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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Emanuele Pirro

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!


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Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reviewing Rolex 24 at Daytona and looking ahead to Formula 1 in 2015

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – The 2015 edition of the Rolex 24 was an interesting race. You were on hand with Scuderia Corsa as the team fought hard with its No. 63 and No. 64 Ferrari 458 Italias in the GTD class. Both cars led the class and were near the front for most of the race but misfortunes befell each with the No. 63 finishing sixth in class and 20th position overall while the No. 64 finished fourteenth in class and 34th overall.

Meanwhile, Scott Dixon won the race outright in the No. 02 Target Chip Ganassi Ford Ecoboost Riley along with teammates Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. It was the second 24 win for Scott adding to his 2008 title, and he did an amazing job in his long stints. The fight for the overall win and the class battles were close and interestingly, American engine manufactures took victory in every category. What did you make of the race?

Stefan JohanssonOverall, I thought the race was very good. The caution periods with the wave by certainly improve the racing and Daytona usually goes down to the wire since they’ve had these procedures. Whether it’s fair or not may be debatable but generally it’s good for the racing. The battle in the prototype class between the Ganassi cars, the [Wayne] Taylor car and several of the others was great.

Scott did an amazing job as was to be expected but everybody in the team did their part. Scott was really pleased to win and he was pretty mighty that’s for sure, especially in that final stint that lasted nearly four hours. The whole team did a good job really. You have to take your hat of to Chip and the entire Ganassi operation, when you look back at everything they’ve accomplished since they started it’s very impressive.

JT – The Ganassi Ford DPs and Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP looked to have different strengths throughout the race. The No. 02 seemed to be better on the banking than the No. 10. It would have been interesting to see them compete for the win. But the miscue by WTR with Jordan Taylor driving more than four hours in a six-hour period was very costly.

SJ – I think it was due to the fact that the teams ran with different downforce levels – either for speed on the straights and fuel economy or grip in the infield. It was the same in GTD, we (Scuderia Corsa) ran ultra-light downforce and were very quick on the banking but struggled on the infield.

Still, the battle between the Vipers and our Ferraris was great with a Porsche in between here and there. Unfortunately, the clutch started slipping in the No. 63 car (Bell, Sweedler, Segal, Lazzaro) and they basically had to slow right down to keep the car going. I’m actually astonished they made it to the end because the clutch started to slip with about five hours to go. They were running 10 to 15 seconds off the pace at the end but somehow they managed to nurse it home and all of the guys did a great job. Normally it would be just a matter of laps before you’re out of the race with a problem like that.

The No. 64, the Brazilian car (Longo, Serra, Gomes, Bertolini), did great too. They were running one and two in class with both cars but unfortunately the No. 64 spun in the oil from the Magnus Racing Porsche after Andy Lally hit the possum on track and it broke his oil cooler. The No. 64 was the first car to arrive when the Porsche dropped oil, then spun and had a pretty big accident. That put them out of the race. 

JT – Obviously, the biggest mistake of the race was the drive time issue for Jordan Taylor. What did you make of that?

SJ – It can happen. Something similar happened to us at the Sebring 12 hours once – me, J.J. Lehto and Emanuele Pirro (in the Champion Racing Audi R8 in 2003). We led the whole bloody race until one hour to go!

I had finished up my final stint with a bit less than two hours remaining and handed over to Pirro. I was done, J.J. was done. I talked to the engineers then headed back to the motorhome to take a shower and chill out. I showered then had a big steak and a couple of beers. I’m lying there watching the TV, dehydrated from having been in the car all day and with less than an hour to go Mike Peters (team manager) comes running in.

“You’re on! You’re on! Get ready!,” he yells. I go, “What the #*&@@ are you talking about?!”

Apparently, Pirro had got a cramp in his leg and couldn’t drive! Lehto had already maxed out his allowable driving time in the car. So I’m scrambling trying to get my kit on, running to the pits. It’s total chaos in the pit lane when I get there and Pirro comes in. I jump in and they sent me out on used tires, I can’t remember the reason for not putting new tires but I suspect it was to stop us going a lap down.

It’s hard enough to go out on a used set with full tanks even in daytime, let alone at night. It’s impossible to start out a stint with used tires - particularly at Sebring where it’s completely dark everywhere. So I’m in the dark with these tires. If you’re even a foot off the racing line there’s nothing but rubber and debris everywhere. You’re trying to find your line in a sloppy car with used up tires. Eventually I got up to speed and was catching Marco but the race was over by that point.

We finished second behind Marco Werner, Frank Biela and Philp Peter in the Joest R8. I was so pissed I can’t even tell you, another one that slipped away!

JT – As you say, cautions do bunch the field, although I think the nature of the infield road course/banking at Daytona contributes as well. While the cautions do help keep the racing close, I think the way IMSA manages them could be a lot better. Even when a yellow flag is thrown for something as simple as debris, the caution periods take 15-20 minutes with all the classes pitting and the wave-bys. Why is that necessary? Close the pits, clean up the debris and go back to green, I say.

SJ – Yes, I agree. Of course, if there’s a safety issue there’s no debate. But the time taken under the yellows is too much. At Le Mans they wait until there’s absolutely no other option but to bring out a safety car which may be a little bit too much the other way. There’s always a balance.

Aston Marton Crash - Daytona 2015

JT – One notable incident involved the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia and the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin. French driver Francois Perrodo in the No. 51 made contact with another car then spun off in the hairpin during hour eight. He then pulled onto the track right in front of rro. This is something we’ve seen too much from gentlemen drivers.

SJ – Unfortunately, at Daytona in particular, as you can use up to 5 drivers if you wish, there are far too many guys out there like that and there could easily have been even more incidents when you see some of the crazy things they do. You wonder what they’re thinking but of course they’re not thinking. Their brains are so occupied just driving the car that there’s no brain capacity left for common sense or judgment or in some cases even looking in their mirrors. They literally use up every ounce of capacity just to keep the car on the road and maintain whatever speed they’re doing.

You see it on track all the time when you’re in the races. But the longer the race goes on, a pattern usually develops and you sort of know who you can trust and who you can’t. You pay attention around the cars that aren’t being driven well early on and you know can commit with the guys who are professionals. 

JT – Perhaps the most significant on track incident involved the factory-backed Porsche North America 911 RSRs. The No. 911 and No. 912 took each other out of the GTLM lead battle when drivers Earl Bamber and Marc Lieb collided while racing each other. Porsche contended they came together after the No. 007 TRG Aston Martin slowed in front of them but video shows they basically tripped over each other when trying to pass the Aston on either side.

SJ – Yes, I didn’t know who was driving the Porsches at the time but it looks like they really just got it wrong. You always want to beat your teammate but you never want it to get out of hand.

JT – The attrition in the prototype class was mostly made up of P2 cars. None were running at the finish while only one DP dropped out. Aside from the DeltaWing’s gearbox troubles I suppose the P2 woes could be ascribed to the cars being new to the teams or simply new to racing period.

SJ – Yes, running a new car for the first time in any race is tough but when the first event is a 24-hour race, that’s a tall order. They’ll be much better at Sebring with a month of preparation and development. 

Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 - Daytona 2015

JT – One of Mazda’s SKYACTIV D P2 prototypes did manage to lead a lap during pit stop shuffling early in the race but both were retired before morning. They were also still considerably off the pace after a year of racing and development. I like Mazda but don’t understand why they persist trying to make their 2.2 liter, diesel four cylinder - a street car-based engine – competitive. It makes no sense from a competition perspective or in terms of marketing as they still don’t offer a diesel here in the U.S.

SJ – I agree and I don’t see the point with this engine. It’s sheer physics. The engine will never be competitive. I understand that they may be going that way for marketing reasons and maybe winning isn’t the first priority in this case? Not only that, they’re using a chassis (Multimatic/Lola) that wasn’t much good when it first came out. It really makes no sense from a competition point of view but I’m sure they would not be spending all this money without a justified reason internally.

JT – Testing has commenced for the 2015 Formula One season at Jerez in the wake of most teams launching their new cars at the end of January. Obviously, early season testing won’t reveal too much but what do you think we can take away from this first test?

SJ – First, Ferrari appears to be in much better shape generally this year than last for obvious reasons. This early, you never know of course. If you remember, Ferrari was actually quickest in early testing last year as well. But it wasn’t like they did a last-ditch, banzai lap to go fastest this time. They’ve been consistently quick since they rolled off the truck at Jerez and that’s usually a very good sign. And most importantly, they’ve been able to get down to quick lap times immediately, which means the car is good and the drivers are comfortable and have confidence in the car.

Sauber seems to be in similarly good shape, which would indicate that the Ferrari power unit has improved significantly from last year. They also looked really strong from the beginning of the test to the end. And they’ve run a lot of laps. Again, that’s a good sign. McLaren’s had a few challenges but those are almost to be expected with these insanely complicated power units. There are always teething problems with a brand new package and some of them you can only find out by running the car, no matter how much simulation you try to do. You can simulate this and that but until you actually run the car on track you don’t really know what you’ve got. Still, I think they’ll get with the program pretty quickly once they iron out the usual niggling problems with a new car.

Red Bull [Racing]’s test was a bit of an odd one and Torro Rosso the same, so maybe Renault still has a ways to go in development. Mercedes obviously looks extremely strong, being able to do the amount of laps they did every day. That’s very impressive.

JT – Yes, Mercedes GP and Williams F1 seem ominously quiet. Things look to be going well for both teams.

SJ – Absolutely, I think there’s a reason for that. Neither team ran much with the soft tire at the test. I think it was only Williams that used it. They both ran lots of laps and don’t forget, every 50 kilos of fuel is worth about a second and a half per lap. I think things will get more interesting as time goes by.

The striking thing for me is that every 2015 car looks almost exactly the same. Line them all up and draw a silhouette of their shapes and you’ll see they’re just about identical with the exception of a few details. The length of the noses might vary because they need to pass the (FIA-mandated) crash test but as time goes by they will all come out with a shorter nose, which means more downforce. 

JT – The teams, with the exception of McLaren-Honda, now have a year development with these power units under their belts. Most seem to be saying their cars are better for 2015 and that they’re well ahead of where they were in testing last year. But as you’ve said previously, the cars should be better given a year of rules stability.

SJ – Yes, that’s the nature of the beast, especially in F1 where you’re not regulating a set of bodywork or whatever. Everything is constantly improving – the tires, the chassis, the engine and the aero. Now, they’ve lifted the freeze on engine development and if you use up all of the “development tokens” you’re allowed you can essentially create a whole new engine.

That’s good and more fair I think. Apparently, when everything’s maximized, these power units are capable of producing up to 1,600 horsepower. That’s interesting because back in the day they were able to get 1,500 HP from the 1.5-liter turbo’s we had then, albeit for only a lap before they either blew up or there was oil leaking out of every orifice. The engines were junk after one qualifying run basically, but you just bolted in another one for the next day. Back then at least it wasn’t that expensive to build an engine once the development was done, it was just metal and some machining, if you make 50 pistons or 500 doesn’t make a huge difference in cost so it was actually a very cheap way to go racing with massive horsepower that has never been seen since!

Things have obviously moved on so much since then and the fact that they can make that kind of power again is very exciting. That’s typically the product of the natural development process and keeping the rules stable. If they can stay the same for three years and the development will plateau out, costs will eventually come down and everything will improve with it.

It would be great, even with all the regulations they have now if they could utilize that kind of power for qualifying at least and the revert back to race mode with a sensible fuel consumption etc. to make the car last until the end of the race obviously. Back in the 1980s we certainly couldn’t run 1,500 horsepower in race-trim. We could run 1,000 horsepower at best or maybe a bit less. There was a huge difference between qualifying and the race.

In 1985 when the boost regulations were still free we used to just bolt a plate over the waste-gate for qualifying. Whatever massive amount of boost you had, that’s what you got! It was awesome – dry ice in the radiators and everything you could think of to make it last for one lap.

JT – As mentioned, F1 announced a lifting of the freeze in power unit development at the end of 2014 with teams/manufacturers including McLaren-Honda now able to use a certain number of “tokens” to alter individual components of their power units in pursuit of performance. It’s a confusing system and another element of F1 I think most fans find needless. What’s your view?

SJ – Yes, it’s confusing more than anything. I very much doubt it will save any money in the long run. Everyone’s doing what they need to do anyway. Just let everybody have at it and may the best man win. All of the manufacturers are going to spend money like it’s going out of fashion anyway, they always do until they decide drop out. The only thing having tokens is going to do is hinder a team from bolting all the bits they develop onto a car right away. Development goes on regardless so there’s no cost-saving as such.

As you know, I’ve been going on for a long time about how the cars should have 1,200 to 1,300 horsepower and now it seems like everyone’s on that same wavelength which is great. But as I’ve also said before, it won’t make any difference unless you get rid of all the stuff on the steering wheels. You could have 3,000 horsepower but if you have adjustable differentials and retarded ignition and all the other trick stuff that helps the driver, it still won’t make much difference in terms of driving the cars.

If they got rid of all that stuff, with the increased horsepower and let the drivers be more in control of the handling of the car I think it would be awesome. It would be one more element that separates the good drivers from the bad. With 1,000 horsepower or more you’re going to have traction issues of course and that’s what makes it more interesting again. 

JT – Among the launches was the debut of Sauber’s 2015 car and their new driver line up of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Both have some driving talent obviously but it seems to me their main credential is the sponsorship they bring with them. It’s yet another example of drivers paying to be in F1 – not being paid to be there – and teams which only seem to be able to survive financially when drivers bring sponsorship.  

SJ – Well, frankly I think all the drivers in F1 today are very competent, it’s not like they have no experience or are lacking in skill completely. Yes, maybe it’s unfair to drivers who may have had better results in the junior formula’s but it’s not like any of them does not justify their position. There’s no doubt some of the guys now may not have the greatest results so far in their careers but they’re still very quick and so much of the results in any category are just a matter of motivation and confidence and feeling good in the car, and most of all, being in the right car at the right time. If the car feels good and the times are close to the front your driving and motivation improves along with it, you don’t have to push quite as hard and by being able to relax just a little bit more you become more precise and accurate and all of a sudden the lap times are starting to come down with it. When you drive a shit box and you’re seconds off the pace it’s all arms and elbows just to keep the car on the road.

Maurizio Arrivabene

JT – Maurizio Arrivabene recently made a statement that Formula One needs a revolution, with more sound and speed to make it more spectacular, what are your comments on that?

I did see that comment also and on some levels I agree, but to create a revolution I think it’s very important to know what it is you’re revolting against. I doubt very much if cars with more horsepower and higher speeds alone will make much difference in changing the current state of affairs in F1. No one’s seems to be looking at the fundamental issues, or at least no one is addressing them. Generally speaking, 50% percent of the races are always quite boring no matter what, because you will always have one or two teams that are quicker than the rest. It’s like that now and if you go back in history it’s nearly always been that way. The main reason it’s like this in F1 in particular, is because every team make their own cars, the side effect of this is that most of the time you will have two or maybe three teams at most fighting it out for the championship. Sometimes it’s just one team like last year.

That’s what makes IndyCar unique in my opinion. Literally any team on the grid can win on a given day. That’s not the case in any other category that I know of, yet they struggle to get 50,000 people to tune in and watch it. It’s a mystery to me.

But back to F1, changing the cars won’t fundamentally change that one or two-team dominance. And despite everyone saying how much F1 is in a crisis, the incessant spending on aerodynamics and other elements goes on and on and never stops. That’s where the problem is. If they fail to see that and think it’s still ok for the top teams to spend half a billion dollars per year to win races something’s seriously wrong.

If a winning budget was $150 million and you could compete with say $30-40 million I doubt very much there would be all this talk about F1 being in a crisis and the need for a revolution to fix the problems. The teams have built their own prison in my opinion, and that’s where the revolution needs to take place. And for that to happen I think the FIA needs to step in and do some very drastic rule changes that will eliminate a lot of the R&D and have a hard and close look at all the other areas that are pushing the costs to these levels.

Right now, the clowns that make up the show are spending over $100 million per year just to get to the races, without any hope whatsoever of ever winning a race. We have two teams that are already dropped out and then we have Sauber, Force India and Lotus, they’re all on the limit financially so there are six more cars that are borderline in terms of making the grid. McLaren still don’t have a major sponsor although I’m sure they must have something in the pipeline together with Honda. Part of the problem is that the top teams at least, still seems to think it’s worth $150 million per year to be a title sponsor. If a team could run on a total budget of say $150 million that would be a different story, because most of the budget would already have been paid by Bernie, so the sponsorship would be gravy effectively. The cars would be covered with sponsors because there would be a real value in sponsoring the cars. But the people in the top teams in particular all seem to think F1 should be expensive. It’s the top of the top and should be perceived as such, and they will always spend every penny they have in order to win or get an advantage over the rest.

It’s obvious for anyone to see that the sponsorship on the cars do not reflect the overall expenditure the teams have and as a consequence they have now become more and more dependent on Bernie giving them their handout. I am totally in agreement with Bernie, if the teams spent less money they wouldn’t be in all the trouble they are, they’re all working with an insane business model as is it right now.

Let’s assume your budget is $150 million per year instead of $500 million and you can win races with that kind of budget. If you can still generate $300-500 million per year in revenue from sponsors and FOM combined- well then you’ve got $150-350 million in profit. That’s seems much more sensible than spending $500 million and just break even. This would also create a real value for the all teams if they were one day looking to sell their franchise, much like a NFL or football team, and in fact it’s how it was when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example, that could never happen today.

It seems weird to me nowadays when I go to the odd Grand Prix, all the teams have these massive constructions for the hospitality and pit garages (apparently they need 20 trucks to bring them to each race), yet the only people in them seems to be the media for the most part. I understand the value of the media and the contributions they bring to the sport in general, but I find it hard to understand where the trade off is on return on investment.

JT – Honda and Chevrolet are getting ready to introduce new aerodynamic bodywork kits for  2015 at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. IndyCar says teams will be able to make upgrades to the kits - excepting sidepods and engine covers (fixed for two years) – but are limited to improvements in “three legality boxes in total in a two year period”. This is a bit like F1’s “tokens” and again, seems a bit confusing.

SJ – In the IndyCar format I sort of get it because you can’t keep developing the kits forever. It would be unsustainable for the teams. They’d have to buy every upgrade that came along from Honda or Chevy every weekend. That’s how it used to be in CART. I remember that every weekend there were new bits from Penske or Reynard and the teams were crying about the cost but they had to buy them if they wanted to be competitive. 

NISMO GT-R LM,

JT – Nissan debuted its new WEC P1 prototype, the NISMO GT-R LM, in an ad during the Super Bowl. They’ve touted its front-engine/asymmetric chassis configuration as intentionally daring and different. It does seem to have garnered some publicity but will the car be competitive?

SJ – Well, I’m sure that most of those in the prototype class will have looked at that concept as well and deemed it not as efficient or quick as having a rear-engine configuration. Otherwise, Audi or the others would have already done it. I don’t really get it. If you just want to do it to be “different” and then market around that, ok fine. But I can’t imagine they’ll come close to winning Le Mans or anywhere else with that car. From what I’ve heard so far from the tests they’ve done, they still have a long way to go. Let’s just hope their car is better than the super bowl ad they used to introduce the car…

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