s all the difference there is between them. That’s why the situation can change so quickly. One missed start or one reliability issue on Nico’s part and a win for Lewis, and it’s all back to square one again. The championship battle won’t be over until the final race, I’m sure of it.

The press has been saying either Lewis or Nico are on form at one time or another. But if you look back to the previous race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis dominated the race until he had an engine failure. So it’s not really accurate to say one or another is on or off form. As we’ve said before, when you have two drivers who are so closely matched, whoever gets the start right on the day is going to have an edge.

JT – Max Verstappen’s move in the chicane as Lewis Hamilton was trying to pass him with two laps to go sparked some controversy. Mercedes initially protested Verstappen’s change of direction under braking but later withdrew the protest. Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda sided with Verstappen saying, "If I was him, I wouldn't have let Lewis past on the penultimate lap either.” He added, “This paragraph (rule) could be interpreted in all sorts of ways so it's worthless."

What did you think of Verstappen’s driving, and the lack of clarity in F1 rules?

SJ – This moving under braking – even if it’s just a little wiggle – makes it very difficult for the guy behind. Once you hit the brakes you’re more or less committed to one line, so if you’re the car following and you’ve decided to make an attempt to pass where there is a gap by leaving your braking to the very last moment and the driver in front of you suddenly moves across and the gap is no longer there it makes it almost impossible for the guy behind to avoid even hitting him. You either completely blow the corner or you hit the guy you’re trying to pass, which in fact we have seen numerous times lately, where parts of the front wing suddenly go flying because there was contact under braking.

We’ve talked about this many times but this blocking nonsense in racing goes back quite a few years. There’s a great video of Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve (1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon). If you watch that, it was an intense battle where they traded second place several times and you see how they raced back then. There was no blocking and that’s how everyone raced. Sadly, these dirty tactics slowly crept into the system by a few drivers who then became heroes to the generations that followed and because the FIA didn’t clamp down on it early enough it’s now become the norm and every young driver thinks that’s how you should race.

That’s where we are today. All the young drivers think that’s the way to race and it’s a pity because it’s also taken away a large part of what I call the “Art of Racing”. Even the vocabulary drivers use now is weird – the fact that now people talk about “defending my position”. “Defending” nowadays basically translates into moving in one direction or another so that the other guy can’t get past you, no matter how much faster he is.

To me, that has nothing to do with racing. If you are slower than the car behind you, and he’s started to make his move, whether it’s a corner or what often happens now even on the straights, you can’t simply move across the guy to prevent him from passing. That’s like allowing a boxer to pull out a knife or something when he’s on the ropes and about to go down. In contrast, look back to the race in Malaysia at the beginning of the month. Ricciardo and Verstappen had a great dice with no blocking. That’s racing. There was enough room for both to race hard. Ricciardo managed to keep his position without blocking at any point. He just raced hard but he gave both cars enough room. That’s how you should race – hard but fair, real racing as far as I’m concerned.

There is no skill whatsoever involved in just moving across on a competitor who’s trying to pass you because he’s faster than you. The phrase, “defending your position” didn’t exist in the past. You defended your position by braking later than the guy trying to pass you. If you could brake later and still make the corner, you successfully kept your position.

There should always be enough room for both cars to make a corner. Anything else is completely unacceptable. What drivers do on the straights now is outrageous. It’s the same thing but even worse. There should always be enough room on any straight for two cars, and if one car is faster than the other it’s his right to pass. If you have to lift on a straight because someone ahead just drives across your piece of road effectively, that’s absolutely unacceptable.

JT – Ferrari finished just off the podium with Sebastian Vettel in 4th and Kimi Raikkonen in 5th. But Red Bull Racing has moved into second place ahead of Ferrari in the constructor’s championship. The situation at Ferrari still seems confused. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, more and more people who should know are starting to come forward with some honest assessments of the team. I don’t know enough of what really goes on to make a fair comment but I do know that F1 is probably one of the most difficult businesses to run successfully as there are so many layers to deal with. It’s hard enough to run a company profitably and do everything else correct, on top of that you then have to try and win a race every two weeks against people that are all trying to do the same thing. The top teams now employ over 1000 people and the organization required to manage those people and get the best of out them requires some very strong leadership. We have seen many extremely successful business people come into F1 over the years, but without the experience and the mindset you need to succeed in this cut throat business of Formula One, and all have ultimately failed. The only exceptions I can think of is Flavio Briatore and Dietrich Mateschitz who both were smart enough to hire the best people in the business and basically let them get on with it. Mr. Marchioni is without doubt an extremely intelligent man and his business record speak for itself. Let’s just hope that Ferrari does not end up going down the same road Jaguar did when Ford bought the Stewart F1 team and installed a bunch of car executives and engineers (Premier Automotive Group) to run the F1 team. We all saw how that ended up.

Flavio Briatore and Dietrich Mateschitz.jpg

I say it over and over. Racing is a very difficult business in general, and Formula One in particular. You can’t expect to just arrive and apply your normal business acumen and what you’ve learned in a business school or from running big public companies to running a race team at the highest level. It’s completely different. I certainly haven’t run a car company but I suspect there’s probably another 50 layers of complexity and issues you have to deal with on top of just running a successful business when you’re engaged in F1.

It’s possibly the most competitive environment you can possibly get into. If you make one or two bad strategic decisions it will take several months or even years to rectify them and get back on track. Most of all, you better hire the right people. Even with the “dream Team” of Jean Todt, Russ Brawn, Michael Schumacher and Rory Byrne it still took Ferrari several years before they became a winning team. Right now I don’t see a “dream team” in place.

JT – In other F1-related news, Nico Hulkenberg announced that he will leave Force India at the end of the season and join Renault in 2017. It’s a factory drive, something every driver covets but Hulkenberg must also hope that Renault can make significant improvement.

Meanwhile, ex-Red Bull Racing/current-Porsche LMP1 driver Mark Webber announced that he will retire from racing after the WEC season ends in November at the 6 Hours of Bahrain. What are your thoughts on these moves?

SJ – It’s a good move for Hulkenberg. I’m sure Renault will make progress, assuming the commitment is there. How much they commit and over what period of times, who knows?

It certainly opens up the driver market in a different way now, that’s for sure. An open Force India seat is definitely a desirable seat for a lot of the drivers. And there’s the second seat at Renault as well. There are plenty of very good drivers in the market, let’s hope these seats will be offered to someone that truly deserves an F1 drive.

Mark Webber’s announcement surprised me a little bit. Maybe he’s just had enough or just realized that it’s getting tougher and tougher every year to stay on top. WEC LMP 1 I would say is every bit as hard as F1 at the sharp end, there are some extremely good drivers in every one of the cars from Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

JT – Following up on your comments in the last blog about tire testing and the advantages that can be gained if a team or driver makes themselves readily available to assist Pirelli with development of next year’s new, larger tires, some seem to be waking up to that fact. Nico Rosberg recently tested the new tires on a Mercedes for the first time at Aragon.

SJ – Maybe the penny has now dropped for some of the other teams and drivers. There’s been some noise made about Vettel’s testing for Ferrari and I think the others realize the importance of being at the very cutting edge of that. It’s probably more important than car development in some ways.  We spoke about this in the last blog. I also noticed Alonso made a comments that it’s unfair that all the teams don’t have the opportunity to do the testing. My understanding is that McLaren actually turned down the opportunity to be part of the testing, which I think will ultimately hurt them next year.

JT – Recent rulings on driver/team infractions seem to have you and many other people scratching their heads about F1’s murky penalty system. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Again, we have discussed this so many times now, and if anything it just seems to get worse in fact. The penalties they issue make no sense. Take Rosberg’s penalty in Malaysia (Rosberg was penalized 10 seconds for contact with Kimi Raikkonen while passing the Ferrari driver), that was just hard racing, he went for the surprise move and he pulled it off. The door was left open enough to have a go on the entry.  Yet you get a penalty for that but don’t get penalized for moving completely across the track to block a guy from passing you on a straight line, which has happened numerous times?

The penalties are so random and willy nilly, they vary with every race depending on who is in the control tower for the weekend. For me, this makes a complete mockery of the whole system. You have teams spending hundreds of millions of dollars while some random guys in the control tower decides whether a driver should be penalized for something that is also completely random. Their decisions could have a direct effect on the championship. As it were, it made no difference in Malaysia because Rosberg gained more than 10 seconds on Raikkonen and finished where he would have finished anyway.

But let’s say Rosberg missed out on one point because of a steward’s decision. If that one point is the decider in the championship, the decision of a random steward could make all the difference.

In addition, there seems to be no consistency in the penalties. Esteban Ocon gets a 5-second penalty for speeding in pit lane (Manor Racing’s Ocon earned two penalties for speeding in pit lane in the Malaysian GP)? As far as I’m aware, the penalty for speeding in pit lane has always been a drive-through. In every type of racing I’ve ever done if you speed in pit lane you generally get a drive-through penalty. All of a sudden it’s now a 5-second penalty from one race to the next?

You’ll have a different penalty for that in the next race and then another different penalty after that…The drivers don’t know if they’re coming or going. It’s inexcusable for me that Charlie Whiting (F1 Race Director) and the FIA can pick a driver-steward at random for each and every race. Let’s hypothetically say they ask Mark Webber to be steward. He might still have a beef with Vettel, we don’t know. Or any other driver, we don’t know the full background, maybe they have a vested interest in a particular driver or they may just be mates at some level. Either way, there is a good chance that this will cloud their judgment to some degree at least.

As high level as everything is in F1, there is this opposite side of the spectrum - completely amateur. Most other series have a dedicated steward who is present at every race. It’s so poorly thought out that there’s no way to justify it in my view.

As I’ve said before, they need to get rid of the guest driver-stewards and have one guy that is respected by all the drivers and who can talk to them as peers – who can tell them clearly what the rules are and let them know that if they break these rules they get penalized. Very quickly a pattern will form and drivers will know where the line is drawn.

Every driver should know where they stand with regard to the rules. Now, no one knows. It’s up to Derek Warwick or Alan Jones or Allan McNish or Emanuele Pirro or Danny Sullivan, or whomever is there on a given weekend. No disrespect to any of them. They’re all great drivers but everybody has a different view of what’s right or wrong. And when it really comes down to crunch time, do every one of these guys, not just the guys I mentioned but all of the guys who have at some time been the guest steward over the years, really have the balls to make the right decision if a world championship is at stake. I say categorically no.

One more thing – the penalties issued to teams for engine changes – they’re also mind boggling. I guess the engine change rules were originally created to stop engine manufacturers building grenades basically as qualifying or practice session engines. You get a penalty if an engine breaks before a set number of races have been run with it. The original thinking was that you can only use a limited number of engines so it’s less costly.

In reality it’s probably pushed the cost of engines up by five times compared to what it used to be. The cost of building an engine that will only last for one race is relatively small once you’ve designed and developed it. It’s only metal, it doesn’t cost that much more to produce 200 pistons compared to say 50 for example. Compare that to what it costs to design and build engines with these super exotic materials that have to be highly durable and last over the course of several races.

The current engines produce about 950 horsepower. A NASCAR V8 produces about 900 horsepower and you could probably build 100’s of those engines compared to what it costs to design and build one F1 engine. Does it have to be this complicated, this expensive?

Back to the rules – with the current engine penalties, the teams throw everything but the kitchen sink at a car every time they get one of these penalties. That makes a mockery of the rules. And does anyone understand a 45 grid-spot penalty for an engine change? How is the public supposed to follow that?

And if you have an accident and damage your engine and have to change it out, why are you penalized for that? You’ve already been penalized by having the accident. No one’s going to go and have an accident on purpose just so they can put a new engine in.

JT- Finally, Audi just announced that they are pulling out of WEC LMP1 and the Le Mans 24 hours at the end of 2016 and will instead focus on the Formula E Championship. What are your thoughts?

SJ- We’ve been hearing these rumors for a while now and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. It marks the end of an era and I am proud to have played a small part of the program over the year, being one of their drivers the first year they entered Le Mans and then in subsequent years with my own team (Gulf Audi R8) and then with Champion Racing where we won our class at Le Mans in 2003. Of all the car manufacturers I have worked with over the years they stand out as the one who really made a big impression on me. Dr Ullrich and his team of people created something that will be hard for anyone else to ever get close to. The decision to focus on Formula E instead is a very significant sign of the times, and if they really commit fully the same way they did to sportscars I think Formula E will make a giant leap forward as the other manufacturers will have no choice but to follow. It will be very interesting to follow this development over the next three years, this could be very significant!


¡Mexico vuelte a estar de F1ESTA! The Mexican Grand Prix is here and the opportunity to win with it! Participate in our fun #F1TOP3 competition, where anyone could win one of our Stefan Johansson Växjö timepieces! It's relatively easy: click on this text and submit the #F1TOP3 competition form - we give away prizes every Grand Prix!

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Misfortune and controversy at the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, F1 Canadian & European Grand Prix

Stefan Johansson

JT – The 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a compelling event, notable in terms of history, misfortune and controversy. You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa and Scott Dixon who made his first start at Le Mans with the Chip Ganassi Ford program. Both teams had a fantastic race, winning the GTE and the GTE AM categories handily.

Interestingly, Bell and Sweedler have now won the Daytona 24, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 as teammates. Segal has won all three as well. What did you think of the Scuderia Corsa team’s performance in just their second year at Le Mans?

SJ – What a difference a year makes. Although that’s kind of typical for Le Mans. It’s such a daunting track on your first visit. If you’re not prepared and already know what to expect it takes time to get up to speed there – for the drivers and also the teams. When you do it for the first time, you start to get the hang of it halfway through the race, once you have a couple of stints under your belt you start getting into a rhythm and little by little it all comes together and the lap times suddenly start coming down. Practice is generally a disaster your first time there because you get very little seat time with three drivers sharing the car, and the fact that each lap is almost four minutes long. If you’re not qualifying you will go into the race with probably less than 15-20 laps of practice beforehand. If the car is not well balanced and handling close to your liking it makes it very difficult.

This year all three drives came back with a clear frame of mind. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a Le Mans where there was so little drama from beginning to the end. The car ran perfectly from the first lap and handled really well. There were no mishaps or incidents either in practice or the race. The drivers did their bit perfectly and everybody was happy with the way the car was handling which makes a huge difference.

During the race everyone just got on with the job. Everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do, all three drivers were very fast and not one mistake from any of the drivers. We didn’t have a single unscheduled pit stop the whole race. That’s how you win endurance races of course, spending all the time on track and not in the pits. The execution was flawless by everyone on the team and most importantly by the guys in the car. It was great to be a part of.

JT – What was the overall atmosphere at the circuit like this year? There seemed to be a great anticipation for the race.

SJ – It was very upbeat overall. Every year the event seems to be getting a little bit bigger and better. There was another huge crowd and a tremendous atmosphere. Everyone was excited and it was everything you expect Le Mans to be. It’s just like the Indy 500, steeped in tradition and procedures that no other race has, or would ever get away with. Starting with the scrutineering on the Sunday or Monday prior to the race, which means you have been there almost a week before the race even starts. It’s a fantastic event and for everyone involved and the build up over the week is a huge part of it. The manufacturers are spending a fortune not just on the racing but also on the activation around the track. I don’t think there’s any sport or event that actually comes close to the set up Audi and Porsche have around the track, it’s incredibly impressive.

JT – One of the biggest stories was the heartbreak for Toyota in LMP1. Their cars had led most of the race and looked fast and very reliable. The No. 2 Porsche 919 was their only competition. The No. 6 Toyota had a setback when Kamui Kobayashi spun into a gravel trap after dawn but otherwise this looked like Toyota’s race to win.

Then on the penultimate lap, the No.5 TS050 Hybrid with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel ground to a halt on the main straight due to a turbo component failure. With minutes to go the No.2 Porsche took the win. Toyota, having made numerous attempts at Le Mans came up short once again. It was Porsche’s 18th overall victory. Mazda remains the only Japanese manufacturer to have won overall.

What are your thoughts on the late race drama?

SJ – It was shocking in a way and gut wrenching to watch the car stop on the very last lap. Like every single person in the place I just felt so bad for them. It’s just unfathomable that the car would break with three minutes to go. They had done such a great job the whole race and really, I think they took everyone by surprise. Both the drivers and the team had done a phenomenal job. I’m sure will take them a while to get over this.

JT – It could be said that Toyota had an “Audi-esque” performance. On the other hand, Audi didn’t look like the Audi we’ve known at Le Mans. Both of their cars had reliability problems and issues on-track. The only reason they kept their streak of podium finishes alive is because the No. 5 Toyota was not classified.

SJ – It was strange. Qualifying was a bit weird overall anyway because of the weather. It was unrepresentative of a lot of the cars pace so we didn’t know where Audi was really. As it turned out, they never really featured in the race.

Of course, Porsche had a problem too with one its cars. It’s seems to be the nature of the beast now though. The P1 cars are getting so incredibly complicated with all of the systems they have and the technology is relatively new which all contributes to more reliability problems of course. I was given a tour around the Audi garage on Saturday morning. Their setup is just mind-boggling. It makes even Formula One look like club racing in comparison. It’s truly unbelievable how far it has come in recent years.

JT – Moving on to the GTE class, controversy still surrounds Ford’s historic win with the new GT. There were three Fords in the top four finishing positions with the Ganassi Team USA cars as the chief rivals - finishing first and third - for Ferrari’s entries from Risi Competizione and AF Corse. The American-fielded Risi 488 GTE finished second in class.

Both the winning No. 68 Ford GT and the No. 82 Risi Ferrari received post-race penalties with Ganassi and Risi protesting each other. A further investigation is pending on whether the Ford GTs were outside the ACO’s “7 Percent Rule” which is enforced to establish a minimum buffer in performance between classes.

Balance of Performance adjustments made after the Le Mans test day and then again just before the race affected the Fords and Ferrari’s least. Many of the other teams opined that the ACO was favoring Ford and Ferrari. Fords accounted for eight of the top ten fastest laps during the race and took four of the top five spots in qualifying, besting the top normally-aspirated car by nearly four seconds.

Their pace during the race was impressive. Much of this can be attributed to the driver line-ups and professionalism of Ganassi Racing. But observers both in the paddock and outside it have questioned the politics behind the BoP for the race and the outright pace of the Ford GTs. What’s your take?

SJ – Well first of all, the 488 has been winning races all year leading up to Le Mans. It’s a fantastic car, and so is the Ford.

It’s not just a question of weight, horsepower, aerodynamics, etc. There are so many other factors. Obviously a production Ferrari is far more inclined to be a great race car than a Corvette or an Aston Martin – just by the way the car is built. Then take the Ford GT, it’s half the height of any of the other cars so it will obviously cut through the air a lot better. It’s a different type of car and in my opinion it sets a precedent for how manufacturers are going to have to look at GT racing in the future.

As I’ve said many times, I don’t like the BoP. I can’t give an answer as to what should be done other than to un-restrict the cars but lots of people disagree with me. The bottom line with the BoP is that there’s always going to be only one team happy with it – the team on top of the podium. The rest will always think they’re being shafted.

Let’s face it, everybody is playing the game to a degree, it’s a sensitive subject obviously and frankly I don’t think you can ever find a happy medium that will suit everybody on every track. Clearly every manufacturers goal is to win Le Mans first of all, and I think some cars are more suitable to this kind of track than others. I think all you have to do is look at the design and shape of each car to figure out which one looks more suitable to achieve this goal compared to some of the others.

Don’t forget as well that the driver combinations that  the Ganassi US operation had were beyond what any other team had in my opinion. All of this adds up. And the GT was built to be quick at Le Mans specifically. I think you also have to give a considerable amount of credit to Chip Ganassi’s team for figuring out what needed to be done. They’ve never been to Le Mans before and they show up and basically clean up. From my point of view I would have loved to see Scott win of course but it didn’t pan out that way unfortunately, his car got separated from the leading bunch on one of the early safety cars and the gap basically remained the same throughout the race, everyone was running so close to each other on pace among the top three cars that it was impossible to make up enough time. He did get fastest lap and a new lap record for the GT category, which was impressive for his first visit to the track.

JT – That’s a good segue to another question that may arise for manufacturers in the GTE/GTLM class in the future. Ford has made it clear that they designed the new GT as a race car first and a production car second. GTE and GTLM are “production-based” classes. Yes, their adherence to the actual road-going versions of the cars raced is far from complete but it looks as if Ford has moved even further from the production-based formula. What might that mean going forward?

SJ – Again, I think there a number of factors, not just horsepower, weight, aero and the rest. It’s how you look at a car like this philosophically – how you take into consideration weight distribution, center of gravity, suspension design. But the more competitive anything gets, the further the goal post will be moved and it’s fair to assume we may see some different looking cars from some of the manufacturers in the future, if they are serious about winning at Le Mans.

JT – The increasing pace of the GTE class, particularly as demonstrated by Ford, brings us back to the points you’ve made previously about the potential lap times GTE cars could achieve if restrictions upon them were removed. The Ford GTs are already closing in on LMP2 lap times.

SJ – Yes, when you see the money that’s being spent on the P1 factory teams it makes your eyes water – it’s insane. It’s the same level as the top teams in Formula One now. The road car versions of the race cars in GTE/GTLM have almost 250 more horsepower than the race cars with all of the restrictions in place on them.

If you gave them back that power for a start that would make their lap times probably six seconds per lap quicker, I reckon. There’s no question they could be in 3 minute 40s very quickly. That’s kind of where the ACO feels the fastest cars in the field should be. So rather than restricting them why not simply let them loose and see what times they will be able to get down to. It would make the racing spectacular in my opinion.

The amount of grip the LMP1s have in the corners is simply unbelievable. Even in the rain when it’s coming down significantly their turn-in is just as fast as in the dry. The cars literally do not move. You rarely see a P1 car get out of shape. They’re stuck like Scalextric slot cars.

If you increased the tire widths on the GTE cars along with the added power - the aero could almost stay the same – they might go eight to ten seconds quicker over a lap within a couple years.

You’d have every manufacturer who wants to compete on a serious level be able to build a car that would fit the purpose. People might say that the costs will go through the roof but they won’t get anything near as expensive as building and developing a P1 car. And at least you’d be able to sell the same car to a customer racing team, to offset some of the development costs.

It could be like it was back in 1980s with the factory Porsches and then customer teams with the same cars but maybe slightly different than the factory machines. You had the three factory Rothmans cars (Porsche 956s) and about 25 privateers running the cars as well in the 80s. The factory cars will always be a bit faster than the privateers in most cases, but it would still be a lot better than the gap we have now between the P1 factory cars and the 2 privateer teams.

JT – The ACO has reversed its stated plan to allow teams with IMSA-specific engines to compete in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Next year only LMP2 cars with the new global-spec Gibson engine, as well as grandfathered prototypes, will be allowed to compete at Le Mans.

Obviously that splits the global sports car racing scene once more. It has certainly happened many times in the past but fans hoped the two P2 formulas could race together.

SJ – Yes, well like a lot of people I get tired of even listening to the debate. I just find it sad that the two sides can’t figure out a way to do this together so that everyone could run the same cars. It’s already hard to come by sponsorship for sports car racing and it would make a lot more sense if they could agree to one set of rules.

JT – You were on hand for the Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes took the win after Ferrari pursued a questionable pit strategy. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Mercedes obviously made the right call in Montreal or maybe it was Ferrari who made the wrong call and Mercedes had to cover by doing the opposite which in this case worked out perfect for them. It seems like every other team is up and down in terms of their performance or tactics from one weekend to the other. Nobody has the consistency Mercedes has in every single race.

If you look at Ferrari, we have yet to see them properly execute a race weekend in its entirety where everything runs smoothly from Friday to Sunday. So it’s hard to get a reading on what their real pace actually is.

When you have momentum as Mercedes does, it’s a lot easier but even they screwed up at Monaco last year so it can happen to anyone. There’s no doubt that the other teams are getting closer, but week in, week out, the Mercedes is still the fastest car and the strongest team.

JT – In the most recent round, the European Grand Prix, Mercedes won again – this time with Nico Rosberg dominating the race. Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues during the grand prix but his weekend was compromised in qualifying.

SJ – Obviously, Rosberg had everything together. Lewis’ weekend kind of fell apart from qualifying forward and everyone else seemed to have a fraught day. Obviously his electronics and subsequent radio issues didn’t help him any.

The tires seems to play a bigger part in every teams performance where some teams manage to get it right and others are completely out to lunch, then the next weekend it’s someone completely different who either gets it right or not. Which comes back to my earlier argument that they should allow for more than one tire company to compete. The tires are such a huge part of a race cars performance, and if there’s one area which is completely neglected as far as innovation goes it’s the tires. Now we have one manufacturer who’s basically been mandated to build a crap tire in order to spice up the show. Yet there’s probably more to learn in that area than anything we will ever learn about aerodynamics. And, it will cost the teams a lot less in development costs, they would have to bring back more track testing which everyone seems to want, rather than the endless simulator testing that everyone is now forced to do since the ban of in season testing. There are three major components that dictate a cars performance, Chassis, Engine and Tires. Both the Chassis and Engine are open for anyone who wants to compete, so why not also the tires?

JT- Finally, we had the Indycar series return to Road America last weekend. It seemed like the race had a great turn out with fans from all over the country coming back to this classic venue. The race gave us plenty of action although it didn’t turn out great for Scott this time.

SJ- Yes, it’s great to see there is a genuine resurgence for Indycar right now. I think the series is doing a really good job at bringing back some of these classic venues but what’s even better is the fact that the fans are responding. There is no doubt that Indycar has finally got some real momentum and more and more fans are now becoming aware that the series is producing what may be the best racing in the world. Elkhart Lake proved to be no different, it was a great race packed with action from start to finish. Unfortunately for Scott it ended early with an engine failure. If you add Detroit where he also dropped out with an engine failure while leading it makes it two races where he could have potentially scored big. This is obviously not helping the Championship but at least he’s still in the hunt although it’s becoming more difficult to close the gap with each race that goes by.