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Filtering by Tag: Formula One

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.

F1 Australian GP, the 'Wow' Factor in Racing & Testing the New F1 HALO System in VR

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 94

JT – The first grand prix of the 2018 Formula 1 season is in the books. Sebastian Vettel scored a surprise victory for Ferrari at Australian Grand Prix after a virtual safety car period. Having stayed on track longer than Lewis Hamilton and teammate Kimi Raikkonen – both of whom had already made pit stops - Vettel leap-frogged the pair by pitting under the VSC. He emerged in the lead and held it to the finish. Hamilton, who had led from the start until his pit stop, was unable to seriously challenge Vettel. Raikkonen finished 3rd.

There were just five overtakes in the race with multiple drivers complaining that they could not overtake other cars because of aerodynamic turbulence and power unit/engine overheating concerns. Fan reaction has been overwhelmingly negative following the seasons’ first contest. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen agreed, calling the race “Completely worthless. I would have turned off the TV.” What did you make of it?

SJ – Yes unfortunately, it was just more of the same thing we’ve had for the last few years. And why wouldn’t it be? Nothing has really changed. The cars have even more downforce than they had in 2017 and the formula remains the same, so it’s inevitable that there will be less passing.

While the result of this race may not have shown it due to other circumstances, the worry is that Mercedes looks even stronger compared to the rest than they did last year. It seems like they’re almost back to the advantage they had in 2016.

Photo: @ValtteriBottas

Photo: @ValtteriBottas

Track position is everything now, even more than it used to be, and there’s no doubt that the Mercedes are the quickest cars. But no one, no matter how much quicker they were than the car in front, could pass. [Valtteri] Bottas for example struggled to pass even the much slower guys in front of him. It’s a real problem and anyone involved in the decision making process of the new rules should have seen this coming. Which ponders the question, how did they arrive at this solution as the final answer to whatever the problem was they were trying to fix in the first place. Was it the trade-off between faster lap time and less passing? And if so, why did faster lap times win over less passing. Or could it have been that they simply didn’t know that more downforce will produce less passing? Hard to believe, but not impossible. Unless they forgot to ask any driver who’s ever raced high downforce cars, that it becomes almost impossible to pass? It seems incredibly obvious to me that more passing and subsequently more interesting racing to watch would have won that argument hands down, but it didn’t and here we are, with everyone now complaining about the lack of passing.

Photo: @ScuderiaFerrari

Photo: @ScuderiaFerrari

JT – The track position point you make is on target. Bearing in mind Mercedes’ performance advantage and the continuing difficulties drivers are having overtaking other cars because of turbulence, fuel-saving - and now it appears, power unit temperature management issues - in the likely event that Mercedes qualifies up front they will just walk away from the field consistently. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, at this point this isn’t exactly news to anyone. For several years now it’s been evident that the ever-increasing downforce just isn’t the way to go. It ruins the racing. You can get to within three or four car lengths of the guy ahead and then you’re basically stuck, no matter how quick your car is. As soon as you get any closer you lose all front grip and it’s now so bad that even when you’re within DRS range you still can’t get close enough to have a go at the end of the straight. The problem is worse in F1 than any other category because the aerodynamics are so sophisticated.

Via @F1Circle

Via @F1Circle

And the engine issues, well, I could never understand the logic of only being able to use three engines per season. I don’t understand what purpose this serves in the bigger picture of Formula One racing, I assume the original intent was to cut the costs, but as we have seen so many times before, all it did was the exact opposite, making the costs go through the roof. When Lewis saw he couldn’t have a go at Vettel, he simply backed off to save the engine, effectively giving up trying to win the race with some laps to go. It was the right thing to do in the circumstances, but had there not been the issue of the engines having to last he could have kept pushing as hard as possible right to the end in the hope that Vettel would have made a small mistake which would have given him the chance to pounce on him with a lap or two to go. But with the risk of getting grid penalties towards the end of the season teams now have to weigh up the pros and cons of having a go, or to wait for another day. It’s hard to understand the logic behind all this at times.

Photo: @MercedesAMGF1

Photo: @MercedesAMGF1

It has never been more expensive than it is now for the smaller teams to buy an Engine program. If there had been a simpler engine formula there would have been several companies capable of supplying a competitive engine. But with the combination of the Hybrid component and the fact that the engines have to last so much longer which means the use of extremely expensive materials and subsequent development cost has made it impossible for any independent company like Cosworth, Mecachrome and several others to even contemplate to compete. This in turn have given even more power to the big manufacturers as they now literally control the entire grid. And as history will tell you, sooner or later they will ruin every championship they compete in, as when it doesn’t serve their purpose any longer they’ll be gone, literally overnight.

We can see the start of this happening now, with the big boys starting the posturing with Liberty about the new rules, and the deals they all want going forward. It will be interesting to see how all this unravels during the course of the year.

The main priority in my opinion though, is to make sure the engineers are not involved in the decision making of the technical rules. Otherwise, nothing will change. They just want more of the same.

They need someone who really understands Formula 1, both from the FOM (Liberty) side, but more importantly also from the FIA side, someone who has a complete handle of the bigger picture and who is respected by everybody to formulate a new rules package that makes sense from a sporting, economic and technical point of view and then just say “these are the new rules, take it or leave it.” From the Liberty side Russ Brawn is, obviously the right person for this job, he seems to have assembled a great team of very competent people around him so let’s hope that the decisions they eventually come up with will take things in the right direction. I have my doubts however, that they will go all the way needed and it will end up being some form of a compromise as there will be pressure from the manufacturers and the FIA to stay politically correct and relevant to their agendas. The most important aspect of all this, and I think this is where it’s often failed in the past, is that the FIA have simply not been strict enough or fast enough to enforce the rules when someone is pushing the envelope on what is allowed or not. Every one of the top teams have several people doing nothing but scan the rule book to find loopholes in the rules in order to gain an advantage.

The danger is that there will be a combined knee-jerk reaction by the FIA, the teams and Liberty. The increase of downforce for 2017 was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the GP2 cars were nearly as quick as the F1 cars at some tracks in the previous years and they felt they had to do something to make the lap-times look more respectable. The Halo was a knee-jerk reaction to the accident of Jules Bianchi.

So now the cars are several seconds per lap quicker, but who cares? It’s irrelevant because they’re only quicker mid-corner and actually a little bit slower on the straights. So the spectacle is no different, in fact it’s worse as all they’ve done is making the passing even more difficult, and the cars look more and more ugly each year because that’s what the aerodynamics dictate.

I think what is missing more than anything right now is the “Awesome Factor”. I feel that’s what’s needed more than anything in motorsport in general but particularly in F1. They need to somehow get the “Awesome Factor” back. Right now it’s only awesome in the sense that the technology is absolutely amazing, but unless you’re a complete geek no one can appreciate it and you certainly can’t see it when the car is running.

People who aren’t die hard motorsport fans need to be able to see right away, cars that will blow them away and when they watch the racing, it should be “Wow! This is something else!”

At Indianapolis for example, you go to the 500 for the first time and you’re just blown away at the speed the cars are doing. They come by you so fast that you can’t even focus on one car easily. You have to kind of lock-in on it and follow it with your eyes as they’re all ripping by in a blur. That’s cool!

Every person I’ve taken to see the Indy 500 for the first time – including myself - they’re all like “Wow! That is unbelievable! Holy s___t, that is fast!”

That’s what people dig. They don’t care if a car is a few kilometers quicker in a hairpin or a chicane, no one can appreciate that, except maybe a few die-hard fans but they will show up no matter what anyway.

JT – F1 is experiencing a quantifiable decline in viewership and a palpable decline in interest from people who were once enthusiastic about it – never mind the series’ challenge in attracting new fans. As mentioned, the reaction from fans and drivers alike to the first grand prix of this new season has been overwhelmingly negative. Do you have any hope that Liberty Media and F1 will create a new formula that solves the problems we’ve discussed for several years now?

SJ – I just want to say first of all that it bothers me that we have to always sound so negative, I’m a very positive person as anyone that knows me will agree to. But unfortunately, if we are to have an open and honest dialogue about these things, it inevitably ends up this way. To answer your question, at this point no, and it worries me a great deal. No one in F1 seems to be willing to take their foot off the gas in terms of the crazy aero development war that has been going on with increasing lunacy for years now.

No one, or at least very few, care about sophisticated aerodynamics or hybrid powerplants? What’s important is good racing and spectacular looking cars, where people can visually see and appreciate the skills of the best drivers in the world giving it all they’ve got. Having all this technology constantly and needlessly applied to the cars over several years has killed the racing and sent the costs through the roof - absolutely unnecessarily. There’s no benefit to anyone from it, there’s no innovation involved, no creativity. It’s just pounding away at the same old worn out concept, gaining a tenth of a percent here or there.

Especially as there are so many different and far more relevant ways that they could achieve speed or make progress. That’s what’s so annoying. When you have road cars with more horsepower than F1 cars now, with higher top speeds, with other aspects of technology that are more advanced in many areas – F1 isn’t the ultimate anymore.

Instead it’s going down a path of political correctness that will eventually ruin the sport if it’s not careful. The key point in every one of these discussions about new rules, sporting regulations etc, should always be; will this improve the racing, will this make it more exciting to watch. If we loose the main ingredient of why people tune in to watch, it’s difficult to make anything work from there.

JT – A story this week quotes Mario Andretti as saying that F1 missed out on the opportunity in 2017 to adopt “pure” open wheel cars as IndyCar did for 2018. Referring the decrease in downforce and simplicity of design of IndyCar’s universal aerokits, Andetti said…

“They’re doing the right thing with the aerodynamics of the cars and coming back to a more of a pure-looking single-seater, open-wheel car which I think was something all of the open-wheel aficionados wanted to see.”

Photo: Mario Andretti (Facebook)

Photo: Mario Andretti (Facebook)

SJ – Mario’s is absolutely right. He’s saying the same thing I’ve been saying all along. Everything IndyCar’s been doing in this regard lately has been great. The cars look good and the racing, as we saw in St. Petersburg, (the 2018 IndyCar opener) is terrific.

Can you imagine if the Australian Grand Prix had the same amount of action IndyCar had at St. Pete? People would have gone bananas. IndyCar provides the best racing out there, no question.

They’ve done the right thing with the cars and it doesn’t need a lot of thought. Limiting downforce is the obvious first thing to do and it has to be done in nearly every category. I’ve been saying it for years now and I’ll say it again, aerodynamic downforce has run its course in racing. I don’t know why it’s taking so long for the penny to drop and for everyone to realize that it ruins the racing, at a cost that makes nearly every form of motorsport several times more expensive than it needs to be.

Not only that, it creates ugly cars. The current F1 cars are just not attractive looking cars. They look weird with their long wheel base, little balloon tires and aero bits hanging off the sides everywhere you can find a space to hang something. Just like the previous Indycars did.

So well done to Jay Frye and his team at Indycar for listening to the right people and making the right decisions, Indycar is on the right path and I sense a lot of positive momentum in the series at the moment.

JT – Speaking of looking ridiculous, there has been widespread criticism of the “Halo” safety device now mandatory for F1 cars.

Fans detest it and it makes identifying drivers more difficult because the Halo blocks any view of their helmets. But you did a test with CVC Simulations recently (watch video bellow), driving a virtual F1 car with the Halo and concluded that it doesn’t hinder driver visibility. Apparently that’s correct because as yet there have been no complaints from drivers following the Australian Grand Prix.

SJ – Yes, from the driver’s point of view it’s really not a problem. The Halo does make it hard to see who’s in a car though. The drivers may as well not bother painting their helmets. They’re just not visible anymore. It’s there for a good reason of course, but I wish as time goes by they will be able to come up with a better and more esthetically pleasing solution.

JT – Looking at the performance of the rest of the grid apart from Ferrari, you’d have to conclude that no one is even within shouting distance of Mercedes. There was improvement from some of the mid-field runners including McLaren.

Fernando Alonso finished 5th with teammate Stoffel Vandoorne coming home 9th. The Haas F1s of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were looking very good in 4th and 5th until identical mistakes in pit lane ended their races.

Photo: @McLaren

Photo: @McLaren

Meanwhile, the mid-field standout of the last few seasons – Force India – looks to have declined the most in performance. Williams and Toro Rosso Honda are now back-markers along with Sauber Alfa Romeo.  What are your thoughts on these teams?

SJ – Force India has kind of been the miracle team of the last three years, punching well above their weight each year. Teams always rotate from year to year in the midfield group. Every now and then a particular team gets it right and sometimes they themselves don’t necessarily know why they got it right. The chances that Force India would be the leader of that pack yet another year with their relatively limited resources are slim and it seems that Haas may now be in that situation this year. They definitely look like they’re the closest mid-pack team to the front runners. They were very impressive throughout the pre-season testing and again in Australia until halfway through the race when everything came apart for them. It’s looking very encouraging for them going forward, although the first 3-4 races are always the “easy” points as everyone eventually catch up as the year goes by.

Photo: @ForceIndiaF1

Photo: @ForceIndiaF1

Of course, now everyone’s moaning about them being a Ferrari “clone” but as I’ve said from day one of their program, so what?

If I was to start a Formula 1 team, the way Haas has done it is absolutely the way I’d go. If the rules allow it, why wouldn’t you do that instead of throwing away tens of millions of dollars on hiring people and doing your own development when you can get the same or most likely a much better solution from one of the best out there. I’m just surprised more teams aren’t doing the same thing.

Williams seems to be just continuing its downward spiral. It’s sad because they have such great history. But it doesn’t look like their performance is going to change much any time soon. Toro Rosso is struggling although I still believe that Honda will eventually get it right as long as they stay committed, and when they do I think they will be very strong. I was hoping Sauber would be the team to make the big jump this year with the Alfa Romeo connection and I’m sure increased technical support from Ferrari. Maybe it’s too soon for whatever changes they’ve made to take effect, but it doesn’t look great judging by the pre-season testing and the first race.

I think Bottas is really starting to feel the pressure now at Mercedes. And I think it emphasizes again how good Nico Rosberg was. People are still reluctant to give him the credit he deserves. Lewis is clearly one of the best the sport has ever seen and for Nico to be so close to him all the time, and then to do what he did - to beat him - was impressive.

I think Bottas is in a situation now in which a lot of guys have found themselves over the years. The difference between being a really promising driver in a midfield team and a proven, top line in a top team – you never see that until a driver gets thrown in the deep end at places like Ferrari or Mercedes or Red Bull and previously, McLaren. It’s not enough to be promising when you’re in teams like that.

You can’t just have the odd great practice session or qualifying or a few great races. You have to deliver every time you step into the car, you’re expected to be right at the top of your game every session and every race. So we’ll see if Bottas can raise his game and match Lewis speed in the coming races.

JT – As we’ve already mentioned, the IndyCar season is now underway as well with the first race, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, having run in mid-March. It was very competitive with not only the established star drivers running quickly but a very fast group of rookies pushing them and sometimes surpassing them.

The new drivers and teams in IndyCar are creating excitement alongside the new universal aerokit and it looks like there should be a very intense, very interesting fight for the championship this season. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes it’s definitely exciting with some fresh blood and a pretty good shakeup among the ranks. Ganassi had issues with maybe not playing strategy quite right during qualifying and Team Penske wasn’t really where you’d expect them to be either all weekend. The powerhouses of the past weren’t really where you might have expected them to be, but the thing is there are really no weak teams in IndyCar anymore. They’re all pretty damn good. They’ve all improved and what you’re allowed to do to the cars with the new kit is limited, which means that any of the teams who get’s it right on the day has a chance of winning. That’s a good thing and the racing shows it. It really is a case of who can get things right on race day, which Bourdais showed again winning from way back on the grid in the Dale Coyne car.

JT – That parity among teams together with the fast crop of young drivers coming into the series is creating competitive pressure on all of the drivers. Routine decisions about qualifying, racing or passing aren’t quite as routine as they were and it’s challenging even the best drivers. You could see that at St. Petersburg with the mistakes that top guys like Scott Dixon and Will Power made.

Photo: @ScottDixon9

Photo: @ScottDixon9

SJ – Yes, absolutely. It’s going to be a good fight as you say and the cars look like proper race cars again. I think it caught everyone a bit off guard at St. Pete how difficult and different the cars are to drive now compared to what they were. It’s definitely going in the right direction.

JT – In addition, to St. Pete you were also on hand at Sebring for the 12 Hours with Scuderia Corsa. Cooper MacNeil, Alessandro Balzan and Gunnar Jeanette in the #63 Ferrari 488 GT3 had a very good race. They pushed hard to finish 2nd in the GTD class, beating some very strong competition. Unfortunately their teammates – Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Frankie Montecalvo in the #64 sister car – were out of the race early when a P2 spun in front of Montecalvo in Turn 17, leaving him nowhere to go.

Photo: @ScuderiaCorsaFerrari

Photo: @ScuderiaCorsaFerrari

What did you think of the team’s performance and the race in general?

SJ – The guys in the #63 did a great job. The accident for the #64 was a strange one and the damage was pretty significant. It was a very unfortunate thing to have happen that early on in the race. It was no fault of anyone really, just one of those bad luck situations where everything went the wrong way. There was really nothing Frankie could have done to avoid it.

The prototype battle was pretty good and the pace was quick. It was close too although the P2s seem to be behind the DPis with the BoP. The cars that came from Europe and the P2s that are in the series with the Gibson engine – they just can’t run with them.

The GTLM BoP was a bit ridiculous too. The car that hadn’t been anywhere near the front at Daytona is now the fastest all of a sudden? It’s the same old problem with BoP. There’s only ever one car or team that’s happy and they normally stand on the top of the podium, everybody else feel they’ve been screwed. There has to be a way to create a formula where you build a car, have competitive racing and may the best man win. If you want to compete, you’ve got to build a car you can compete with, period. I know some manufacturers that’s just stopped doing any form of development work as it makes no difference any more, if they go faster they just get slapped with another BoP penalty.

I’m repeating myself again, but why not un-restrict the GTLM cars and just forget the prototypes. The GT cars are so good now and their speed unrestricted would be more than sufficient even for a place like Le Mans. You’ll easily get a ten second improvement per lap the ACO keep talking about if you let the cars run to their full power potential, give them some better tires and maybe 10 percent more aero. The Ferrari 488 have nearly 300hp more in their road-car than the race car, that alone is probably worth close to 6 seconds around a place like Le Mans.

Put all the top drivers in them and it would be awesome. You would have just about every manufacturer of sports or supercars there and they would all have to build a road-car version of the car they compete with, that would be homologated accordingly. They would sell out that Le Mans limited edition street cars they build easily. For instance, there’s a three-year wait list for the Ford GT. They could all do the same thing. Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, McLaren, Corvette – they could all build a Le Mans based supercar and go for it big time. It would make a lot more sense in my opinion if any of those cars could win outright than the few prototypes that are now competing for the overall win.

Everybody would compete under the same rules, no BoP, and may the best man win.

JT – Formula E reached the halfway point of its season with the recent Punta Del Este E-Prix in Uruguay. Jean-Eric Vergne won, taking his second victory of the season and stretching his points lead in the championship over Felix Rosenqvist who took the checkers in 5th. Felix struggled with technical problems during the race, correct?

SJ – Yes, he had some problems in qualifying but he drove a good race. The sensor for the beacon which relays his energy state to the pit wall broke. So he had no idea where he was in terms of battery power consumption and he had to be very conservative.

He reckoned he could have gotten a podium finish if he had been able to attack all the way through the race and not lift and coast so much. When they got the car back in the pits after the race they looked at how much battery he had left and there was plenty left. He could have gone much harder if he had known.