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Filtering by Tag: FIA

The Star Drivers of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, F1 News & What to Expect in 2019

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 99

JT – The Rolex 24 at Daytona kicked off the 2019 season for many this year. The field was stacked with competitive cars, teams and star drivers from the DPi ranks down to the GTD cars. Just a few of the famous drivers racing included two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso, five-time IndyCar Champion Scott Dixon, CART champion and F1 star Alex Zanardi, DTM champion Rene Rast, Rubens Barichello, Kamui Kobayashi, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastian Bourdais, Romain Dumas, Felipe Nasr, A.J. Allmendinger, Simona De Silvestro and Timo Bernhard with many more on hand.

Video via NBC Sports YouTube Page

In fact, with its early season date and the quality of competition (with very few gentleman drivers these days), it’s reasonable to argue that the 24 Hours of Daytona now boasts a higher level of driving talent than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, you’re absolutely right. Because it takes place in January there is no conflict for any drivers apart from the one’s racing in Formula E, which means we get some really high quality drivers from every category of racing. Daytona is always a great way to start the season, because it’s a 24 hours race you get a lot of seat time and most of the time the conditions are far from ideal which means you have to improvise quite a lot both with the handling issues of the car and also with the constant traffic between faster and slower cars.

There’s a very good mixture of single-seater guys, NASCAR guys and sports car drivers. It’s a very strong field of drivers that’s for sure, and you often find yourself in a group of 3-4 great drivers duking it out over a double or triple stint. It’s a lot of fun and it really gets you in racing mode before the real season starts.

JT – The race itself was very interesting and very competitive throughout the field until rain began falling near 5 am. Ultimately, Fernando Alonso, Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande and Kamui Kobayashi won overall. That means that Alonso now adds the Rolex 24 to his two F1 championships and his Le Mans 24 win last year. Next up for him is the Indy 500 this year.

What did you think of Alonso’s drive and the competition overall?

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Photos via @fernandoalo_oficial

Unfortunately, Scott, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook lost five laps in the No. 67 Ford GT due to early contact with the wall by Briscoe. But they rallied back to 4th place overall, just a lap behind the GTLM class-winning No. 25 BMW M8 GTE. It’s a shame the race had to end under red flag.

SJ – It was a pity the rain came, it really ruined what could have been an epic race, with great battles going on in all the different categories, but it was sort of an anti-climax at the end. Alonso had some fantastic stints and really put on a clinic at one point. Being the great racer that he is, he must have been loving it out there, actually racing hard against some of the other top guys in the prototypes. It was a tough one to swallow for Scott and the guys, fighting back from where they were laps down, had they stopped one lap later for what became the last stop in the race, they would have won. Scott had a couple similar monster stints as Alonso in the middle of the night where he was just flying.

JT – In pre-season F1 news, the Formula One Promoters Association (FOPA) recently complained that Liberty Media would significantly harm the series if it proceeds with a plan to move to more pay TV for coverage of the series globally. FOPA is concerned that such a shift will dramatically decrease the number of viewers of F1 on TV.

The group also protested an apparent deal between Liberty Media and the promoter of the upcoming F1 street race in Miami. The promoter was offered a profit share partnership rather than the more traditional model where races pay tens of millions of dollars for the right to hold the event. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I have to agree with the promoters. In terms of TV, this is a dilemma that started a while back. Now the promoters are starting to feel the crunch too but I think the teams have already felt that for some time.

It may be coincidental but since F1 started being televised on pay-TV (cable TV) rather than broadcast TV the eyeballs have dropped dramatically. So has sponsorship. What used to be a $100 million title sponsorship deal is now in the range of $15 million. It’s totally changed the dynamic because sponsorship is so much harder to come by. It has completely changed how revenue flows to the teams.

Every team, apart from the manufacturer teams, is now 100 percent dependent on Liberty Media or the series to fund the bulk of their programs. Sponsorship used to be what kept the teams going and whoever was willing to work a bit harder was able to find more money and hire the best people, etc. The money that came from Bernie [Ecclestone] at the time was the icing on the cake. That’s definitely not the case now.

A pay-wall might help the bottom line for Liberty Media short term but at the same time the whole eco-system of the series is shrinking. The more viewers you lose – at some point a line is crossed and that model can’t work, so unless they are able to find another method, whether that is through digital media or other forms of generating real interest and growth it will be problematic.

I never understood why Liberty made it public knowledge that they’ve offered Miami a race essentially for free? No wonder the promoters are frustrated. It’s inevitable that they’re now all asking “What about us? We’ve been paying you tens of millions per year to host a race with fees on top of that.” There is most likely more to this story than we know and we have to assume they are on top of this situation.

Personally, I am not convinced all the effort of cracking the US market is really worth it in the end, they have been trying for the best part of 40 years now and things have not changed a whole lot. To me it seems like a lot of heavy lifting to try and penetrate the cultural differences between US Sports and European or Global sports in general. Soccer, or football as it’s called in Europe is still minor compared to the NFL, NBA and Baseball for example. The US have always had their “own” sports that are equally minor in most other parts of the world.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2019 F1 season with rules changes going into effect what kind of impact do you think they can make?

SJ – Well, I think the 2019 aerodynamic rules which are aimed at supposedly helping more overtaking happen will make absolutely no difference – zero percent. All it’s doing really is costing the teams another 15 million Euros each to develop their new aero packages.

There was a recent article in Autosport with Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s aerodynamicist, where  he is attempting to explain why the FIA made this rule. And what they were trying to achieve.  I read first three paragraphs of it over and over again, and just glazed over in the end, it’s so complicated to even try to understand his explanation. I even talked to a former F1 technical director and designer and he said, “yeah I read the same thing and I didn’t understand a word of it.”

I think this sums up the current situation quite well, I am a huge fan and am trying to stay in tune with what is happening in the business from both a technical and business point of view, we have a highly qualified F1 designer and we both agree that it’s now gotten so complicated that it’s impossible to make any sense of any of it. If these are the guys making the rules, we’re in serious trouble. No one, excepts the boffins that wrote it, can understand the rulebook anymore.

JT – Since the announcement that Charles Leclerc would join Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari this season was made there has been speculation about how much Leclerc will push Vettel and whether that could destabilize Vettel or the team itself. What do you think?

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

Photos via @Charles_Leclerc

SJ – I think he will push Vettel, there’s no doubt. The only thing that separates the really good drivers from the rest today is race-craft. Speed has little to do with it anymore because the way the cars are engineered, drivers are going to get to the limit of the cars pretty quick. I think Leclerc will be up to speed quickly, how he will go in the races we will have to wait and see. Every indication until now would say he will do a great job, but we won’t know until the pressure is on.

One would hope that Ferrari would stay away from politics and look at the bigger picture and what the best strategy would be to win the championship. Ferrari’s been known in the past to let emotion get in the way of an objective, balanced approach. Their best hope to win the title is still with Vettel, so I believe that’s where the emphasis will be.

Leclerc has had a full season now with Sauber (Alfa Romeo) so he’s not exactly a rookie. But I think race-craft will come into play at some point. It’s a similar situation to what Max Verstappen had coming into Red Bull. He was obviously mega-quick from the start but you didn’t really see the flaws until he got into a car that could actually win races.

When you throw away a race you could have won, it’s a different story than if you’re fighting for 6th or 7th place. So that will be different for Leclerc but I think his pace will spice things up a little bit. He’ll do well. He’s got good management with Nicolas Todt who knows the business very well and that will probably help him too initially.

JT – Of course, Leclerc’s signing last year isn’t the only development at Ferrari. Shortly after this year began it was announced that Maurizio Arrivabene would be replaced as team principal by Ferrari’s technical chief, Mattia Binotto. What do you think of Ferrari’s move to put Binotto in charge?

SJ – I don’t think it’s necessarily a good move. To put all of the responsibility on Binotto I don’t think is a good idea. He’s been the technical director and he’s obviously very good at that. Why would you distract him from doing what he’s good at? He’s too valuable as technical director in my opinion.

They had a car last year that was, at least for a while, the best car on the grid. Now Binotto is going to have to clutter his brain with all of the other nonsense, sitting in the FOM meetings, dealing with all of the politics and the daily dramas of running a top level F1 team. It’s a tough responsibility and a lot for one guy to handle.

JT – One of the most significant changes to the F1 grid for 2019 is the transition of Force India to “Racing Point F1 Team”. Canadian billionaire businessman Lawrence Stroll and a group of investors acquired the team last summer and are taking it into a new era with Sergio Perez returning as a driver alongside Stroll’s son Lance who moves from Williams to Racing Point. How do you think the re-made team will perform in 2019?

Image via: @thisisf1

Image via: @thisisf1

SJ – I think they will go very well. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing in recent years and just add the better resources and stability that Lawrence will bring, I think they’ll be very competitive. Lawrence is successful for a reason as he’s proven in all his other business endeavors. He hires good people and lets them get on with it – a bit like Flavio Briatore was when he ran Benetton and Renault. I think they’ll be very strong.

JT – How do you think Haas F1 will perform this season? Though they continue to receive criticism from other F1 teams for their mode of entry into the series as a client of Ferrari, they’ve been solidly in the mid-pack.

SJ – Haas hasn’t done anything that wasn’t in the rules. I’ve been advocating that path for years. That’s what I tried to do when I had a stab at creating a new Formula 1 team some years ago - the “B team” principle if you like. 

Why wouldn’t you do that if the rules allow it? I think it’s going in that direction across the board now anyway. Teams like Williams and McLaren will find it harder and harder to stay competitive being independent. When you look at the resources Mercedes and Ferrari have, not only do they have money, the best people and equipment, they now have two extra teams of cars running. That’s more data, more of everything at a time when testing is basically banned. They can utilize every possible opportunity they have to gather data.

I think Haas has the potential to improve but they’re dependent on what Ferrari gives them. If Ferrari’s good, particularly on the engine side, I’d say they’ll be good too. The engine is the big leap for Haas and for Sauber as well obviously. Last year Sauber all of a sudden leapt from the back to the front of the mid-pack.

JT – Sauber has been the stand-out of the F1 paddock since Alfa Romeo/FIAT took an interest in them and installed Frederic Vasseur as team principle. They also have Kimi Raikkonen driving for them this season alongside Antonio Giovinazzi. How do you think they will perform?

SJ – With Alfa Romeo now taking a bigger stake in the team I think they will be the favorite underdog now. Kimi has such an incredible following and his fans will be pumped up. And Vasseur is very good. He has a winning mentality and he knows the business inside and out. You can see that he has definitely lifted the whole team since he joined last season with his approach and discipline and how driven he is.

JT – Renault has also experienced significant change with Daniel Ricciardo having joined the team and the manufacturer having ended its relationship as engine supplier to Red Bull Racing. Now the team has one of the top drivers on the grid and can focus more on its own philosophy for engine development. Where do you think they will figure in the 2019 season?

Image via: @danielricciardo

Image via: @danielricciardo

SJ – I think if Renault is still committed to delivering the resources they’ve promised – and I think they are – they have a pretty good engineering group to rely on. The leadership of the team isn’t really F1 or racing people and that can lead to the wrong decision being made here or there. But I think they’ll be pretty strong.

JT – Further back on the grid are McLaren and Williams F1. McLaren made what some consider positive news with the hiring of Andreas Seidl, the ex-boss of Porsche in the WEC, as its new managing director. His arrival along with new drivers Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris has created a small amount of momentum.

At Williams F1, the return of Robert Kubica to F1 alongside rookie George Russell is the main news. How do you think both teams will perform this year?

SJ – I think hiring Seidl is a very good move for McLaren. That should definitely help the whole program. But it will still take more time to rebuild everything there, even with Seidl coming aboard. An F1 team is like a big ocean-liner these days in terms of how long it takes to respond or change course. Once you make a policy decision or a philosophical decision on the design of a car it’s very hard to change direction. You kind of have to stick with what you’ve got which is what happened last year to McLaren with their aerodynamics. They discovered at some point early on that they went down the wrong avenue with aero and they were stuck.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Williams improving much. They made some poor decisions in previous years and I don’t think they have the resources or the budget to crawl out of the hole they are now in.

JT – Back at the front, Mercedes goes into 2019 with the same basic cast of people and will likely be strong again. Red Bull now has Max Verstappen as its clear number one driver with the departure of Ricciardo. They also have Honda stepping up, supplying them as well as Toro Rosso. How do you think these two will fare?

Image via: @lewishamilton

Image via: @lewishamilton

SJ – It will be the usual suspects up front, no question. Mercedes will be right there. Lewis is getting better and better every year and I don’t think he’s even close to his peak yet, which should be a huge concern to all the other teams and drivers. He’s the one driver who at the moment you can say with 100% certainty is really making the difference when it matters.  I think Red Bull, not necessarily this season but maybe by 2020, will be very strong. I’ve got a feeling as long as Honda is fully committed, and as I’ve been saying for three years now, they will eventually get it right. And when they get it right they will dominate.

With Red Bull it will only be a matter of time before they crack the code. I think we’ll see Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen totally dominating at some point in the next five years.

I think Verstappen really blossomed last year. He had a couple of bad races at the beginning of the season with some silly mistakes. But along the way it seems like something clicked and he’s now kind of figured it out. I think he’s at the point now where he can see the big picture. I think you’ll find that next to Lewis he’ll be the most complete driver among the guys out there. He’s going to be very hard to beat.

JT – In more refreshing racing news, IndyCar is looking stronger and stronger for 2019 and beyond. The series has signed a new title sponsor – Japanese tech firm NTT - continues its multi-year TV deal with NBC/NBC Sports which will now televise all IndyCar races including the Indy 500 and has gained a new presenting sponsor for the Indy 500 - insurance provider Gainbridge.

Logo via IndyCar

Logo via IndyCar

There’s talk of additional races with a return to Australia in 2020 and possibly Japan as well. Car count is up with grid numbers likely to be in the mid-20s. Ex-Formula One drivers and hot-shoes like Felix Rosenqvist are joining the series, and the level of competition should be higher than ever. What are your thoughts looking ahead to the 2019 season?

SJ – I’m excited about IndyCar. Jay Frye (IndyCar president) and his guys are doing a great job. They’re racers and they know the business inside and out. They’re pragmatic in their approach and I think the competition decisions that have been made have been great. It’s going from strength to strength.

And they’re doing it in increments. It’s not like knee-jerk wholesale changes. It’s just fine tuning it a little to make it better every year. I know they’ve also been trying hard to get a third manufacturer onboard. They’ve talked to everybody and I’m pretty confident that at some stage one of them will join, which would be great.

Amongst the top level racing series in the world, IndyCar is relatively affordable in the overall scheme of things and a very attractive proposition for any team or manufacturer to join. The support the manufacturers give definitely helps. If a third manufacturer joined in, then I think IndyCar would really take off. We are seeing more and more teams joining, and the grid is now limited by the engine supply more than anything. If there was a third engine manufacturer we would see even more teams joining.

We now also have two Swede’s in the series which is great for all the fans back home, I know both Felix and Markus are both fully committed to IndyCar and it will be exciting to see how they get on.

Image via @scottdixon9

Image via @scottdixon9

Scott in the meantime is quietly preparing to defend his title for the fifth time, and I fully expect him to come out just a little better than he was the previous year. He never stops to amaze me, the discipline and work ethic is incredible after so many years. He’s definitely one of the best in history in my opinion. The competition is getting stronger every year and he just keeps grinding away, racking up points and wins.

Scott Dixon and Lewis Hamilton Win their 5th Championship, and Scuderia Corsa enters IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 98

JT – Let’s begin the blog with recognition of Scott Dixon’s amazing fifth IndyCar title, second only to AJ Foyt in number of championships. He clinched the title at the Sonoma Grand Prix finale, beating championship runner up Alexander Rossi by 57 points. Dixon scored three wins in 2018, a number equal to the three wins taken by Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. But Scott finished in the top-five in 13 of the season’s 17 races.

Photos via: @ScottDixon9

He now has 44 IndyCar wins, third on the all-time list behind Foyt and Mario Andretti.

“To do that in this era of racing with reliability the way it is, the evenness and competitiveness of teams, is unbelievable. It's amazing to think of what he's accomplished,” said Sonoma winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The mayor of Indianapolis declared Monday, September 24, “Scott Dixon Day”. And there’s a feature-length documentary on Scott called “Born Racer” that debuted on October 2. 

Image by:  @BornRacerMovie

Image by: @BornRacerMovie

You’ve been with Scott, as his manager, for all of the 18 seasons he’s raced in IndyCar and beforehand when he drove for your Indy Lights team in 1999. What are your thoughts on Scott and his accomplishments?

SJ – It was an amazing end to a very tough season. Scott, like all the great drivers through history, has the obvious natural talent to be fast, but the raw talent will only get you so far. It’s really how hard he works that makes the difference.

scott-dixon-gym-bw.png

Scott is relentless in chipping away at being the best he can be, at going after championships and always looking at the bigger picture. Whatever weak area he feels he’s got left he just keeps working on it. He’s in the gym like probably no other driver in the world. Every little aspect that can make him a little better he just keeps working on them. It’s extraordinary to have that level of motivation, especially after doing it for so many years. Each year after a Championship win it becomes a little harder than the one before, and remember he’s been in the hunt to win the Championship every year for the past 10-15 years now. If he’s not in the top 6 after qualifying he’ll be the last guy to leave the track in the evening, digging through the data with his engineer until they find why they’re not faster.

Michael Schumacher was the same. Senna was the same. Prost was the same. They might have five percent more talent than the others to start with, but they’d put in 20 percent more work than the rest. Michael, instead of cruising around on a yacht in the Mediterranean like the rest of the drivers in the summer, he was at Maranello testing. All the great guys are the same, in any sport, it’s the work ethic and the mental attitude that makes the difference, not the raw talent.

And it’s true, it’s an amazing achievement what Scott’s done, particularly given how difficult it is to win in IndyCar now. Back in the day (CART), IndyCar was a little bit more like Formula 1 in the sense that one chassis usually wound up dominating when there were multiple chassis available. That’s not the case now, today it’s virtually impossible to have that dominance you could sometimes achieve by being in the best car and the best team. As we can see from the results every year, it’s impossible for one driver or team to dominate. This is why every year it’s down to 3-4 or more drivers fighting for the championship all the way to the final round.

JT – Do you think there was one turning point for Scott this season that really put him on a path to the championship?

SJ – The season started pretty badly if you remember. He was nowhere until we got to Detroit where he won the first race and then won again in Texas. In the span of a week the whole thing turned around. He was like fifth in the championship until that point and then all of a sudden he was leading it.

Photos via: www.scottdixon.com

Sometimes you have to be lucky too, like he was at Portland. But how many times was it the other way for him when he could have locked the championship up but then something happened. But even there he had the presence to keep the engine alive instead of stalling and was able to pull away without going down a lap.

But what really clinched the Championship this year more than anything was the consistency and perfect execution. Even in the races when where he was “nowhere” he still scored strong points and that all adds up at the end of the year.

JT – Lewis Hamilton was also crowned champion recently, taking his fifth title alongside the only other F1 drivers to achieve that feat - Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. Despite lackluster performances in the last couple races, Hamilton’s 4th place finish at the Mexican GP was enough to earn him the 2018 world driver’s championship. What do you make of his success?

Photo via:  @LewisHamilton

Photo via: @LewisHamilton

SJ – I think it’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and it rightfully put’s him in the company of the greatest drivers in the history of our sport. I have always claimed that there’s never been a World Champion that did not have the best car, but this year it is arguable if Lewis did not win it more on his own then because he had the best car. Much like Scott, if I’m allowed to make a comparison between the two, he’s honed his craft to a point where he’s nearly flawless in the execution and that’s what makes a champion. He made less mistakes than anyone else and made the bad days as good as was possible, scoring big points when he should normally not have been able to. Formula 1 should be thankful they have him as he is truly a Superstar in every sense of the word and people love that. He’s got his own style and his own thing going and he delivers every time he gets in the car. As long Mercedes stay committed there is no reason why he could not beat Schumacher’s records before he’s done racing. It’s almost a certainty that Mercedes will always be challenging for the Championship as long as they stay involved given the resources they have compared to the other teams.

JT – With the 2018 season in the rearview mirror, IndyCar is carrying some very positive momentum into the off season. New teams will be on the grid next year, as well notable new drivers. The 2019 race calendar was recently released and a new addition to the schedule is Circuit of the Americas on March 24.

This has created more excitement and is of interest to fans as Formula 1 also races at COTA. Many have said IndyCar should race the track using the same configuration as F1. But you have a different take.

SJ – I think it’s great that IndyCar is going there, it’s without a doubt the best venue in North America and it makes perfect sense that Indycar is racing there also, and not just F1.  But I actually think they should experiment with the track layout. IndyCar has an opportunity to make it a track that has great racing by eliminating a couple of the corners and getting rid of the go-kart track nature of the Tilke design which only ruins the racing and contributes nothing to the overall experience except adding a few unnecessary corners.

I think they should cut out the twisty section between the end of the back straight (Turn 12) and the fast right-hander (Turn 16). If you just made it a longer straight you would arrive into the fast right hander with one gear more speed which would make the entry much more challenging and you would then carry more speed into the second part of the corner which would make the whole section more difficult.

Image from Google Maps

Image from Google Maps

Likewise, the last one of the sweepers going downhill from Turn 1 – all of the left-right-left-right stuff – get rid of the last one (Turn 8) because it ruins the rhythm completely and you would then carry a lot more speed to the top of the hill (Turn 11). It will be spectacular to watch when the cars come over the brow at the top of turn 11 because they’ll be carrying a lot more speed and you’d really have to aim into the corner, and the cars will probably get light as they cross the top of the brow. Plus, an IndyCar has significantly less downforce than an F1 car so that would add up to be very challenging and a lot of fun to watch.

Whether they’d do that or not is another question but I think there’s an opportunity to do something that could make the track really special and spectacular to watch.

JT – You’re involved with one of the new teams that will be on the IndyCar grid next year. IMSA sports car racing stalwart Scuderia Corsa will expand its operations to compete in IndyCar in 2019, joining the series for 13 rounds of its 17-race calendar including the Indy 500. Ed Jones will drive for the team which will be an affiliate of Ed Carpenter Racing.

It’s exciting news for Scuderia Corsa coming on the heels of the team’s win at Petit Le Mans earlier this month for Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette and Daniel Serra in the No. 63 Weathertech Ferrari 488 GT3.

Photos by: Scuderia Corsa

SJ – Yes, the stars lined up perfect and it ended up being a very good situation for everybody – for Scuderia Corsa, for Ed Jones and for Ed Carpenter. Everybody’s happy and it’s very exciting.

Road Atlanta was a great win for the team. Daniel Serra who was brought in as the Pro driver did a great job, along with our regular drivers Cooper McNeil and Gunnar Jeanette, and it was good to come out on top finally. It was about time, we had a tough year for a number of different reasons.

JT – There has been some reporting lately that some current IndyCar teams may be considering some of the likely refugees from Formula 1 for next year. Marcus Ericsson has been confirmed to drive with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2019 and Brendon Hartley has been mentioned as a possibility for a seat if his Toro Rosso drive ends this year. It’s another indication that IndyCar has momentum and is an attractive alternative.

SJ – It’s not surprising that the teams might talk to those guys but that doesn’t mean it would be easy to put together a deal. I know there’s a lot of interest in Indycar from many of the F1 guys, they can see how good the racing is. They talk a lot about how fun the cars look to drive and the fact that you have to drive them hard from start to finish, no driver aids to speak of and proper race tracks that punish you if you make a mistake. This is what any driver worth their salt is looking for.

It's exciting to see that Indycar has now become a real alternative to F1, with Alonso also showing serious interest earlier in the year, although it doesn’t look like it will happen for 2019 anymore.

If you look at the cost of IndyCar, it’s spectacularly affordable compared to almost any other premium series. And it’s so hard to win in IndyCar compared other series because there is so much competition and no one can get an edge on the rest because of the way the rules are written. You just never know who might come out on top depending on strategy, caution flags, the quality of the drivers and teams, all of that stuff.

I think the car count will go up a lot next year. I think we might end up seeing maybe four to six more cars. IndyCar is really on a roll at the moment. It’s getting stronger and everyone is starting to realize how good the racing is and how it makes more sense financially than other series. There are a couple of sports car teams from Europe looking at it, a couple of Indy Lights teams that are going to move up and maybe a few others. I think manufacturers are starting to pay attention to it as well.

It would be ideal if they could get one more manufacturer to come and share the load of supporting more teams with both engines and technical support. I think both Honda and Chevy are on the limit with their engine supply and support budgets to the teams that are currently competing. With more competition comes more spending, which is good for both the teams and the top drivers as each manufacturer will do what it takes to win.

JT – Steve Letarte, a former crew chief for Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who’s now part of the NBC NASCAR television broadcast team, made a great point during the race at Richmond a few weeks ago. Referring to Brad Keselowski leading the race at one point even though he didn’t have the fastest car on track, Letarte said, ‘it’s a race, not a speed contest”.

That struck me as a terrific observation and it’s a big problem for Formula One where a lack of racecraft among drivers and the absurd amount of money it takes to compete with the top teams exaggerates F1 as a “speed contest” with very little actual racing. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, it’s a very good observation. Racing is a speed contest, of course, but only to the point where you obviously have to go fast in order to win, but it won’t help if you don’t know how to race. Qualifying is a different story of course, but unfortunately, race craft seems to be a skill that most team owners have almost forgot about. I don’t know exactly what the teams in F1 specifically are looking for in the young drivers they’re bringing in but for the most part, it certainly isn’t adding to the end result.

If every team owner were looking for the best racer rather than the driver who could set the fastest time over a lap, it would be a whole different scenario. It’s long been the case in F1 that whoever does the quickest lap time in a shoot-out test ends up getting a drive – at least 95 percent of the time or more. But most often that’s completely irrelevant to race results over the course of a season and where they eventually end up in the championship. There’s been hundred’s of really fast drivers over the years in F1 that never accomplished anything except being fast over a single lap, but it’s extraordinary how they were able to hang on to their drives for this reason alone.

We can see it clearly. I don’t know if it’s the nature of the cars or whatever but in every single race, people are taking each other out in the first couple laps. If this is supposed to be the highest level of motorsport none of this makes any sense. It’s unforgiveable that very highly-paid professional drivers, supposedly the best in the world, can’t make it past the first two laps without constantly driving into each other. Unfortunately, F1 has evolved into more of a speed contest rather than pure racing due to the nature of the cars and also the tracks to a certain extent. The cars are getting more and more aero sensitive when you follow another car which prevents a driver getting close enough to have a go, hence the DRS system to help overtaking. This helps overtaking but it doesn’t help the racing as the driver in front is more or less a sitting duck. So, instead we now have a committee of people at each race determining what is legal and not when a driver is defending his position by blocking the guy behind who’s got his DRS system wide open. It’s a bizzare situation that sadly seems to get worse and not better with each passing year.

I’m not saying that driving a race car fast is easy by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than racing well. F1 is a bit unique in that unless you have the best car there’s not a lot you can do. You’re basically circling within a three or four-car segment of competitors at best. But Alonso, for example, has certainly shown that you can haul an underperforming car up to places where it shouldn’t necessarily be. It shows that if you’re a good enough racer you can make a difference.

I guarantee you that many of the drivers in F1 now, if they came over to race in IndyCar, they’d struggle to get results, at least initially because in IndyCar it’s all about execution. If you make one little slip up, if you’re too slow on an in-lap for a pit stop, you lose three spots. Every little detail has to be right. That’s how Scott won his championship this year. He simply made fewer mistakes than everyone else.

That’s how racing should be. Not only do you have 20 other cars you theoretically have to beat on speed on any given weekend, you also have to be error-free or you’ll pay for your mistakes.

JT – You also make the point that – weirdly - teams seem to be trying to develop the very young and comparatively inexperienced drivers they’re recruiting in F1 itself, rather than bringing in drivers who’ve gained considerable experience lower formulas.

SJ – Yes, it’s a very strange situation. Apparently you’re finished by the time you’re 23 years old these days, too old for F1. They’re bringing in guys who are 19 or 20 who have been in a lower series for a year or two maybe. When did Formula 1 become a development series for drivers?

I always thought the whole point of F1 was that you hire the best drivers in the world. How the hell do you know if a guy who’s 20 years old and has very little experience is going to be good enough? Fast enough, yes, but getting the job done on Sunday afternoon, no one knows at that stage of their career until they’re thrown in the deep end.

Verstappen is an extraordinary exception, but even he with all his speed and natural talent has had to develop in F1. He’s certainly made errors that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a driver in F1.

And now they’re giving Kvyat a third chance at Toro Rosso. Apparently he is now in a much better place and is “very calm” compared to how he was when they fired him a year or so ago. How do they know that if he’s not even done one race since he last raced in F1?

It’s one thing the be calm and in a “good place” over dinner, it’s a whole different matter when you sit on the grid and the red mist starts to rise, it’s only then you can really judge how good a driver is. Let’s hope they are right but I’m having a hard time understanding how a driver can become a better racer by not doing any races? It all seems a bit odd to me.

JT – Since we last chatted, Scuderia Ferrari announced that F1 rookie Charles Leclerc would leave Sauber Alfa Romeo in 2019, taking the seat Kimi Raikkonen has held for five years. Meanwhile Kimi announced that he would return to Sauber next year where he began his F1 career in 2001. He’ll be joined by Antonio Giovinazzi. What do you make of the changes?

SJ – First, I think Kimi has done a very good job this year. I don’t think anyone could expect a huge amount more in the circumstances. Leclerc is clearly a star of the future but as Ferrari is sort of in control of Sauber I would have thought it would make a lot more sense to keep the momentum of the dynamic they have between Kimi and Vettel because it’s a pretty strong relationship and they’ve been able to develop the car in a pretty positive direction.

Photo via:  @Charles_Leclerc

Photo via: @Charles_Leclerc

At the same time, they could have left Leclerc to hone his racecraft a little bit more and get the inevitable silly mistakes out of the way. If you make one silly mistake at Sauber and it doesn’t work out it’s like “Oh that was ballsy, what a shame it didn’t work out this time.”

But if he does the same mistake at Ferrari, the press will be all over him like a ton of bricks. It’ll be the usual, “He’s finished, it’s over. He can’t handle the pressure, yada, yada, yada…”

That’s just how the F1 press is and especially the Italians, and sooner or later, that’s going to happen. If you look at Verstappen in year one he was pretty spectacular. In year two he started to make one mistake after another. Year three was a bit of a disaster and now he’s sort of getting a bit of momentum back. It’s inevitable that Leclerc will go through the same thing. That’s how it goes when you make these moves with very young inexperienced drivers.

And of course, the dynamic within Ferrari is going to change. Vettel’s going to have to defend his territory now. Leclerc is going to come in young and fresh and try to blow the doors off him. I don’t think it’ll be happy days necessarily. I think there will be some politicking and other stuff that you don’t have going on at the moment.

JT – On the other hand, some would say that even with a relatively harmonious relationship between himself and Raikkonen, Vettel has been making quite a few mistakes this year. Maybe a teammate who can push him might make him a bit better? What do you think?

SJ – In the case of Vettel I doubt a team mate that can push him would help. It’s not exactly as though Kimi is not pushing him. They’re very close to each other pretty much every race, so it’s not a matter of speed in either case.

It looks to me that a lot of the moves he’s made are just coming from being a bit impatient and we’re talking tiny margins which sometimes work and sometimes don’t, very similar in fact to Verstappen in that one race every move you make will stick - the next race you do exactly the same and they don’t. But in the case of both drivers, the moves have been very low percentage and that is subsequently what happens, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s not a way to win a championship no matter how you look at it.

I don’t know anything about Vettel’s situation in terms of how he’s set up with the people he has around him, but he apparently doesn’t use a manager and instead does all his own deals.

Knowing from my own experience and working with both Scott, and more recently with Felix and some of the other drivers I work with, we talk quite a lot about all the things going on both before and after the races. The teams, the technical stuff, the races in general and about the other drivers they’re racing against.

scott-stefan-01.png

At least if I view it from my own perspective, it’s always good to have someone who first of all you can trust 100 percent - who’s “your guy” - someone who you can just blow off some steam and frustration with every now and then. Or someone you can discuss differences you may have with your team – how they may be focusing on one area when you think there’s something else that needs to be addressed.

Whatever it is, just to have someone to bounce things back and forth with that actually understand all the little nuances of racing and all the different aspects of it is important I think. Racing is an incredibly complex sport with so many layers of different information and issues that constantly need to be dealt with, which makes it even more difficult than most other sports to be consistently on top. I think maybe Vettel is missing some of that. Maybe he has someone who he talks with like that but I don’t know that he does, and maybe he doesn’t think he needs to. Every driver is different. Personally I think it can be quite helpful at times.

JT – The other moves in the driver market that transpired this summer, beginning with Ricciardo’s switch to Renault for 2019, make it clear that not only are the barriers to entry for F1 somewhat ridiculous but there are unforeseen barriers to staying in the series - even if you’ve “made it” as a driver.

Consider Estabon Ocon. He’s caught between a rock and hard place – one made more difficult by outside factors. As always, money is a big part of the equation and in this case, even his Mercedes management hasn’t been helpful. It seems counter-productive for F1, to the point that people like Mercedes’s Toto Wolff have suggested F1 constructors run third cars to accommodate more drivers. But how can that be a solution when even more resources will be required?

SJ – It’s really becoming evident now that the junior programs for drivers that the teams have been obsessed with aren’t working that well. One team starts a few years back and then everybody has to follow. It’s always the way. Red Bull had Verstappen come through the ranks and he’s been successful and become an asset but that doesn’t mean that everyone who comes out of a junior program is.

Now, Mercedes has got all of these guys locked up. There should be a natural culling system but the problem is that because everything is so expensive, even in the junior formulas now, it’s gotten completely screwed up. Most of the young drivers that are any good are part of a junior program of some kind, whether it’s McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.

But very few of them ever get anywhere because they’re stuck in these programs. Their options are limited to literally those programs. What are the chances that one of those maybe 10 guys will filter through? It’s almost impossible. Once they’re discarded you don’t even hear of these guys anymore. Most of them end up out in the wilderness – lost, gone.

Mercedes has now released [Pascal] Wehrlein. He was the great hope for a while but he’s now out of the system. It’s definitely counter-productive and as usual, money is the problem. If you don’t have the right backing, particularly in the junior categories, you’re not going to go forward. Money is always the problem and no one is taking their foot off the gas in terms of trying to diminish the costs of running these cars.

Image via:  @MickSchumacher

Image via: @MickSchumacher

JT – Looking beyond Formula 1 at its junior categories, Mick Schumacher, Michael Schumacher’s son has been dominating European F3, winning rounds at the Nurburgring and the Red Bull Ring, taking poles for six races in a row and winning five of them. Lewis Hamilton recently remarked that he’s 100 percent sure Schumacher will make it to F1.

In fact, Schumacher’s performance has improved so much recently that Red Bull’s Daniel Ticktum said he finds it “interesting” how Schumacher and teammate Robert Shwartzman are dominating Prema's other three drivers, and the rest of the grid.

Ticktum added, “I appreciate I have lessons to learn still! I’m not denying that. You don’t know the real story because you are not at the track looking at everyone’s data. Unfortunately however I am fighting a losing battle as my last name is not Schumacher.”

SJ – I don’t know anything about Mick really but Felix tested with him in F3 and he thought he definitely had potential then. That was two years ago when he was very green and new but I think something must have suddenly clicked in the second half of the season because now he’s really on top of his game and leading the championship. Obviously people are starting to take notice.

Needless to say if he did make it to higher categories it would be a fantastic thing. It’d be a lovely story if he could carry his father’s legacy on. He’s obviously got tremendous pressure living up to the legacy of his father but he’s done a good job so far. I don’t know what the next step is in his career but if he keeps this trajectory we will probably see him in F1 very soon.

JT – Toro Rosso head Franz Tost said recently that he thinks cost caps could work in F1 despite the long stated skepticism from some teams that they cannot be policed. He says F1 already does a good job of policing its technology rules so why not costs? Do you agree?

SJ – Well, if history is anything to go by the teams will spend exactly the amount of money they can get, whatever that amount is. As long as the engineers have free reign the spending won’t stop. If you gave every team a billion dollars I guarantee you they’d find a way to spend every penny, it’s just the nature of the beast, everybody wants to win and they will spend whatever amount available to do that. The engineers will always dream up some new development program that will give them that extra edge they are all looking for.

And if you’re going to talk about costs, I don’t understand why the rules have to be changed again for next year. What is the logic behind that? This will just add more spending yet again to what are already exorbitant budgets. I can’t even remember the reasoning behind this latest rule change.

Times change, this whole argument that everyone’s been holding onto for the past 60 years now, which says if you make standard parts for the cars you lose the DNA of F1 is ridiculous. At some stage you’ve got to make a decision. As long as you have the responsibility or freedom to design the major parts of the cars, you’re always going to have a big separation between the level teams can compete at. When the brake budget alone for a top F1 team is equivalent to a winning Indycar budget you have to stop for a moment and think. Who cares if they run a standard brake system for all the cars?

Over the whole history of Formula 1 there have been at most three teams that could win in any given season. Most of the time it’s only two teams with a chance of winning and often only one. Ferrari had their years of domination, McLaren had theirs, as did Red Bull and now Mercedes. Eventually one or more teams catch up competitively but then in their infinite wisdom the powers running F1 decide to change the rules again and you end up with one team dominating for a while again.

It’s a cycle. The gaps narrow and what do they do? They change the rules again. Rules stability is historically the best way to close the gap between the front and the back of the grid and to lower the R&D costs. With new rules it will always be the teams with the biggest resources that will come out on top.

JT – Additionally, as you’ve said previously, when the rules are changed in Formula 1 they seem to address the wrong issues or even make changes that lead to further issues.

SJ – Yes. Most of the time it seems like it’s a knee jerk reaction to one specific item that bothers them for whatever reason and they end up tinkering with the cars and do all kinds of things with the aerodynamics to either slow them down or make them faster depending on what bothers them at the time. But why not fix the tires before they fix anything else?

How can we have a situation where Formula 1 has one tire manufacturer and they can’t make a tire that lasts a race distance without blistering? That means everyone is just cruising around the whole race saving their tires and no one can have a proper go for the full race distance. The whole situation is just bizarre.

Aren’t we supposed to have the most spectacular cars that you drive as fast as you can all the time? Even qualifying is almost pointless now to watch. Half the teams don’t even try. Apart from three or maybe four cars having a go at the pole, and not even that many sometimes because they have an engine penalty or there’s some other pointless rule that prevents them from running hard. There’s hardly anything to watch.

I think we’ve almost reached the point where they should just throw out the rule book and start from scratch with the main focus on keeping things simple and understandable. They need to look at what’s really important in the bigger picture, from a lot of different aspects - starting with the competition, then the economics, followed by entertainment and relevance. At the moment I don’t feel they’re ticking any of those boxes anywhere close to the way it could be done. However, in order to achieve this, there needs to be a complete philosophical recalibration of how a race car should look and behave and this will never change as long as the engineers are allowed to be a part of the rule making process.

JT – In sports car racing news the WEC, FIA and ACO announced that the new Hypercar class the WEC has proposed for the 2020/2021 season will have a revised/lower budget target of €20 million or just over $23 million for a two-car team per season. That’s down from the previous estimate of €25-€30 million per season.

The series’ goal for lap time at Le Mans for the class is in the 3 minute, 25 second range. This means that LMP2 class cars will have to be slowed to allow the Hypercar class to be the top category. Performance targets for each area of the car that cannot be exceeded will be set. There will, for example, be maximum downforce and minimum drag numbers specified in the rules. Testing and development will be limited. Upgrades of homologated designs will only be allowed between seasons in the name of safety and reliability. What are your thoughts on the emerging rules?

SJ – I’m having a hard time understanding the point of it all. The hypercars will look like souped-up GT cars to me so why not soup up the current GTE/GTLM cars and take off all the restrictions they currently carry under the BoP regulations. Let every manufacturer build the best car they can, which is exactly what will happen with the Hypercar.

Let’s say they make every manufacturer homologate a GT car for that category with unrestricted engines. Most of the road car versions of the current GT cars are nudging 800 horsepower now so it would be relatively easy to get 800 horsepower from them to begin. Give them 10 percent more aerodynamic downforce and one inch wider tires and some wider wheel arches. The cars will look a lot more aggressive and racy and the lap times will be in the low 30’s very soon and eventually they will creep into the 20s.

Every manufacturer would simply build a car without BoP and all of that nonsense, a proper racing car, like the Ford GT is now for example. If you took all the restrictors of that car it would be flying around Le Mans. We know what the waitlist is for the road car version of that car and I’m sure there would be a three-year waitlist for every one of the other cars from every manufacturer that decide to compete. All of the manufacturers are already there, more could be attracted and nobody would have to spend stupid money on developing entirely new cars.

They could then sell the same cars to private teams that would run with either pro drivers or gentleman drivers if they so wish but everybody would compete with the same cars. The grids would be full at every race without a doubt and fans can immediately relate to the cars they are watching.

On the other hand, some of the things they mentioned for the new class are very good. You put a limit on the amount of downforce and a minimum limit for drag. That’s a step in the right direction for sure. If they limit some areas rules-wise, hopefully that will encourage people to find different areas to develop instead of keeping all of the focus on aerodynamics.

Scott Dixon dominates at Watkins Glen, Mercedes wins at the Italian GP & the future of Formula 1

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar returned to Watkins Glen in early September, the first time the series has run there since 2010. Scott Dixon absolutely dominated the weekend, winning the race by over 16 seconds (his 40th career win, moving him to 4th in all-time wins in IndyCar) and smashing the qualifying record by 5.6 seconds for his 25th career pole.

Scott has performed well at Watkins Glen in the past, having won three times there but looked even better two weeks ago. What did you think of his performance?

SJ – It was a very impressive display in every respect. I can’t remember anyone dominating to quite that level for quite some time. It was like he was in a different league all weekend. He dropped back a few places for the restart (on Lap 42 after a caution for a collision between Will Power and Charlie Kimball, and pit stops, Dixon restarted 4th) and within less than two laps he was back in the lead.

Everyone else was struggling to pass anywhere on track but it was amazing how Scott just pulled off passes with his incredible, fluid driving style which is just perfect on a track like that.

It’s been a strange year in that I think he’s been driving more strongly this year than any that I can remember and yet he’s come away with less than almost any year before. Even reliability issues have stopped him at places like Detroit and Road America, where it was almost certain he would have won both races.

JT – The win moved Scott to 3rd in the championship standings but it wasn’t enough to keep him in championship contention. Leader Simon Pagenaud finished 7th at Watkins Glen, putting him 104 points clear of Dixon. Even with double points (100 total) on offer for this weekend’s season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma, Dixon cannot catch Pagenaud. Only his Penske teammate Will Power has a chance. Power would have likely been closer to Pagenaud points-wise if not for the accident with Kimball. With a 43-point lead over his teammate it looks pretty good for Pagenaud to capture his first IndyCar title. Do you agree?

SJ – The IndyCar championship is all about racking up points at every race - being consistent. Last year Montoya kept racking up points and he was on top going into Sonoma. You never know - look at what Scott did last year, particularly with double points available - but it’s most likely that Pagenaud will score well enough to win the championship. Still, if Power wins and Pagenaud gets involved in any incident... well, that could be enough. What is amazing though is that we are again going into the final race with the championship still open, I don’t remember if the Indycar series ever had the championship decided before the final round.

JT – With the offseason rapidly approaching, speculation about the IndyCar driver-market has been plentiful. Josef Newgarden seems to be the main focus of conjecture. He could go to Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing or elect to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing. Depending on what he chooses to do, other drivers might have to adjust. Do you think we’ll see much movement?

SJ – I don’t really know what will happen but I’d be surprised if we see a huge amount of movement among the drivers.

JT – Unsurprisingly, Mercedes won Formula One’s most recent round the Italian GP at Monza. In this case Nico Rosberg, starting from second position alongside teammate and pole winner Lewis Hamilton, made a perfect getaway and won while Hamilton stumbled, dropping to 6th place on the opening lap. He eventually recovered to finish 2nd behind Rosberg. As we’ve said in recent blogs, the result of nearly every grand prix this year has hinged on who got the better start – Rosberg or Hamilton.

If Rosberg starts cleanly, as he did early in the season, he wins. If Hamilton starts cleanly, as he did mid-season, he wins. It’s basically as simple as that, and again the Italian GP didn’t offer much exciting racing. However, just two points separate Hamilton and Rosberg heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

SJ – Yes, that’s basically what it comes down to. Whichever guy – Hamilton or Rosberg, as they are the only two with a realistic chance of winning all things being equal - gets off the line best and manages to scramble through the first few corners, it’s pretty much job done.

This last race made the championship closer and everyone keeps talking about how Mercedes might struggle again (Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won the 2015 race, followed by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari-teammate Kimi Rakkionen) but I can’t imagine that they won’t have dug deep enough and found out what their tire problems were last year. They’ll be better.

On that note, that’s one of the ironic twists of F1. All the teams are spending copious amounts of money on car and aero development in particular yet every race it basically comes down to the tires and who can manage them best for optimum grip, especially with the crazy pressures they’re required to run now.

I keep joking about it but at the sharp end of the grid they spend well over $300 million a year, of which most of it is development. Then they bolt on a set of tires for a couple of thousand dollars and that makes more difference than just about anything else they do with the car. If you can get a second from the tire by being able to get the most out of it, and manage it correctly over the stint, it’s probably equivalent to $50-100m worth of development on the car to gain that same second!

JT – Ferrari managed to get one of its cars on the podium at Monza with a 3rd place finish from Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen finished in 4th place. The team seemed to be pleased with the result and team manager Maurizio Arrivabene stated that while Ferrari has “failed to achieve its target” this year, the team is making progress and the atmosphere inside Scuderia Ferrari is “very positive”. With the departure of some of its key personnel and Ferrari’s inconsistent performance something about Arrivabene’s comments rings hollow. Do you agree?

SJ – It’s a difficult situation for them at the moment, and I don’t envy Maurizio Arrivabene for one second as he was basically thrown in the deep end with all the wholesale changes that took place when Montezemolo left. As we have seen with almost every team at some stage, once you loose the momentum it takes years to gain it back to a point where you can consistently be challenging for wins. Mclaren is a perfect example, Red Bull has had their slump and they were both dominant teams not that long ago. Ferrari still have a lot of challenges ahead, there is no doubt about that, let’s hope that the people at the very top of the company will stay the course and make the right decisions going forward.

JT – The biggest news for Formula One was made off-track last week when it was finally confirmed that Liberty Media, an America conglomerate which owns the second largest U.S. cable television company and has holdings in Sirius/XM radio and Live Nation, a large event promotion company, will acquire F1 from current majority owner CVC Capital Partners.

Bernie Ecclestone will continue in his role as F1 CEO but will now work under Liberty Media’s umbrella. There seems to be some optimism that Liberty can bring more energy and direction to the series and attract more viewers globally. What’s your take?

SJ – I don’t know anything more than what has been covered by the press but one would hope that they’ll look at the business more pragmatically. I think that’s already starting to happen and maybe they’ll bring more of a clean sheet approach to it.

Let’s not forget that F1 is still a hugely popular sport globally, but I think they know they can make it significantly more popular. With the speed at which the world moves today in terms of social media and other digital platforms there are definitely ways to monetize those outlets. Bernie says he’s never made any money on the Internet but I don’t think he’s been dealing with the right people. Certainly not if you look at the F1 website which is full of broken links and quite clunky in general, you can tell that very little effort has been spent in this area.

You see others doing well in that area. NASCAR, for instance, is doing very well in that space. They’ve figured out how to monetize the digital side of their business and they’re making money.

Liberty has already made noise about offering the opportunity for teams to buy into Formula One. I don’t know exactly how that would work but it could potentially be a good move. If you look at other sports, certainly football and soccer, every franchise is worth a fortune. They also spend big money but F1 is still in the stratosphere in terms of the resources associated with it.

If the series, together with the FIA can work out a way to control costs by focusing on areas of development which are prohibitively expensive like aerodynamics and maybe standardize some components, it will immediately be on a better business footing.

For example, the other day I was visiting a new racing simulator here in Los Angeles. There was a two-year old Williams chassis there that a group bought to transform for the purpose of making it into a simulator. They were showing me simple things like the car’s power steering rack. It’s an absolute work of art. That piece alone probably required 50 people to engineer and build. It’s absolutely exquisite, but for what?

I don’t see why you couldn’t just use a standard steering rack that all teams would have to buy from one single supplier that is the same for all the teams. It would cost a tiny fraction of that custom piece Williams built. That piece alone probably cost them more than a million dollars all told. And that’s just one component of the car – a piece the fans will never ever see or understand.

Look at the insanely complicated brake ducts the teams create now… for nothing. Why can’t the teams all agree on standardizing some components and save themselves millions of dollars?

IndyCar has great racing with a basic, standardized package. The best teams still work their butts off and find an edge over their competitors by refining the components they have to work with. Why make every single piece of every car a custom-made item? I’m not saying that F1 should copy Indycar, because I personally think Indycar has gone to far in the other direction where you basically can’t do anything to the car anymore, except the dampers. But, there are several things on any racecar that is just a pointless and extremely costly exercise to make in house, assuming the parts were available to buy off the shelf. To make this work there needs to be firm rules in place otherwise every team will still go their own way even if the parts were available to buy off the shelf, because the engineers are very competitive by nature, just as the drivers, and everyone thinks they are more clever than the other, and that their solution is much better than anything else out there.

The teams all seem to be addicted to their toys, even the smaller ones. It makes no sense. Each team will apparently be receiving something like $100 million from F1 in the next year or two. If you can’t run a team for less than $100 million, something’s fundamentally wrong. If you bring spending down to more sane levels, every F1 franchise should be worth serious money, just as they were for a brief period when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example. Nowadays most teams that are potentially for sale are lucky if they can walk away with new owners clearing their debts.

There are extremely clever people in F1 and the cleverest will still produce the best results even if the series goes to a much more basic formula. Just start fresh. As Flavio Briatore says, F1 is so complicated now that no one understands it, not even the people in the business.

The fact that Bernie [Ecclestone] will stay on is positive. Some people gripe and moan about him from time to time, but deep down, everybody loves Bernie. He’s like the grand-daddy for all of us in the business in one way or the other. Everyone knows that without him F1 wouldn’t be anything near what it is today. I believe that 100 percent. He’s laid every single brick in that business and has a personal relationship with every promoter, TV Network, sponsor, team owner, driver, you name it. There is not one deal going down that Bernie does not have his hand in. I think he should be applauded for what he’s done, not just for F1 but for motorsport in general, because everything filters down from Formula One.

JT – In other off track news, McLaren announced that Jenson Button would be taking a “break” from F1 in 2017 but that his two-year deal with the team means that he could drive again in 2018. He will be replaced next year by GP2 sensation Stoffel Vandoorne. Team principle Ron Dennis insists that Button’s “deal” is not a “retirement”. But everyone understands that Button is basically leaving the sport. Why does McLaren not want to state the truth? Their version of this sounds nuts. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, If Jenson now suddenly feels “like a kid again” because he’s effectively been pushed aside or whatever you’d like to call it then you obviously have to question why he didn’t make this decision on his own rather than wait until he was basically told he’s not driving next year. Can someone please fire me! I want to get fired too, if that’s how it makes you feel. Joking aside, it’s just seem like a very odd statement to claim that this is a new and innovative solution to effectively fire one of your drivers, or at least demote him to reserve driver. It’s good news though to see that Vandoorne has a permanent drive based purely on merit, he deserves it, and the timing could be perfect for him as it’s almost certain that McLaren will be back fighting for wins in the next few years. I am sure he will be one of the superstars of the next generation drivers that are now filtering through.

JT – Much has been made lately of the new, wider tires the 2017 rules will allow for F1 cars. Together with other changes this should give the cars more interesting appearance and may make them significantly faster but as you’ve already noted, it probably won’t improve the racing.

SJ – I would say it’s almost a certainty that it will make passing even more difficult than it is now because the cars will be so fast in the corners and even slower on the straights because they’ll have more drag from both the increased downforce and the wider tires. This will result in even less difference between mid-corner speed and top speed on the straights. Braking distances will be even shorter and grip levels will be much higher. So in other words, the exact opposite of what you want to make the racing more exciting. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.

The cars will look much better though, lap-times will be much faster but once you get used to watching the cars cornering a lot faster then everything will be back to normal again.

It’s been interesting to follow the tire testing for the 2017 cars that has been going on, or at least the little information that’s been made available. The teams doing the testing will without a doubt have an advantage next season. Tire testing is the key to performance. In every team I ever raced for where we were able to do a tire test before a race, or where the designated test team, we were always much better off for having done it.

Just the sheer fact that you’re running a car helps already as you’re always picking up little bits of information every time the car is on the track. Even if a team isn’t told which tire it’s testing – the fact that you’re running on a tire of the same general specification to what you’ll be using next year will already be a big advantage. Watch this space, there will be a lot of moaning about this by a lot of the teams as the new season unfolds.

Bottomline though, overtaking will only get harder next season.


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