JT – Two weeks ago, F1 made the third stop on its 21-race 2016 calendar, visiting Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. The race had more than the usual amount of action due to a shuffled grid and first-lap contact for a number of cars. Lewis Hamilton was forced to start from the back of the pack after mechanical woes in qualifying.
On the first lap, Sebastian Vettel made contact with Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, damaging Raikkonen’s car while setting off a chain reaction incident that brought other cars to the pits for repairs including Hamilton. Rosberg started cleanly and vanished, leading flag to flag for his third consecutive win of the season. Hamilton was only able to climb to 7th place while Vettel came home 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen recovered to 5th place. Meanwhile Daniel Kvyat and Daniel Riccardo looked strong for Red Bull Racing finishing 3rd and 4th. What did you think of the grand prix?
SJ – Well it seemed as if everyone blamed everyone else for the start incidents. Rosberg got the job done and it’s funny how the dynamic changes so fast. Now everybody’s on about how Rosberg is dominating. But that’s not exactly the case, just as it wasn’t the case when Hamilton was winning last year. Small nuances always make the difference. This year, luck hasn’t been on Hamilton’s side so far. But we’re only three races into the season.
It’s hard to put the blame on anyone for what happened in the first corner after the start. I’m not sure who hit who at first. Vettel blamed Kvyat for coming from nowhere and left him nowhere to go, but looking at the video replay, the door was left wide open and Kvyat took the opportunity to gain a few places. What happened after that is the normal chain reaction where a driver is either trying to avoid someone else or taking the opportunity to pass someone if there’s a gap left open.
There’s no question that Red Bull has a very strong car. Adrian Newey and his team of designers always comes up with a good chassis and I think things will be even more interesting when F1 gets to some of the European tracks that are more demanding in terms of balance. Shanghai is a horsepower track with a very long straight. Red Bull could definitely be a threat on some of the tighter circuits.
JT – Though Vettel and Raikkonen finished well given their troubles, Ferrari still doesn’t seem be able to put together a clean weekend.
SJ – Exactly, I don’t think we really know the truth of their potential yet. Various circumstances have come up at the races so far that have created challenges for them. There hasn’t been a real apples-to-apples comparison between them and the other teams. That will be worth watching.
JT – If you consider the other top teams, I think it’s fair to say that McLaren-Honda still isn’t progressing the way you would expect. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s substitute for Fernando Alonso in Bahrain, is the only team driver to have scored a point. They may be closer to the pace than they were last year but clearly they still have a long way to go.
SJ – They’re definitely getting closer. It’s hard to say exactly what the circumstances are for the team but I still believe they’ll get a lot stronger and will eventually get things together. It’s just taking longer than expected.
JT – Another meeting of F1’s Strategy Group takes place this week, supposedly the final opportunity to define the rules for 2017 and beyond. Mercedes GP boss Toto Wolff says he doesn’t want the rules to change because “performance between the teams is converging to create great racing.” Other teams want changes, arguing that the racing isn’t that terrific and that Mercedes has an interest in keeping the rules the same given their performance advantage. Do you think anything of substance will result from the meeting?
SJ – I don’t think we’ll see anything of any substance. I’ve been saying it for three years now but it will be the same old thing. You have to get the teams out of the decision making process or nothing will happen. They can’t agree on anything.
If something does come out the meeting it will be a half-baked compromise that will drive costs even higher and make the racing even more complicated. There won’t be a simple solution. It will be something so convoluted and expensive that it would be better if they did nothing. Frankly, I think they’re better off not doing anything. Whatever they might decide to do will inevitably be more expensive and we all know that F1’s business model is unsustainable. Rules stability will always bring the costs down and eventually also level the playing field if you keep the rules consistent for a long period of time.
JT –Bernie Ecclestone recently drew criticism for saying he didn’t “know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.”
F1 world champion Mario Andretti offered a slightly different but similar view commenting that, “Formula One has been in existence for what, 66 years, and we've only seen five women try and compete and none have really been successful.… Saying women can do it - bottom line, they have to prove it.”
What’s your take?
SJ – Frankly, I don’t necessarily agree with the fitness aspect because F1 cars today aren’t that physical to drive. I don’t think it would difficult for a woman do to the physical training required to get to that level but the point is that motor racing is a fairly pure culture. It’s survival of the fittest. If you’re not good enough, you won’t make it. There are, mostly, no hand-outs, no favors, unless of course you’re one of the pay drivers but assuming all things are being equal.
But the second there is a female driver who is good enough to get to F1 on sheer merit they would have a much better chance of getting an opportunity than any of the men would. What’s really important to recognize is that the likelihood of a female getting to the level you need to be at to compete in Formula One is very small because there aren’t enough females pursuing it.
I don’t know the exact number of professional drivers worldwide right now but let’s say there are at least 2,000 each year. How many of those are females? Ten maybe? What are the chances that one of those ten is going to be competitive with the best of the rest? Sheer statistics are against it.
My point is that once there is a female good enough they should and will have to prove themselves. There are many men who are very good but not good enough. There is a lot of noise being made about female drivers but if you look at the results, the facts… that’s all you need to see. You’re not entitled to something until you prove yourself. May the best driver win, independent of gender.
JT – IndyCar has raced twice since we chatted for the last blog with races at Long Beach and last weekend’s Barber Motorsports Park round. Penske’s Simon Pagenaud took the win at both events. Scott Dixon finished second at Long Beach and 10th at Barber. Controversy broke out at Long Beach when Pagenaud was warned but not penalized for crossing the line at pit exit in an effort to stay ahead of Dixon in the final stage of the race. The lack of a penalty for the infraction did not sit well with many and highlighted flaws in IndyCar’s new three-man committee of race stewards. Pagenaud finished in front at Barber after a spirited battle with Graham Rahal. No penalties were issued for contact between the two drivers.
Both races ran under green flag conditions from start to finish - impressive and nearly unprecedented, particularly at Long Beach. What did you make of both races?
SJ – Long Beach was interesting and confusing. I ended up having a long conversation with Max Papis (one of the three stewards along with Arie Luyendyk and Dan Davis) about it because no one could understand their illogical decision. As stupid as it may sound, I think the bottom line is that they’ve been handed such a convoluted set of rules that they just couldn’t act because there wasn’t anything in the rulebook that applied to this particular situation. Which is totally bizarre as this must be one of the easiest rules of all to enforce. If you cross the yellow line with more than two wheels, you have broken the rule. It couldn’t be more clear than that. There are probably 25 drivers every weekend in some race, somewhere in the world that get’s a penalty for doing just that.
I just wish they could make decisions and then stand behind them rather than the wishy-washy situation we have now. No one knows where they stand.
At Barber, what can you say? Unfortunately Scott always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time and gets tapped from behind. Every time that happens to him the race always seems to go green the whole way and he had no chance of recovering. It’s frustrating because his pace was definitely good. He was almost a second per lap quicker on his fastest race lap than anyone else. He would have definitely been in the hunt at the end of the race if he hadn’t gone to the back of the field after the contact.
The racing between Pagenaud and Rahal was just that, hard racing. To me, their contact was a racing incident. In this case, I’m glad IndyCar didn’t issue a bunch of penalties. You have to let drivers race sometimes.
JT – Felix Rosenqvist returned to the U.S. to resume racing in the Indy Lights championship last weekend after two races in Europe – both in a Mercedes AMG GT3 – in the Blancpain Sprint Series and the ADAC GT Masters championship. Things didn’t go quite as expected for Felix at Barber Motorsports Park where he finished 14th in race one after contact with Santiago Urrutia and 8th in race two.
In their Sprint Series debut at Misano, Felix and teammate Tristan Vautier were very competitive, running fast laps and holding a podium position in the late stages of the main race before cruelly running out of gas. Rosenqvist finished well at the GT Masters round in Ochersleben, earning 10th in race one and 4th in race two. His schedule is challenging, going between open wheel racing and sports car racing.
SJ – At Barber, I think the team (Belardi) had a bit of a struggle from the moment they unloaded. They had massive tire wear and they were fighting the car the whole weekend. They never really got on top of it. It’s a tough championship. Indy Lights has some very good talent right now.
If you look at racing in America overall, there’s pretty good depth in all of the categories. IndyCar is really quite impressive. Take a guy like Alexander Rossi who was super promising coming out of GP2. He’s running on the last two rows of the grid. I think that says a lot. It’s a very tough field now.
Misano was good because Felix was almost half a second quicker than anyone else and everyone was quite impressed. But unfortunately they didn’t make to the end of the race.
JT – The first race of the 2016 season of WEC took place at Silverstone two weeks ago. It was a rather fraught race for several drivers and teams with Brendon Hartley crashing out in his Porsche 919 and the sister Porsche making contact with one of the Ford GTs. The No. 8 Audi went up in smoke due to hybrid system failure.
Meanwhile, the No. 7 Audi took the checkered flag in first place. However, a post-race penalty for excessive wear on a front skid block led to the car’s exclusion. The No. 2 Porsche 919 therefore took the win. Some saw the ruling as harsh and Audi initially appealed the ruling then withdrew its appeal. What’s your view?
SJ – A rule is a rule. It might seem a stiff penalty but it is what it is. Apparently, the car wasbouncing and wore down the skid block but that’s not the rule makers’ fault. That’s an element that those running the car have to manage.
If you have rules, you have to adhere to them. A car might be 300 grams too light and you could argue whether that was any kind of advantage but if it’s too light, if it violates the rule, that’s it.
JT – Last winter Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne suggested Alfa Romeo might return to F1 as a constructor to gain publicity for the brand and compete at the highest level. When asked if Alfa might consider racing at Le Mans, he said he preferred F1. You differ with his view.
SJ – Yes, he said that F1 is the maximum of technological expression in the automotive world and that’s where Alfa should be.
But that’s actually not true anymore. I think the WEC is significantly more technologically advanced than Formula One is today. At least you have some technical choice in WEC. F1 is incredibly restricted with a complex and expensive engine formula which only allows one approach at a massive cost.
Everybody has to build exactly the same engine and chassis. You’re not allowed to do anything outside of their very restricted little box. Consequently, all F1 is, is optimizing a very strict rules package. There’s little room for innovation. In the WEC there is at least room for a bit of innovation with the freedom to try different versions of the P1 concept.
On the other hand, the P1 cars now require Formula One level budgets and that’s for just six cars and three teams spending stupid money. You can’t really even count the Rebellion non-hybrid P1 cars. Why they’re running in P1 and not P2 is beyond me. And of course, if the VW Group decides it wants to do something different than sports car racing it’s game over for the whole thing.