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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Chip Ganassi

Silly Season for Drivers and Teams

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 97

JT – It’s been a few months since the last #SJblog. Since then, the IndyCar, Formula 1 and sports car racing calendars have marched forward. We find ourselves in the middle of the summer break for many series and of course that means it’s silly season for drivers and teams figuring out who will be driving where in 2019.

Formula 1 has made the most news recently with driver shuffles kicking off in early August when Daniel Ricciardo made the surprise announcement that he was leaving Red Bull Racing after four seasons with the team. What do you make of Ricciardo’s move?

SJ – It’s interesting, I don’t think too many people saw that one coming. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye behind his decision to move obviously. Whatever the reason, it’s a major loss for Red Bull.

If you look at it historically, Renault has always won eventually when they’ve been involved in Formula 1. Of course, there’s completely different people at Renault now compared to the past but the commitment is there it seems. Just the fact that they’ve hired Ricciardo tells you the commitment is there. They’ve certainly got some good people in the team and I’m sure they will keep adding more. I am sure they must have given Ricciardo’s pretty firm guarantees that they are prepared to allocate the budget and resources required to win the championship. I see no reason why they would not fight with Mercedes and Ferrari eventually.

This situation is different but it’s not entirely dissimilar to when Lewis Hamilton left McLaren, which was then a winning team, for Mercedes who weren’t winning anything at the time. I’m sure he was shown the big plan and the commitment they had to winning the Championship. Interestingly, Mercdedes also had this driver called Rosberg, that no one was completely sure how good he really was and it ended up being a few of years with epic battles between the two. Renault has Hulkenberg that has shown great promise and great speed but never delivered the results, now he will be paired against a proven race winner, will he be able to step up and finally deliver on the promise or will this be the end of his career? I think he will keep Daniel honest and this dynamic could be great for the team if both of them push each other all the time. I don’t think this is a bad move on Ricciardo’s part, he would have always had to deal with Verstappen being favored at Red Bull, at least if what we’ve seen until now is anything to go by. Now he’s the team leader which makes a big difference also psychologically for a driver. I think there’s a good chance that Renault will eventually be on the pace of the top three, maybe not next year, but if you take a three or five year view I feel there is a very good possibility they will. There are always shifts that will come if the rules stays the same for long enough, history shows that everybody will eventually catch up. The new rules won’t be wholesale like it was when the new engine formula came in to play, where everyone’s been playing catch up to Mercedes until this year. Even when you dominate or win, like Mercedes, every year it gets a little bit harder to stay on top. So I think at some point it’s likely that Mercedes will end up with a car that isn’t the best and the dynamic will change. Ferrari is already as quick or quicker in many places.

It may take longer because a lot of things are different in F1 now. One is the massive amount of resources required to be competitive. That’s the main reason why Mercedes and Ferrari are at the front. They’re simply spending more than anyone else.

I can only assume that Ricciardo has been given pretty strong guarantees about the depth of Renault’s effort. That must have been one of the contributing factors otherwise I doubt whether he would have made the jump. He’s obviously seen what the five-year plan is.

At the same time, I also think Red Bull will be very strong with Honda power in the next five years. I think Honda is on the verge of cracking it, and when they do they are normally unstoppable.

Image by: Red Bull Racing

I think the next few years could become very interesting with both Renault and Honda catching up to Mercedes and Ferrari, it has a good chance of being more competitive than we’ve seen in a long time. I just hope they won’t tinker to much with the rules as we’re now on the verge of everyone catching up which will allow the competition to be much closer. But we should never count on the wisdom of the rule-makers, they seem to be experts at making changes where none are needed.

We all know the current set of rules are far from ideal, but at least we have gotten close to the point of diminishing return on R&D and when that happens the racing is always getting better and closer as the gap from the front to the back keeps getting smaller each year. Let’s hope it will stay this way for a while until everyone has figured out  the bigger picture of what really needs to be done. That is a subject for a whole other conversation and it’s obviously a big topic. I am actually working on a big document on that very subject which I should have ready in a couple of weeks, it’s very radical and will require a complete rethink but I hope people will like what I have in mind.

JT – Less than two weeks after Ricciardo’s announcement, Fernando Alonso announced that he would be retiring from F1 for 2019. In comments on his departure Alonso indicated he could still return to F1 if a good opportunity arose and if the series changed enough to produce a good competitive environment.

Alonso added that racing in F1 is no longer enjoyable on track, stating that the predictability of the racing was far too high with little chance to actually compete. He concluded that most of what is talked about in F1 focuses on off-track polemics and politics, not actual racing. What do you think of his decision to leave the series and the reasons behind it?

SJ – I can certainly sympathize with a driver of Alonso’s pedigree, everybody knows he doesn’t belong where he’s at, but that’s the nature of the beast in F1. It doesn’t matter how good the driver is, if you don’t have the best car you will never win or get close to the front. It’s tough to be motivated when you know before the season’s starts that you’re going to be somewhere around 8th to 12th in qualifying and get the odd point here or there.

There’s also this current obsession in Formula 1 with young, fast teenage drivers or drivers around 20 year old. For sure they’re very quick. There’s no doubt about their speed, but we don’t really know how good they are. F1 has turned into a place where driving fast is just about the only criteria that seems to matter. You can see it very clearly in the races. On Lap 1 and Lap 2 there’s more contact and debris flying off the cars – broken wing-endplates and stuff – than there is at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch every year.

There’s very little racecraft and very few of the drivers who have any racecraft. Alonso is obviously one of them, one of maybe five or six. The rest, even some of the experienced guys, I won’t mention any names but it’s pretty obvious by now, just should not have the amount of unnecessary accidents they do. As I’ve been speculating, maybe it’s something to do with these new super long wheelbase cars but it strikes me as very strange that these drivers who are supposed to be the best in the world can’t get past the first two laps without three or four cars per race getting damage in pretty much every single race.

I think one of the problems with F1 is that it’s simply too good. What I mean by that is everything is so well done from the engineering to the simulation of the races that there is literally nothing left to chance, there is no unpredictability left, except if there’s a sudden shift in weather conditions or something else that could not be planned for before the race started. We normally get 2-3 races a year like that and everybody is jumping up and down over what a great race we just had. That should tell everybody something right there. But unfortunately, it’s the engineers that are running the show now as far as the technical rules go, and they won’t back down, it’s just more and more of the same. No one’s willing to give up their toys.

JT – Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc are candidates for other drives. With Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull Gasly is now seen as strong possibility to be a teammate to Max Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc has been mentioned in connection with Ferrari for some time. Each is an example of the youth movement you mentioned.  Neither one has even completed their first season in F1.

SJ – There is no doubt that both of them are very good, I think they are future stars for sure. Just as with Max Verstappen, every now and then we get someone exceptional that pops through that little hole at the bottom of the funnel and I think both these guys are that kind. However, I think it would be foolish to throw them in the deep end with a top team this early, for the same reason I mentioned earlier. They would both fare much better where they are and gain another year of experience in a team with much less pressure and scrutiny than they would get at either Ferrari or Red Bull. If you don’t perform at your very best in every session and race the media is all over you and then the doubt start to creep in and it all goes sideways very quickly. There’s loads of examples of great drivers who never made it once they got the opportunity in the big teams, simply because it was too early in their careers. This works both ways, I don’t understand the rush from Ferrari to put Leclerc in one of their cars at this stage of his career, it will be much better for them to keep him at Sauber and let him gain more experience before they put him in the main team.

JT – In IndyCar news, Scott Dixon resigned with Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott has driven for Chip since 2002, scoring 43 of his 44 IndyCar victories with the team. He seems very content with the decision to stay at Ganassi despite offers from others including Andretti Autosport and the team McLaren may be forming. As his manager, you played a role in the negotiations. Obviously some work was involved despite the fact Scott elected not to change teams.

Photo via: @scottdixon9

Photo via: @scottdixon9

SJ – Yes, there was a lot of talk and a lot rumors, I don’t know where some of these guys get their stories from but it was very amusing to hear some of it. So far from the truth that you have to wonder where the rumors started. Scott certainly had some strong offers but continuing with Ganassi made sense. You know Chip will always put a winning car on the grid, and that is in the end all that matters, the rest kind of falls into place. There’s obviously a huge amount of respect between the two of them and the great success story will hopefully continue for a while longer. And yes, there was a lot of work associated with it and it was quite stressful at times but as a manager you’re there to try and be objective and look at the bigger picture – all the different factors that come into play and I believe Scott made the right decision in the end.

The 101st Running of the Indy 500 & the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco (Recap)

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 86

JT – The 101st running of the Indy 500 was another great race. Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato claimed victory after a 10-lap dice with Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves.

Takuma-Sato-indy500.jpeg

Andretti Autosport’s drivers and their Hondas looked good all day, occupying most of the top positions through the race but engine failures for Ryan Hunter Reay (leader of the most laps) and Fernando Alonso combined with pit-crew mistakes for Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti took several bullets out of their gun. Ultimately Sato came through for the team, giving Andretti Autosport its second consecutive 500 win.

Fernando-Alonso-Indy500-2017-1.jpeg

Scott Dixon was one of the other Honda-powered drivers who ran at the front until lap 53 when Jay Howard’s Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda hit the wall in Turn 2 and slid back across the track into Dixon’s path. Scott had nowhere to go and hit Howard’s car (Howard’s last IndyCar start was in 2011). The contact launched his Ganassi-Honda into the air and the catch-fence between Turns 1 and 2. The car also contacted the wall below the catch-fence before landing on its wheels on track.

It was a scary accident which Scott is fortunate to walk away from. Apparently, his left foot was has a compound fracture. How did he view the race and how’s he feeling?

SJ – Scott started the race with the car pretty trimmed out in preparation for the last 20 laps shoot out. That’s really what you have to prepare for and you’ve just got to hold onto the car for the rest of the race and get it as balanced and dialed in as you can for the gun fight at the end. I have no doubt he would have been right there.

He was very loose during the first stint and they took some downforce off the front wing at the first pit stop and the car started to get pretty decent. One more stop and a further tuning of the aero and I think he would have the car where he wanted it to be.

The accident was crazy and scary. Indy is always a dichotomy. It’s the hardest race to win and in some ways it’s also the easiest race to win. You can have speed all day long like Scott did a couple years ago and then a trash bag ends up in the radiator inlet with 10 laps to go and his engine just shuts down on him. Or you can come from seemingly nowhere all day and win if you’re on the right fuel strategy at the end, like Rossi showed last year.

I’m not saying Scott would have won this year but I think he would have definitely been in the mix at the end. I think Alonso would have been there too and for sure, Ryan (Hunter Reay) would have. There were a lot of strong cars up front and it would have been a mighty ending if Scott, Alonso, Rossi and Ryan had all been there together with Castro Neves and Sato in the last few laps.

Takuma-Sato-Indy-500-Win-2017-2.jpeg

But coming back to the accident, unfortunately you’re always going to have a few guys in the field who really aren’t quite up to speed no matter what the category is. The lack of race craft some of these drivers have is a mystery, it’s like they lack all common sense.

If you’re not on the pace for whatever reason or you are already laps down it really isn’t that hard to just gently roll out of the throttle before you get to a corner? You lose a few tenths on a lap, maximum. You let the faster car go by and continue instead of charging into the corner and then end up fighting for a piece of real estate in the middle of a corner – and then blame someone else for pushing you up into the grey. He should have never put himself in that position to begin with, at that point he was already up the track in the grey and it ultimately it’s what caused his accident. All he would have had to do is roll out of the throttle by four or five MPH before he got to the corner and those guys would have gone past and it would have been fine.

If you’re already two laps down you have no business trying to meddle with the race leaders, as you have no chance of making up the lost time on speed, the only chance you have at that point is to hope for a yellow and use clever strategy to gain you laps back. As it were, Scott ended up being the front runner who got caught up this time, it could have been anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

JT – There’s always excitement at Indy but it seemed to have even more energy this year with Alonso on hand, another huge crowd and lots of notable people there. What were your impressions?

SJ - Indy was tremendous as it always is. I think it’s getting better and better, it’s really starting to get the buzz back that it used to have in the days before the split. Few places in the world, if any, no matter where they are or what event they have, have the energy and electricity that Indy has. When you stand on the grid before the race it’s something really special.

Andretti’s probably the best team at the Indy 500 right now. They had six potential winners. Every one of their cars could win the race. No other team had anything close to that. Whatever it is they’ve done to their cars they definitely seem to have found the magic bullet for that track.
Alonso’s presence was great and added a lot of extra buzz and excitement from the F1 community also, hopefully it will open the eyes to a lot of his fellow drivers how great this event is and how good Indycar is in general.

JT – I think it was a unanimous view that Fernando Alonso did a great job at Indy and raced very well.

SJ – Yes, there’s no question he did very well. But to be honest, I didn’t expect anything else. I would have been surprised if he didn’t do a great job. I think he’s maybe the best driver in the world still, at least in terms of his race-craft. In the early stages of that race, everyone is fairly polite. But after the last pit stop – that’s when it starts to get a bit dicey. That’s when the racing really starts, it would have been great to see him duke it out with all the other guys at the end.

You have to get the car right to start with, and if you do that – I mean, I qualified 5th my first year (1993, Stefan out-qualified fellow rookie Nigel Mansell who started 8th) there in the old Bettenhausen car with a fairly stout grid. There’s no doubt that the Andretti cars were the class of the field so Alonso had a good car and he made the most of it in a situation where you really have to race.

I think Lewis Hamilton’s comments about Alonso were ill informed (Hamilton said of Alonso’s qualifying 5th … “A great driver, if he cannot win in Formula 1, will look for other races to win. But to see him fifth against drivers who are [in the series] all year is… interesting.”).

It just shows the ignorance and arrogance toward anything outside of Formula One that most people in the F1 paddock has unfortunately. They don’t even have a clue how hard some of these other championships are. In F1, if you’re in the right car, it’s easy. I can’t think of an easier championship to be good in. If you’re in the best car, you’re going to win – simple as that or at worst finish 2nd. And just because the top drivers in all these other categories of racing never made it to F1 doesn’t mean they’re not any good. A good indicator of this is when the F1 teams put some F3 kid in their cars for the end of season tests and within less that 30 laps they are doing lap times that are the same as the regular drivers who in some cases are world champions. The cars are simply too easy to drive and have too much engineering and technology for the drivers to make any real difference.

There’s never ever been a world champion who wasn’t in the best car. It’s the nature of the beast. Everyone in F1 builds their own cars so there will always be one or maybe two cars that are better than the rest. In IndyCar, nearly anyone can win at any race depending on how they play strategy and who gets it right on the day. At the end of the day, you have to become a specialist in every category you race in. It’s relatively easy to get to 95 percent but it’s that last five percent that makes the difference between being really good and winning.

JT – Interestingly, apart from Castroneves’ good performance in the race, Team Penske was off the pace all weekend.

SJ – Yes, I was surprised that Castroneves managed to pull himself up that far. Penske was struggling the whole time, really. It’s strange. Ganassi was a bit like that last year too, I think the Chevy package in it’s current format is very difficult to get right around there.

On the other hand, you have to admire Andretti Autosport. They’ve come a long way as a team in recent years and have turned into a very impressive organization. They have a good number of cars and sponsors. It’s impressive.

JT – The Monaco Grand Prix was, as usual, a largely boring procession. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won by staying on course longer than teammate Kimi Raikkonen and emerging from the sole pit stop in front. A similar scenario took place at Red Bull Racing where an early pitting Max Verstappen lost his position to teammate Daniel Ricciardo when the latter stayed on track longer. Why would anyone pit early and give up track position at a grand prix where track position is everything?

SJ – Yes, it was the usual Monaco snoozefest. The layout of the track is such that we know it’s never going to be any different unless it rains or something unexpected happens that the boffins behind the computer screens can’t plan for. The only interesting bit was that Ferrari and Red Bull got the strategy wrong for the drivers who should have had a choice of strategy – Raikkonen and Verstappen.

It’s clear that staying out longer before stopping was an advantage this time. It’s interesting to follow and it seems that there is less and less of the “seat of the pants” race strategy calls that we used to see from Ross Brawn and Schumacher for example where there used to be a constant dialogue and decision were made depending on the conditions as the race unfolded.  It would seem that none of the people doing the engineering today in F1 have that type of race experience or race-craft. They’re all brilliant and geniuses in their own way but when it comes to race strategy it’s all theoretical for them. And it seems that the drivers are simply following a set plan and have very little room to maneuver in terms of how the race is called. Only the driver can feel how the tires are holding up and how hard he can push, if the car feels good and you can go hard you want to stay out as long as possible, especially if you have a clear track and there’s no cars to lap in front of you, but it seems the strategy was already set and both Kimi and Verstappen came in on whatever lap was already determined before the race even started. In this case it lost them a win and a podium. I would have been pissed off too!

A couple years ago I was in the Ferrari pit with the radio headphones on during qualifying and what really surprised me was that the drivers don’t say one word when they return to the pits. The engineers are effectively telling them what the car is doing and what changes they plan to make next. I didn’t listen during the race but if I’m the driver in Monaco and the car still feels alright and the tires aren’t going off, and I’m still doing good lap times, I would say, “I’m staying out”.

If the tires are still performing that gives you way more leverage toward the end of the race and you can monitor what other people are doing. If no one’s going faster – they were all slowing down actually – you stay out. The only reason you would pit early there is if you were stuck in traffic. That’s all the more reason why Vettel and Ricciardo with a clear track after Raikkonen and Verstappen pitted went faster. Of course they would. The only danger is a full course caution if everyone else has pitted and you haven’t.

JT – Jenson Button substituted for Fernando Alonso with McLaren at Monaco and qualified well, starting 9th on the gird ahead of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne. He crashed out of the race attempting to overtake Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein but adapted to the new car pretty quickly.

SJ – I think he did a great job. He qualified quicker than his teammate and in the circumstances he performed well. Unfortunately he had to start from the back and starting from the back at Monaco it’s near impossible to do well. You can be five seconds a lap quicker than the guy in front of you, literally, and there’s still no way to pass. The whole track curves the whole way around and there’s only one line so there’s almost nowhere to get a run on someone ahead – even on corner exit.

JT – Ferrari’s performance at Monaco showed their continuing improvement. Meanwhile, Mercedes GP struggled. Adapting to the 2017-spec Pirelli tires is an ongoing issue for Mercedes. Again, you point to Sebastian Vettel’s preseason tire testing as a big part of the difference in the two top teams’ performance.

SJ – It’s clear that it’s all down to the tires right now. Again, it boggles my mind that teams like Red Bull and Mercedes didn’t force their regular drivers to do all the tire testing. How can you put a junior test driver in a car to do just about the most important testing you do all year?

You are strictly limited on any test days to begin with and tires are the most critical component you have in terms of getting the car dialled in. You can simulate most of the engine and the chassis to a pretty accurate level these days but the tires is as much about feel as anything else and variables change all the time due to track surface and conditions.  What else could the regular drivers possibly have to do that’s so important that they can’t attend those less than 10 days total of testing?

There’s no doubt in my mind that whatever input Vettel gave Pirelli is directly translated into the tires on the Ferraris. Of course they’ll suit the Ferrari better because he’s the one who gave them input! How can you expect a 17-18 year old F3 driver to figure out what’s going on with a tire. It’s mind boggling and inexcusable in my opinion.

JT – As you mention, another element of Ferrari’s improvement in 2017 may be the return of Rory Byrne to the team last year and his input on the design of this season’s car.

SJ – Rory is one of the top designers ever in F1 history and he’s never received enough credit for what he’s done. He was responsible for every Ferrari Michael Schumacher won with. He designed the winning Benetton’s before that. Rory is a genius. I think his influence is a significant part of why Ferrari is doing so well again.

JT – With the injury to Sebastian Bourdais at Indy, Ganassi Racing has tabbed Tony Kanaan to replace him in the No. 68 Ford GT for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Given Kanaan’s experience and the fact that he raced the GT at Daytona earlier this year, he should have no problem being up to speed at Le Mans even though he hasn’t raced there before, correct?

SJ – He’ll be fine. I don’t think his preparation will be any problem with simulator time and by the time you get into the race you do a few double stint and that gets the rhythm going. Looking at the testing times from last weekend at Le Mans it looks like the Ford’s might have a battle on their hands for this year. The BoP (Balance of Performance) changes seems to have slowed them down significantly. I just wish there could be a different way to balance the cars than this BoP that will always benefit or slow down one car more than the others.

JT – The laptimes during the testing were the fastest we’ve ever seen around Le Mans until now, in all categories from LMP1 and especially the LMP2 cars who were almost 10 seconds faster than previous years.

SJ – Yes, the LMP2 cars in particular are now extremely fast, what was interesting is that they were actually faster than the LMP1 in straight line speed too. I’ve said it for some time now, it would be so much better if LMP2 became the main category and they just scrapped the LMP1, with only 2 teams competing for overall victory it’s become a bit flat. The ACO always seemed to want the fastest cars to be in the 3.30 min range, they seem to think that’s a safe zone somehow. I’m repeating myself again, but I don’t think it would be that hard to make even the GT cars do a high 3.30 if they took the restrictors off and gave them a little wider tires and some more aero. Get rid of the BoP and let every manufacturer make a car that is within the rules and that fits whatever they need to do win but without the BoP. In other words, may the best man win, period. We would see some incredibly cool looking cars, like the Ford GT, that would be offered to their respective road customer to fill the production to meet the homologation standards. I bet you every car from every manufacturer would be sold out before they start production, just as the Ford is.

JT – We also had the double header Indycar race in Detroit this last weekend. Graham Rahal scored a double win and is the first driver this year to win more than one race. Scott finished a gritty second in the first race and despite a fuel rig issue in the second race finished a good 6th. What do you make of the weekend?

SJ – I think it was a great weekend with some good hard and very competitive racing again. Graham was clearly hooked up the moment they rolled the car of the truck, quickest in nearly every session and walked away with both races. I think every driver dream of those days when your car is just perfect. He didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend and drove with a lot of confidence. Scott did an amazing job in the circumstances, to have a fractured foot and clearly in a lot of pain there is probably no worse track than Detroit to do a double header race. In the second race, had it not been for the fuel rig problem on his first pitstop it’s safe to assume he would have been 2nd in that race too as he was in front of Newgarden who was on the same strategy and eventually finished 2nd.

There are so many good teams and drivers in Indycar now, that it’s impossible to predict the outcome in any of these races before the weekend starts. Apart from Graham’s double win, there’s been 7 different winners so far, and Scott who is leading the Championship has yet to win a race.  I think that says it all as to how competitive this series is. I’ve said it many times before, but there is no other championship in the world that is close to the racing that Indycar produces. If they could only find a way to market this it would be huge.

F1 Singapore GP, Simon Pagenaud wins Indycar 2016 season & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – Formula One’s most recent outing, the Singapore Grand Prix was once again a fairly straightforward race. Mercedes recovered from its 2015 difficulties to finish first and third this year. Nico Rosberg took the win ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg made a clean getaway from his pole position and never looked back. Daniel Ricciardo started alongside and maintained his second place throughout the race, closing to within a half second of Rosberg by the finish. Despite brake overheating issues for both of the Mercedes, the drivers managed them. Lewis Hamilton lost third place in the middle of the race to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen but pit strategy allowed him to recover his podium position. What did you think of the race?

SJ – Nico really dominated this one, no doubt. He had a flawless weekend throughout qualifying and the race and never put a foot wrong. But what’s funny is that again some of the pundits are back saying that Lewis is finished because he’s partying too hard, he’s not focused, etc. I say leave the guy alone. What we’re seeing is the normal, natural dynamics over the course of a 21-race season. You’re going to have good and bad races.

Rosberg was certainly off-the-boil too for a few races mid-season and the pundits were saying he’s not mentally strong enough and this and that. The changing of momentum back and forth is completely normal but I guess some people just don’t have enough to talk about. Because there is effectively only two of them at the moment with a realistic chance of winning and they are so incredibly closely matched all the time it doesn’t take a lot for the momentum to swing one way or the other.

And if you look at the starts they’ve both made and what’s happened in the races, who’s to say whether their performance in any race is all down to them? At the end of the day, it also comes down to what their cars are able to deliver. If either one of them isn’t comfortable with their car during a weekend or the balance is a bit off, generally speaking that’s why either driver might be slightly off the pace. It's not always because a driver is making mistakes or is not fast enough. Oftentimes the team won’t find a problem with a car until they get back to the factory after a race when they have more time to really analyze everything in detail with the feedback the driver has been giving them over the weekend. But more often than not, they will always find something that caused the driver to be a bit off that particular weekend.

Lewis was able to get third-place back thanks to strategy. Ferrari kind of blew it when they were trying to mark Hamilton after he stopped. I think if they had allowed Kimi to stay out of the pits he would have finished on the podium. But these decisions are always very tricky. When you have the mojo flowing you always seem to make the right decisions almost automatically. When you overanalyze or overthink, you tend to overreact. Then you make mistakes and that tends to spiral. You have to get back in the groove and be able to make decisions by instinct.

JT – We touched on the new tire rules for F1 next year in the last blog, mentioning that teams who make the effort to help Pirelli develop their 2017 tires will gain very valuable experience with them. You also make the point that some drivers, one in particular, may benefit hugely by being involved in testing for the new Pirellis as well.

SJ – Basically, three teams committed cars for this testing – Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. For the life of me, I can’t understand why McLaren didn’t offer a car as well. I don’t know the ins and outs of it but it’s strange, assuming that they were also offered the opportunity to do the tire testing.

But what’s more interesting is that Sebastian Vettel has been doing every test lap for Ferrari that has been available. I guarantee you that this will give him an advantage next year. Every time you run a car you gain some level of knowledge. Racing and F1 in particular is no different than any other business in that it relies on human interaction and relationships to get the best results.

The fact that Pirelli has Vettel doing testing, making every single run he can make will pay off. I’ve done lots of tire testing in the past and it’s absolutely the best way to move things forward for driver or a team performance.

Pirelli will love the input that Vettel gives them because engineers want as much input as you can possibly provide. And without a shadow of doubt, those tires will be based largely on his input. As I’ve said over and over, on race day the tires are more important than any other feature of a car. If Vettel gets a tire that suits his driving style, that he’s 100 percent comfortable with, he won’t have to spend as much time getting his car to react the way he wants. He’ll be able to attack right away.

It’s an incredibly smart move on his part and incredibly stupid on the other drivers’ parts not to dedicate the time to testing if it’s available to them. That’s exactly what Michael Schumacher did. Every chance he had to test, he took it... and some.

I remember the Ferrari people used to tell me that if the team had a few days off Michael used to literally call them and tell them that he wanted to test something or that he had an idea for trying something new, asking if they could have his car ready for a test in a couple days. This was back when you could test all the time and they just pounded around Maranello continually.

If you remember, the Bridgestone tires were a struggle for a lot of the teams. Even Michael’s teammates were struggling. That’s because those tires were essentially built for him. They suited his driving style perfectly. That’s the kind of advantage you’re looking for as a driver.

So it’s a really smart move on Vettel’s part. I’m really surprised that no one else seems to be noticing and that the other teams are instead using their test drivers. Raikkonen has done one test apparently but neither of Mercedes’ regular drivers have tested on the new tires, and as far as I’m aware neither has the Red Bull guys.  I’m very surprised.

JT – The IndyCar season came to close with the Grand Prix of Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud won, dominating the weekend and capturing the championship with kind of speed and consistency he showed throughout the season. His Penske teammate Will Power, the only other driver still in championship contention at the finale, experienced a clutch malfunction on Lap 36. He ultimately finished 20th.

Pagenaud’s title marks the 14th Indy car championship for Team Penske in its 50th year of operation. Team Penske won 10 of the 16 races this season and Penske drivers Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves finished 1-2-3 in the championship. Meanwhile Scott Dixon, 3rd in points coming into Sonoma had a weekend to forget. He finished 17th, falling to 6th in the championship. The 2016 season is now history and the series won’t be in action again until March 2017. Shouldn’t the series add a couple races to avoid not racing for almost six months?

SJ – Yes, I agree with you. It’s a pity that the season finishes this early. That’s not the way to keep the interest in IndyCar going. I don’t know if the reasoning behind it is the same as before. It may be difficult to readjust the schedule with promoters but it does no good to be invisible for almost half a year.

Pagenaud ended the season in a pretty impressive way. There’s no doubt that he went to Sonoma to win the race as well as the championship. He did a superb job all weekend and the Penske team definitely has the momentum now. Ganassi had the momentum for several years but it seems to have swung toward Penske now. They also have four very strong cars with any one of them capable of winning any race under right circumstances, Ganassi doesn’t have that at the moment.

Really, Sonoma was probably one of the worst outings Scott and the team have had in a very long time. From the moment they went out on the warm-up lap and the radio didn’t work, the race went from bad to worse.

As I’ve said, it’s weird but Scott had his best year for many years in some ways. If everything had gone his way, he could have won three races where he had mechanical failures which are almost unheard of now in IndyCar. But he had engine problems at Detroit, Road America and St. Petersburg. There were also a few strategic errors all adding up to a Championship finish that was his lowest for quite some time. If all that hadn’t happened he would have almost dominated the season.

What’s impressive for me more than anything is that he still seems to get a little better each year, just chipping away at the little details here and there.

JT – IndyCar offseason sees many drivers still uncertain as to who they’ll be driving for in 2017.

SJ – It’s really hard to say what will happen. There are obviously quite a few open seats and there are more than enough good drivers available to fill them. That’s true in nearly every type of racing today. It is definitely a team market more than a drivers market at the moment, there’s a lot of really talented drivers walking around without a job.

The veterans in IndyCar are still getting the job done and from a sponsor or team point of view they’re valuable. Tony Kanaan’s had a good year. Montoya has had a bit of an unlucky year, maybe he lost a bit of the luck he had in 2015. But he’s still a threat on any given day.

More than anything, I wish that one or two of the top guys in F1 would make the leap to IndyCar. That would put the series on a whole new level. That’s what it needs more than anything else - the kind of attention and exposure they could bring.

Of course you always need new, fresh blood but remember when Nigel Mansell came over (1993, winning the CART title) and we had Emerson [Fittipaldi], and myself to a much smaller degree, it was really good. IndyCar (CART) was huge back then. Drivers’ salaries were probably triple what the best guys are getting today.

JT – In racing news off-track, Formula One has led the headlines. The buyout of F1 by Liberty Media from current majority owner CVC Capital Partners has been making waves already. Liberty Media’s Chase Carey, recently appointed as Formula One’s new Chairman, has said that “F1 can't be a dictatorship, even if probably here they are used to it.” And there are indications that F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone is not keen to be working with Carey.

Meanwhile Anneliese Dodds, a Member of the European Parliament has raised the issue of a conflict of interest in the requirement that the FIA approve the sale of the series to Liberty Media. The FIA holds a one percent stake in the business, estimated to be worth over $40m. This means that the governing body stands to profit handsomely from the deal going ahead. Dodds wrote to the EU Commissioner for Competition to point out the conflict of interest declaring….

“The 1999-2001 European Commission investigation into Formula 1 was supposed to result in the FIA being limited to the role of regulator with no commercial interests in order to avoid any conflict of interest. Yet the current state of affairs - with the FIA standing to benefit financially from a sale which it is legally required to approve as regulator - seems to show that a clear conflict of interest remains.”

While Dodds awaits clarification from the EU, many commenters have said that they don’t expect this issue will hold up the Liberty Media deal. What are your thoughts on all of this?

SJ – Well, I only know what I have read just like you so it may not be fair to comment. But one thing I did note was that Carey said that F1 will be a more of a collective and that everybody will have their voices heard, etc. All I can use is Ron Dennis famous quote “welcome to the piranha club”!

I really can’t think of a more complicated and difficult business to run than F1 – whether it’s running the series’ business or a team. There are so many layers, so much politics and it’s ultra-competitive. You know the old saying, “sport is war without the weapons”? Well F1 takes that to a whole new level. It’s a very complicated sport due to the fact that the equipment is at least as important as the athletes performing and as such it’s incredibly complex in terms of technology and logistics and a lot more. I can’t think of any other sport that has around 1000 people working behind the scenes to prepare for 2 athletes per team to do their job at the actual sporting event. It’s massively complicated with a huge number of moving parts at any given time.

As I’ve said many times in this blog now, one of the biggest mistakes of recent years is letting the teams get involved in the rule-making process. Now they are talking about giving everyone even more of a voice? Personally I think that will become a nightmare. You need one entity that has an absolute handle on every aspect of the business. They make the rules and set the agenda. If you want to play, you play by those rules. If not, you can leave. In my view, that’s the only way it can work.

JT – IndyCar off-track news includes the series intention to freeze development of the Honda and Chevrolet aero kits for 2017 and switch to a standard kit from 2018. IndyCar president Jay Frye said, “The goal of the universal car is to be great-looking, less aero dependent, have more potential for mechanical grip/downforce and to incorporate all the latest safety enhancements.”

He added that the decision made to “produce the highest quality of on-track competition while also positioning ourselves to add additional engine manufacturers”. What’s your take on yet another change to the Indy Car aero specifications?

SJ – I think everybody has now realized that the manufacturer-specific aero kits were an experiment that didn’t work. It was expensive and there was push-back on it from every single team in the paddock I think. I just wish they would have taken that money and spent it on marketing jointly between the two manufacturers.

The only thing that IndyCar really needs in my opinion is some great marketing. Their product is already good, I still maintain that the racing is the best in the world and for me it’s a shame that they can’t project this to people more broadly and get them to tune in. It’s phenomenal racing with great drivers and teams. It’s such a pity that no one in the series seems to recognize that marketing is the primary negative that needs to be fixed – forget the cars and these complicated aero kits.

The original aero kit (2012-2014) was perfectly fine in my opinion but now teams have to purchase a completely new kit again. That will be another big spend that very few can afford. And from a safety perspective, the really bad accidents that have happened while the last couple body kit rule sets have been in place are all freak accidents. In normal accidents the cars have been pretty strong. But any modifications made to enhance safety won’t stop the freak accidents. You can’t plug every hole safety-wise.

Even with the current aero kits, I don’t think there’s much difference between the Chevrolets and the Hondas now. I think that Chevy has had the best teams and the best drivers the past few years. Honda has some good teams and drivers as well of course but if you look at the grid as a whole, it’s advantage Chevy. It’s the people that are making the difference.

And, I make the same point as I’ve done about F1 for a while, it’s now hard to tell the Hondas apart from the Chevys anyway. Cars always migrate to one shape that ends up being the most efficient. If you leave the rules in place long enough the cars will all become very similar looking. If you paint all the current F1 cars white I would be surprised if even half the people in the F1 paddock could tell which car is which.

In a smaller way, IndyCar essentially made the same mistake as F1 in allowing the engineers to write the rules for these cars. I think the team they have put in place now on the technical side is very good so let’s hope they can come up with a clear, simple set of rules that will make sense for everyone and that will stay consistent for many years.


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