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Filtering by Tag: Formula One

Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist at Laguna Seca, McLaren joins IndyCar and F1 Recap

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 104

JT – Indy Car’s season finale at Laguna Seca – the series’ first trip to the circuit since 2004 – was an interesting, tension filled race. Josef Newgarden ran a conservative pace, finishing 8th but close enough to championship rivals Scott Dixon (3rd), Alexander Rossi (6th) and teammate Simon Pagenaud (4th) to secure the title. 

Scott had a good race but had to battle for his podium finish, fighting with winner Colton Herta, 2nd place finisher Will Power and Pagenaud from the drop of the green flag to the checkers. Felix Rosenqvist had a terrific race, finishing 5th after starting 14th. Rosenqvist claimed the Rookie of the Year title and 6th in the championship standings. Scott finished 4th in the championship.  

What did you think of the race and the season for Scott and Felix?

SJ – There was a great energy and a lot of action in the paddock all weekend with lots fans coming to see the cars and teams. Overall the event was great and the racing was pretty good – better than expected as Laguna Seca is notorious for being a very difficult place to overtake. Due to the flowing nature of the corners and no real straights it’s never been an easy place to pass.  With that in mind I thought Felix did a great job, he pretty much passed every car he got by on-track. It wasn’t strategy calls that got him to 5th place. 

Had he not made the small mistake in the first round of qualifying and then receiving a very strange penalty, and instead started where he could have – I’m sure he could have been on the front row because he was super quick all weekend – in which case he would have been in with a shot to get his first win. But the little things make a big difference in Indy Car, everyone has to execute perfectly to get a good result, drivers, pit crew and the guys on the scoring stand. If any one of them messes up it’s very hard to recover because the racing is always so close. In my opinion, Indycar is by far the most difficult series in the world to get consistently good results. This is why you rarely see anyone win more than 3 or maybe 4 races in one season, it’s nearly impossible to get a consistent edge on the rest of the competition.

Scott did a superb job in qualifying getting on the front row, he wasn’t that happy with the car all weekend up to that point, but he seems to always find that little bit more when it really matters. He fought hard first with Herta and then both Power and Pagenaud, it was a great battle throughout the race, with really close racing but no blocking or touching from either of them. It’s great to see when three really good and professional drivers are racing hard, and they showed how it can be done without contact or penalties, great stuff. Overall it was a pretty good season for Scott and Felix but it wasn’t great for either of them, it could have definitely been a lot better. At Indy, Felix had his accident and then in the race, neither he nor Scott had a good day with both of them getting caught up in the Rahal/Bourdais accident (Scott finished 17th, Felix 28th) and that hurts at Indy because it’s a double-points race. Anyone that scores well at Indy carries that points advantage the whole year. If you don’t score well, or at all at Indy, that really puts you on the back foot for the rest of the season. 

Scott had kind of an unlucky year with two mechanical failures in a row right at the tail end of the season (at St. Louis and Portland). Again, that meant no points at all and when you don’t score in Indy Car it really hurts you. If you keep scoring at every race you pick up decent points and you stay in contention.

And all of the teams in Indy Car are catching up to the top teams. Scott agrees that the competition is tougher now than it’s ever been. When you have a car design where it’s relatively difficult to make any big gains, it’s difficult to gain an edge. Any small gain one team or another has soon gets caught up to by the other teams. But that’s one of the great things with Indy Car. It’s incredibly hard to win consistently because there are so many good cars and drivers. 

JT – It’s now official that McLaren will be a full time team in Indy Car next season with the merger of McLaren and Arrow Schmidt Peterson for 2020. 

SJ – I think it’s great news for the series, to have a team of that caliber and history to enter Indycar is good sign in every aspect. If they could get one or two more and some big name drivers they will be right back where they were in the early 90’s when Mansell came over. Big sponsors and a lot of manufacturers pouring big money into the series. I think it’s a smart move for them to join forces with SPM as they are already a well established team with a good engineering group, if they can add more resources and some of their F1 engineering expertise they will be a real threat to rest of the top teams.

JT – There were 24 cars on the grid at Laguna Seca and as you’ve said there’s a possibility there could be even more at many races on the 2020 Indy Car schedule. That’s a possibility Formula 1 does not have. FIA chief Jean Todt recently said he does not expect any new manufacturers to enter F1 in 2021 and he has not seen “solid” contenders to become new teams in F1 in 2021. “At the moment we are happy in having ten teams,” Todt says. “Time will tell if things will change in the future, knowing that the good figure is between 10 and 12 teams.”

Those aren’t encouraging statements. F1 not only needs an overhaul of its technical formula, it needs to cut the cost of participating sharply. Shouldn’t the series be looking to attract new blood? New competitors?

SJ – Not necessarily, I think if you have 22 really strong cars you don’t need more. On the other hand, yes, the barrier of entry has become almost impossible now to start a team from scratch. You either buy one that’s on the brink of going out of business, like Racing Point did with Force India, or you have to spend an insane amount to launch a new entry. It’s no surprise that manufacturers or teams aren’t lining up to give F1 a shot. 

It’s clear that the teams are no closer to agreeing on anything regarding the new rules package so the chances of seeing any new teams before that get’s sorted out are virtually nil. 

Some teams are worried about losing the “technical freedom” of Formula 1 and then there are others who are in favor of more standard parts, but no one seems sure how to formulate that and what parts should be standardized or not. As far as the argument about technical freedom, there really is no technical freedom, the rules are so strict that every team essentially is making the same thing, at an enormous cost of course. Every now and then, one of the top teams, who can afford to spend the money on R&D will discover some version or angle within those rules that gives them an edge for a while until everybody catches up again. But conceptually, there is zero room for innovation, everyone is using the exact same engine layout and they are all powered by the same energy source. The cars all look the same except for minor aero widgets that are different at every race, but again there is no room for innovation, just fine tuning the same concept. As I’ve said repeatedly, the only difference is that in F1 the teams have to make everything themselves rather than buying it from a supplier. But you end up with components that are only slightly different from one another between teams. One of the arguments I keep hearing is that if they all use the same components from one manufacturer, and there is a failure, then all the cars will fail. It’s strange in that case that they manage to make that work in pretty much every other championship without any real problems.

JT – The most recent F1 round was Russian Grand Prix, a race which Ferrari seemed to have in its control. Sebastian Vettel leapt ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at the start and lead until his first pit stop. Leclerc, having pitted earlier and setting fast laps, looked set to undercut Vettel and take the lead. But on his first lap out of the pits the hybrid energy recovery system in Vettel’s Ferrari failed, causing him to stop on-track and trigger a Virtual Safety Car. Hamilton and teammate Valterri Bottas who had been unable to challenge the Ferraris had not pitted yet. The VSC effectively gave the two free pit stops and they both leap-frogged Leclerc. The order remained unchanged to the finish with Mercedes scoring an unlikely 1-2 (Hamilton/Bottas) and Leclerc relegated to 3rd. 

There was also controversy after the start when Vettel – with the aid of the slipstream he gained from Leclerc – continued to increase the gap over his teammate without handing the lead back to Leclerc as had supposedly been agreed before the race. The controversy dominated TV coverage of the first half of the race. Among the top four cars - the Ferraris and Mercedes -  there were no passes for position on-track throughout the race. Changes of position only occurred via the pit stops. What did you think of the Russian GP?

SJ – Well, it was certainly a perfect example of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I can relate to what happened before the race. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat in meetings before races where the engineers and also some drivers are trying to plan out the start and the first lap. Every single time that I can recall, by the time you let the clutch out at the start, whatever plan was in place went out the window. 

There are so many variables that you just cannot predict what will actually happen. To try to make a plan like Ferrari did with the slipstream for Vettel and then what would come next with Leclerc, it’s doomed to fail. Then there are all the permutations of what was agreed and what wasn’t agreed. But what was Vettel supposed to do? He got a blinding start and got a great run by everyone. Was he supposed to back off immediately? 

And so Ferrari’s race went completely pear shaped from then on. It looked early on like Leclerc had the race pace. I would have thought he could’ve gotten into DRS range with Vettel. And you would have thought he could draw into DRS range of Hamilton or Bottas later on. But it looked like he just didn’t have the pace when he needed it this time. Vettel looked like he really had the bit between his teeth and was back to being the guy we’re used to seeing so it was a shame he didn’t have the car to take it to the end. 

It looked like whoever was following the lead car had a really hard time staying close in turbulence. I think it’s partly just the nature of that track. 

JT - Watching the situation between Vettel and Leclerc unfold and hearing the TV commentators wheeze on at length about whether Vettel would or should give the lead to Leclerc quickly became annoying for me as a spectator. Yes, F1 is a manufacturer’s championship and there are intra-team dynamics because of that. 

But as a fan, those team or manufacturer dynamics make zero difference to me. I do not watch racing to see competition decided by agreements made before or during a race. That’s not what racing is supposed to be about for spectators and team orders have never been popular with fans. Yet they still persist in F1 and it makes the series look extremely weak. Shouldn’t this be embarrassing for what is supposed to be the world’s top category of racing? 

SJ – I think it’s part of the show. Since they added the radio communications to the TV feed we get to hear all this, but it’s always been the same more or less.  What confuses me with F1 is, wasn’t there a rule several years ago that no team orders were allowed? Did that just fade away or did they actually change it? I can’t recall if, why and when they took that rule out. In a way I think it’s a good thing they did, it’s better to be transparent about it and make it a part of the show, because the teams will always find a way to make it work either way. Remember Multi 21 with Red Bull a few years back?

The other one that confuses me is that there always used to be the rule that you cannot rejoin the track after going off without a flag marshal waiving you back onto the track. But it seems there are cars flying all over the place now like a swarm of bees and they just come back on track wherever they choose. Leclerc went off in the chicane at Monza, rejoined and won the race. He clearly made a big mistake and should have been penalized but nothing was done. Whereas Vettel who went off in Montreal and also rejoined without waiting for a clear track got penalized.

What’s really worrying though when you look at the upcoming rules for 2021 is that the teams all disagree. They all have their own interests at heart not surprisingly but as long as they’re allowed to be part of the rule-making, nothing will change in Formula 1. When I look at my crystal ball, I can see ten years in the future and basically nothing’s changed. We’re still complaining about no one being able to pass, the racing’s still boring and the budgets are even higher than they’ve been before. And we’ll have about three to five big rule changes on the cars, all in the interest of making the racing more interesting, all based around Aerodynamics of course. But none of them will change anything. The events will get bigger with more celebrities, concerts and other gimmicks to attract a big crowd. The actual race will become the side show to the whole GP event. They’re already talking about qualifying races and reverse-grids instead of getting to the root of the problem which is the cars. Fix the cars and everything will sort itself out.

JT – McLaren has announced that it will switch engine suppliers for 2021. Next year, the team will fulfill the last year of its contract with Renault but will once again have Mercedes power in 2021. It’s slightly surprising given that previous McLaren leadership said a customer engine deal would never enjoy the same kind of performance as the works team. What do you make of it?

SJ –  I think it makes sense, they will finally have a proven race winning engine, along with the rest of the packaging to build a race winning car. It’s now up to them to get their part back to where they used to be. The wheels are already in motion and new team principal Andreas Seidl is clearly doing a great job getting the team back on track. 

JT – Prior to the Russian round, the Singapore Grand Prix was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (his first win of 2019). At the front, Ferrari turned the tables on Mercedes with better strategy, pitting Vettel early. He undercut Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas and his teammate Charles Leclerc. When the others pitted he emerged in the lead - a lead he never relinquished. But the passing was done in the pits, not on-track. Prior to that Leclerc led, lapping at such a slow pace that everyone, including the back-markers, bunched up behind him.

There was some passing among the midfield contenders with Daniel Ricciardo making his way up the order early in the race but then making contact that ended his night. Others made passes as well but it was a bit hard to follow on the TV coverage. What did you think of the race?

SJ – The beginning of the race was just ridiculous. The last place car in the field had the fastest lap. How is that even possible? All the drivers were on their team radio asking, “When can I go, when can I go?!”

I think Vettel’s win may help put him back in his groove a little bit. He drove a good race and Ferrari made the right call for him. What I don’t understand is how Mercedes could get their strategy that wrong. You would have thought that they’d split the strategy between their two cars and have one mark Vettel and the other mark Leclerc. 

It’s crazy when you consider there’s 40 people sitting behind computers at each of the top team’s home base and they’re all looking at endless streams of data and they still manage to get it wrong, not just once, but quite consistently in fact. Not just Mercedes but generally speaking across all the top teams. Had they just had an engineer on pit lane and the driver evaluating the situation you would never have made the decision Mercedes made. Either the drivers would have said, “I’m coming in because Vettel’s coming in.” Or the engineer would have made to the call to pit immediately. 

You have about five seconds at best to make that decision and you just have to go from experience by the seat of the pants sometimes and make the call. That’s what Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher were so good at back in the day. A lot of that comes from doing sports car racing for a while. You get used to strategy calls like that because you can’t mess around during an endurance race where you have to pit multiple times. You’ve just got to go for it. 

If you try to look at all of the data and factor every single scenario in, it’s already too late. That was clearly the case here. Mercedes blew it because they didn’t or couldn’t react quickly enough. 

When everybody was going that slowly it was obvious to me just sitting at home watching on the TV, that whomever came in first would get a huge jump on the rest, so when Vettel pulled the trigger you would have thought at least one of the Mercs would follow asap.

Leclerc clearly wasn’t happy with the decision to pit Vettel first and I can definitely understand why as it was obviously the right choice to go after the win. It’s hard to say if that was a team-wide decision or just made on the spur of the moment by Vettel’s side of the garage. 

JT – Sadly, the lack of race craft of several drivers was on display again at Singapore. There were at least three instances of contact that seemed easily avoidable including Haas’ Romain Grosjean’s collision with Williams’ George Russell. 

SJ – Yes, it’s sometimes mind-boggling how poor the race craft is among these guys. You’re almost lost for words. You see stupid moves you don’t see in a Formula 1 race at times. And it just keeps happening over and over again. They’re blindingly quick on a lap but their race craft is non-existent, but somehow that seems to be enough to keep the team owners happy. I would have thought points, as valuable as they are for the teams, would have more emphasis than a few quick qualifying laps. Interestingly though, the new crop of drivers that has come along in the last couple of years all look extremely good, which makes me think that in 3 years or so when they have the experience and are ready to be champions assuming they’re in the right car, the racing could become really good.

Race Craft vs Speed, Scary Crash at Pocono, Comments on F1

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 104

JT – Formula 1 is in the midst of its summer break. With on-track action paused, the break frequently kicks off silly season speculation about where drivers will be the following season. As yet, there doesn’t appear to be much movement for 2020 but there has been a driver promotion/demotion this month. Red Bull Racing surprised some observers by announcing that halfway through his first season with the team Pierre Gasly would be demoted and sent back down to Toro Rosso while F1 rookie Alex Albon would be promoted from Toro Rosso to take Gasly’s seat. What are your thoughts on the driver shuffle?

SJ – It’s interesting that in the last blog we chatted about the growing graveyard of F1 drivers who weren’t ready for prime time yet. And here’s another example of guys who are put in positions with F1 teams way too early in their careers in my opinion. Racing at this level takes a lot more than a driving a car fast – which they can all do – it’s all of the other stuff you need time and experience to learn and master. Dealing with the pressure of the whole thing and especially race-craft – you only get good at those things over time. 

With that in mind, this is just another chapter of the same thing I suppose. I don’t think there’s too much between Gasly and Albon in terms of their skills. They’re both talented drivers, it’s just how they cope with the situation. I think Albon will have a bit less pressure on him because he’s getting thrown in the deep end so it may be excusable for him not to perform at the same level as Verstappen. 

But really, anyone who comes up against Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton or Alonso before – they’ve got their work cut out. Those guys are at the top of their game and they’re all unicorns to begin with. They’ve got a little more talent than the others do to start with but they’ve also got a work ethic that is relentless and enough years of experience to know what they need to do in pretty much every situation. To come up against that as a teammate is very difficult. I don’t think there will be a lot of difference between Albon and Gasly. 

It’s very rare that you get a situation in a single team where you have a Prost and a Senna or Lewis Hamilton and a Nico Rosberg who are both extremely good and also have the experience to execute over a full season. It’s a difficult balance for a top team like Red Bull for example, to either take a chance in the hope of finding another Verstappen, or hire a solid experienced driver as number two. Someone who will contribute to the team and always score points without being a real threat to the main guy. We can see this with Ferrari this year, where Leclerc clearly has the speed, but at the same time have made several errors that have cost them valuable constructor points. Would they have been better off to keep Kimi and let Leclerc stay another year at Sauber to gain more experience, I don’t know?

Also, the situation in F1 at the moment is that there is no driver in the current field that you can put next to Max or Lewis with the expectation to match them in speed and race craft. The only driver I can think that would fit that bill is Alonso, and for whatever reason it seems difficult for him to find a place in any of the top teams, but he’s the only obvious choice that I can think of.

JT - Former Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar F1 technical director Gary Anderson recently spoke out about five areas he thinks F1 should address to improve its competition. He chatted about F1 budgets, the development war, tires, a reverse-grid format and the ability of drivers to push flat out over a race distance. Like others close to the series, his suggestions for fixing F1 seem to fall well short of what’s needed. What’s your take?

SJ – I read it also. I think the main thing is that we have to cut through the clutter somehow. Right now, every suggestion I have seen just keep adding layer after layer of fixes and you never cure the underlying problem. That’s the core of the difficulty and people just seem to want to add more layers of fixes without addressing what’s really wrong. Every year it gets more complicated than the one before, and the problem still persist or it’s even worse. 

As long as aerodynamics dominate the performance of the cars you’ll always have a central problem and it’s my belief that the only way to fix that is to eliminate the importance of aero by either using standard parts in all the areas that matter the most and at the same time reduce the downforce levels drastically. You offset the lack of aero grip with much better tires, more horsepower and less weight.

He is suggesting to have tires with a bigger drop off so that teams are forced to make more stops in order to make the races more interesting. I thought we already tried that some years ago and it turned into a farce where the drop off was so big after only a few laps that it became almost impossible to even drive the car at any speed. It’s yet another band aid fix that will be near impossible to get right.

There are four things that make a race car go fast or slow, it’s the chassis, engine, tires and the driver. In an ideal world all four should be equally important in my opinion. Right now this is far from the case, where the chassis and engine are by far the most dominant factors. 

The tires are at least as important as any other factor on the car. If you can’t get the tires to work even the best car isn’t competitive. I still believe it would benefit everybody if we opened up the competition for several tire manufacturers. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be great to have three or four different tire manufacturers competing along with three or four engine manufacturers and different chassis manufacturers. You’ll end up with one tire that will be particularly good in qualifying. So all the guys on those tires will be at the front when a race begins but maybe it’s not as good over a stint or race distance as other tires. That will make the racing much more interesting. Rather than yet another artificial fix, why not let everybody make the best product possible and reap the rewards. When you see the effort teams put into both the chassis and engine I think the tires would add a huge component to that equation and it will bring a new level of unpredictability that F1 is desperately lacking at the moment.

The reverse-grid idea is to me unfathomable. If they’ve already got 40 people back at the factory doing race strategy analysis of every lap, weather etc –  I can only imagine what will happen if they had a reverse grid. There would be 300 scientists and engineers strategizing over what qualifying time they should aim for to optimize their position on the grid. Every possible permutation would be calculated to the umpteenth degree, and there would be even more devices on the car in order to manage the ideal lap-time to maximise the starting position for the race. Or the top teams would find ways to qualify at the back and then blitz everybody in the race. I can’t even begin to imagine all of the implications that would arise if they actually considered a reverse-grid. It’s yet another layer of band aid fixes rather than getting to the bottom of the problem, and yet another reason why engineers and designer need to be as far away from the rule making process as possible. 

JT – Your point about bringing tire competition into F1 is well made from another perspective. For example, if two or more tire brands were in competition, one or the other might have an advantage at a particular track based on performance. At a different track another brand might perform better. That variability distributed across the grid, in theory, would help reduce the dominance of one team or manufacturer. Right now, Mercedes is dominant, followed by Ferrari and Red Bull and then the rest. With multiple brands available, the performance advantage the top three enjoy could be diminished. Likewise, their power and influence in the series could be checked.

SJ – I think that’s what the big teams are afraid of and I think there’s massive pressure from the manufacturers on the governing bodies for that very reason. It goes back to my core point. You cannot let the manufacturers, engineers or designers be in control of the rulemaking. If they are, you will not be able to make any significant changes, it will just be more of the same.

JT – Amidst continuing talk of some kind of budget-cap for F1 in 2021, there has been reporting that notes that the top teams - the richest, most heavily resourced outfits - are spending huge sums on further development of their already lavish technical facilities and staff. Even Racing Point, now flush with investment from the Lawrence Stroll group which purchased the former Force India team, is apparently spending like crazy, pouring concrete and building its new Silverstone factory around the clock. As has been noted, this is a race against time. Those with deep pockets are spending now before any budget cap is introduced. 

With this in progress, shouldn’t it be obvious to Liberty Media and the FIA that the current top teams will have an even more massive advantage after any budget cap is initiated? Once a cap is in place, the other teams will not be able to spend at that level even if they could afford to do so. And how will Formula 1 be able to attract any new teams if they are barred from investing the incredible sums Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have been burning through for most of a decade?

SJ – There’s just no way a budget cap will ever work. What you have to do in my opinion is eliminate the areas the teams spend most on. Allow for design freedom but limit the areas where we know the most money is spent. Restrict them to the point that any gain is not worth the money spent on them. 

A general budget cap, I just don’t see how you can control it. It’s better to eliminate the most costly avenues for spending. One thing I’ve noticed is that little by little more people in F1 are chiming in with some of the same observations I’ve had, I think we all have been thinking the same for quite some time now. It’s just common sense. I hope things will move in the right direction.

JT – I hope so too but it’s hard to imagine they will with statements like those that came from Ferrari’s team boss Mattia Binotto earlier this week. He said Ferrari is “not happy yet” with the regulations proposed for 2021, adding that plans for standardizing some car components including wheels and brake systems are “too much”

“I think since the very beginning we always said that we are against the standardization, and I feel we are going too much in the direction of standardization,” Binotto argued. 

Binotto feels that standardization will not save money and is against the “DNA” of the sport. It sounds like a point of view designed purely to maintain the status quo in F1. What’s you take?

SJ -  I disagree on several points. First of all, whatever the DNA of F1 is, was lost a long time ago. Every car today is the same, it’s just made by different teams rather than one supplier. The rules are so restrictive that there is almost zero room for any form or innovation apart from detail work within that framework. When F1 started we had all sorts of different concepts and ideas on both engine, chassis and even tires. There were V8, V12 and even V16 engines at one point. Today everyone is making the same engine, at an exorbitant cost, you can’t make anything different even if you wanted to, they’re all exactly the same spec, size and concept. The same with the chassis, they are all the same, again at an exorbitant cost. Who cares what brake system the cars use along with several other components on the cars. The brake budget alone for an F1 team is almost equivalent to a winning Indycar budget, just to put things in perspective, so I don’t really follow the logic that it won’t save money by using standard components.  Would anyone care if all the cars had the same front wing, no one call tell the difference anyway. If it will help the competition and even up the playing field surely it’s a better solution than having teams spend 10s or even 100s of millions each year on an endless development war. 

JT – The Indy Car round at Pocono Raceway was unfortunately affected by a combination of weather and a scary crash on the first lap of the race. Exiting Turn 2, Ryan Hunter-Reay and teammate Alexander Rossi were side-by-side as Hunter-Reay got a run on Rossi and moved to the inside. Then Takuma Sato with a run of his own moved to the outside of Rossi, making it three-wide. Sato’s car appeared to turn down the track into the path of Rossi’s car. The resulting collision involved all three cars initially then swept up James Hinchcliffe’s car and Felix Rosenqvist’s machine, sending it skidding along atop the wall on the back straight and into the catch-fence. Fortunately all of the drivers involved were uninjured. 

SJ – A lot of the drivers have already weighed in and voiced their opinion and apart from Sato himself, it was pretty clear to everyone that it was an incredibly stupid and poorly timed move. It’s a shame because all the drivers have been united and in agreement to take care of each other, particularly on the ovals and Pocono in particular. Unfortunately, there’s always one in every series, and yet again Sato seemed to think it was a good idea to compromise everyone else by keeping his foot in it and go three abreast into the second corner on the first lap of a 500 mile race, rather than just roll out of it and get in line for the following lap. This is the kind of move you maybe make when there’s a couple of laps left on the Indy 500 and you’re going for the win, certainly not on the first lap of a 500 mile race. It’s unfathomable to me, and thank God no one got hurt. These kind of moves leave the guys you pass no option but to avoid an accident, which is an incredibly low percentage situation even with a few laps to go, to try something like that on the first lap tells me there’s a serious lack of brain capacity and a complete lack of race craft. A guy like Sato who’s been racing for so long should be smarter than putting himself and more importantly his fellow competitors in that position.

Of course he claims complete innocence, and his team is defending his move, which I don’t think they have any choice but to do, at least in public.  But what he seems to fail to recognize is that the accident didn’t start when they made contact, it started when he decided to go for a three abreast move with two other guys who were already side-by-side. Ryan was already on the inside alongside Rossi. But if you decide to make it three-abreast at that point you’re putting everyone below you in a very marginal position, and if you look a Rossi’s onboard he was totally squeezed between the two of them and couldn’t go either up or down. This time, thankfully no one got hurt but it could very easily have gone the other way. However, there was car damage in the region of $1,5 million which is something the car owners will have to carry and I’m sure they’re not very happy about that. 

JT – The accident along with a 5th place finish by Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon’s 2nd place run has tightened up the championship considerably. Three races back, Scott was 98 points behind championship leader Newgarden. After Pocono he’s just 52 points behind, in 4th place overall behind Alexander Rossi (35 points behind) and Simon Pagenaud (40 points behind). With three races remaining, the championship fight is alive and Scott’s definitely in range.

SJ – Yes, it’s going to be an interesting end of the season that’s for sure. I’m certain it will go right down to the wire again and I hope Scott will have a couple more good races so that he’s still in with a shot for the final one. Indycar is amazing, every year it’s at least three different drivers and teams who’s still in the fight for the championship by the final round. There is no Championship in the world that have better competition than Indycar right now, and I have the feeling that more and more people even abroad is starting to tune in as they have now started to realize how much fun and exciting it is to watch these races. 

JT – Some have questioned whether Pocono Raceway should remain on the Indy Car schedule after the serious accidents involving Justin Wilson and Robert Wickens, and the near miss last weekend. But as Scott and most of the other drivers have observed, the incidents at Pocono could have happened anywhere and are not necessarily due to the track itself. There’s some great history at Pocono and it would be good to see it stay on the calendar. What’s your take? 

 SJ – It’s hard to say whether the track has any influence or if it’s just a string of very unfortunate circumstances. I’ve never been there so I can’t say for certain but talking to Scott and most of the top guys, they all love the track. It’s very challenging because of the variety of the three corners which makes it difficult to set up the car correctly and to keep the balance in the car over the length of a stint.

Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen, Beginning of a New Era? Exciting Races in Both F1 and IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 103

JT – Formula One has staged three Grand Prix since we last chatted for the blog. The most significant news off-track is reporting that the FIA and Liberty Media plan to adopt ground effects for the 2021 cars. The goal is to do away with many of the complex aerodynamic devices found atop the cars currently. Instead there will be a simplified, less sensitive front wing and a series of Venturi tunnels feeding a deep twin diffuser that will produce much of the car’s downforce. The concept is reminiscent of the ground effects F1 cars that raced between 1979 and 1983, and similar to what the Dallara’s currently fielded in Indy Car employ to produce downforce. 

The FIA says the combination of ground effects, simpler aerodynamics and front wheel deflectors will all work together to help cars to follow each other much closer. In addition, the series will feature low-degradation tires that have far less drop off than the current high-degradation tires from Pirelli. The changes are similar to what you have been arguing for, for several years now, though they don’t go as far. What do you think of the changes?

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SJ – Some of the points in their plan are similar what I’ve been suggesting for a while, which is not surprising as it’s just common sense really. What’s interesting is that they (Liberty Media] actually did the exercise that I’ve been asking about for some time now – which is to paint all of the cars white and then see if anyone can tell them apart. Apparently there were only three people in their office who could tell the difference between them. I think the comments I’ve made for a while are now becoming clear to lots of people, I’m not trying to say that I’m the only who thought of this as I’m obviously not, but if the engineers and technicians can’t even tell the cars apart it’s safe to assume that not very many of the millions of fans will be able to.

Their proposal to maintain the level of downforce with more ground effects rather than getting all of the downforce from the top of the car looks better but I still think as long as you have a car that relies primarily on aerodynamics for its performance – which the cars will even with ground effects – I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the problem of turbulent air. Computer modeling, wind tunnels and everything else the aerodynamicists have can never simulate well enough what’s going to happen in the real world. Once cars are on track together there are so many factors which upset the ideal circumstances they have when they use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnels.

I still strongly believe that a huge reduction on aerodynamic downforce which is then countered by less weight, more tire grip and more power is the way to go to retain the same performance we see now but with much better racing and more interesting cars to watch both on the track and estethically.

JT – Apparently, F1 hopes to reach agreement with teams about the new rules by September 15. But how likely is that? And how much of what they’ve proposed will be negotiated away?

SJ – If they’re waiting for a set of rules that everyone will agree on, it will never happen. They can continue to have meetings until the year 3000, and nothing will change apart from some minor pointless details. They need to get the teams and the engineers out of the decision-making process. It should be up to the governing body and the commercial rights holders to come up with a set of fair rules that make sense to everyone who participates, not just the top two or three teams – something that’s more controllable and makes sense financially for all participants. If the teams don’t trust the people that is running the championship they shouldn’t take part in the first place. As soon as the teams get involved it’s inevitable that they will serve their own interests first and as such we end up with a grid-lock and eventually a set of rules that is full of compromises mostly in order to please the manufacturer teams. Teams and manufacturers always come and go, Ferrari being the only exception, which makes it even more important that they will come up with a well thought out set of rules that will stay in place for a considerable amount of time, as this is always the best way to control both the level of competition and the costs. Rules stability have always proven to be the most efficient way for a successful series.

JT - The races at Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, and Hockenheim featured more action than the season’s preceding eight races. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen took the win in Austria after overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc two laps before the checkered flag – the first victory for a team other than Mercedes in 2019.

In England, Lewis Hamilton won, taking his seventh victory in 10 races. Teammate Valtteri Bottas led from pole and looked to have control of the race until a safety car was called for Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo which spun off. Hamilton dived into the pits, essentially getting a free pit stop, and leap-frogged Bottas. Behind, Charles Leclerc and the two Red Bulls fought for the podium. 

In Germany, rain came, leading to a variety of errors from drivers and teams. Max Verstappen survived a spin and five trips to pit lane for wet, medium and dry tires to win the race. Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas both spun off track in the wet with Bottas’ off ending his race. Hamilton finished 11th on track after multiple offs and a penalty for entering pit road beyond a cone denoting its limit. Post-race penalties to the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Giovinazzi promoted him to 9th. Sebastian Vettel stayed on track to finish an unexpected 2nd after starting from the back of the grid. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat rounded out the podium with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll finishing 4th.

Following the races, Liberty Media’s Ross Brawn said the excitement they provided was a great response to the “vitriolic criticism” of F1 this season. But of course, the only reason Hockeheim had any “excitement” was because of rain. What’s your impression of the last three races?

SJ – Yes, the last three have all been terrific races with plenty of action and some surprising results, especially the last one at Hockenheim. F1 typically has two or three great races every year – always when the unknown enters into them - weather conditions or something else that can’t be simulated or predicted beforehand. Taking the predictability out of the racing is exactly what we’re looking for. The race at Hockenheim was a classic example of this. It was simply that the rain came and went and the teams had to adjust accordingly. Most of them got it wrong at least one and some of them many times. I think they changed tires like five times. But nevertheless it turned out to be a very entertaining race to watch, with several surprises in the end result. It’s great to have a race like this once in a while regardless of what the category is, but wouldn’t it be great if every race could come down to drivers competing hard on the track in equal cars, and different strategies on both fuel and tires played a big part of the end result. 

Austria started out being kind of boring and then it came down to the tire situation. Verstappen was on fresher tires and he was catching everyone hand-over-fist. At every race, whoever can make the tires work is so much quicker than the rest. The Red Bull chassis are always very  good too and the Honda engineers are really starting to get the job done.

I think this result is the beginning of a new era. As I said a year ago when the switch from McLaren to Red Bull happened, eventually Red Bull, Verstappen and Honda will dominate, probably for four or five years once they get it right, which they will. When Honda is committed they always get it right in the end, and once they do they are very hard to stop. I think the combination of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda might be the new Dream Team that will be very hard to beat in the next 5 year period, as long as all the main people stay committed. 

Ferrari continued having their problems at Hockenheim too. Both cars had issues in qualifying for Hockenheim and then in the race they were better. Vettel did a great job moving forward with some brilliant moves especially in the first few laps. Leclerc got schooled by Verstappen in Austria and realized he had to roll up his sleeves and get a bit more aggressive. I think he did a great job at Silverstone (Leclerc finished 3rd) but obviously he made a mistake at Hockenheim, like several others did in the same spot. I think they all got caught out by how incredibly slippery the track surface was once you got into the runoff area, under normal circumstances theirs is no real change in the grip level once you go into the runoff, but here it was like ice.

There was more dicing at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. Maybe it’s the nature of those tracks because they’re fast and flowing. There aren’t really any stop-and-start corners at either track. And with the amount of downforce the cars have now, you don’t really have to be on the racing line to carry the speed through the corners. It’s almost like oval racing, the way they drive around some of these corners – one car on the outside and the other on the inside, doing the same speed. Normally if you’re not on-line you lose your pace. We’re seeing some outside passes that we didn’t see before at a few of the tracks, which is great to watch, so maybe the high downforce is actually working better in that regard at these specific tracks and corners. It certainly provided some great racing and passing.

Bottas did a good job at Silverstone but the safety car just came at the wrong time. It certainly worked in Lewis’ favor and he obviously got a bit lucky which he admitted. But when things are going your way, almost everything you do seems to work. When they’re not, everything you try seems to go wrong. Vettel on the other hand is definitely on the flip side of that cycle. I also don’t think Vettel is comfortable with the car now. 

I don’t think he’s ever been really comfortable with the cars of this era – the hybrid cars. They clearly don’t suit his driving style. I don’t think he can get the cars to operate the way he wants them to, to have confidence and be comfortable with them. The Red Bull he had with the blown diffuser and everything, it obviously suited his driving style perfectly.

JT – You think Mercedes set up was wrong for both drivers at Hockenheim?

SJ – It looked to me like Hamilton and Bottas had very similar problems. They went off at the same corner in almost identical circumstances where the rear just snapped without even a wiggle, it just went into a full spin immediately. That would lead me to believe something wasn’t right with their cars. Whatever set-up they had was affected worse than anyone else, maybe the car bottomed out in that particular spot or something else went wrong. It seems strange though that both drivers would do identical mistakes in exactly the same place in the same corner.

JT – Whatever the case was for Mercedes and the rest at Hockenheim, the Indy Car race at Mid-Ohio was far more exciting. There was fantastic racing throughout the field. Scott Dixon won after some terrific dices with Will Power and even his own teammate Felix Rosenqvist. It was proper nail-biting racing. 

Source: @scottdixon9

Source: @scottdixon9

Congratulations go to all of the guys on the podium with Scott finishing on top, Felix in 2nd place and Ryan Hunter Reay in 3rd. But special congratulations to you. You’ve had a role in all three drivers’ careers. Of course, you manage both Scott and Felix. And though many may not remember, Ryan Hunter Reay came into Indy Car racing with your American Spirit Team Johansson in 2003. Ironically, Hunter Reay’s first-ever Indy Car podium came with your team at that season’s Mid-Ohio round where he finished 3rd! He went on to win the 2003 season-ending race at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.

SJ – Yes, even when you have three great races in F1, you turn on Indy Car on any weekend and the race is nearly always a nail biter which is rarely over until the last few laps. Every race ends up being exciting right until the end. Mid-Ohio was another brilliant race! Felix was on a different strategy than Scott. Rossi and Newgarden and Power were on different strategies and everyone was racing hard on track, and it went right to the finish line with only 0.09 separating the first two cars. If F1 ever had one race like that people would go ballistic!

When Felix and Scott were racing each other at the end, I seriously thought I was getting a heart attack! I was freaking out but it was great! For me personally it was fantastic obviously to see them get a 1-2. And I believe that’s the first 1-2 finish Ganassi has had in Indy Car since Scott raced with Dario [Franchitti]. And with Ryan finishing third as well it was an amazing day.

JT – Even the previous round, on a completely different type of track – the short oval at Iowa Speedway – was exciting and unpredictable. Scott had a very difficult night with the car not responding to a host of set-up changes and was running in 16th place. But pit strategy and a caution flag at the right moment late in the race allowed him to charge up to 2nd place! Josef Newgarden won the rain-delayed race and was doing donuts 1:15 am central time

SJ – It was a crazy race and I still can’t believe Scott managed to pull his way back to 2nd after being a couple of laps down at one point, but again, this is what makes Indycar the best racing in the world right now, it has all the right ingredients for close and unpredictable racing. As far as the competition side of the business goes, they are doing pretty much everything right. The only thing I’m having a hard time to understand is the lapped car rule, where the backmarkers can still race the leaders even when they are about to go a lap down. I don’t think it’s fair that they should be able to effect the outcome of the race. If it’s not your day, you should just move over and let the leaders continue to fight until the end, rather than getting caught up for laps behind someone who’s over a second a lap slower. 

JT – Haas F1 continues to struggle on track. Their car, the VF-19, is obviously part of the problem. But the drivers are another liability this year. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen can’t seem to stop running into each other. They have an open rivalry of course but what’s taken place between them at nearly every race of the season seems illogical. Gunter Steiner recently said he was more than frustrated with their behavior and shouldn’t have to be mediating between them when he should be focused on making the car and team better. Why not sack both Grosjean and Magnussen and perhaps replace them with Indy Car drivers?

SJ – Unfortunately for them, the situation at Haas is almost comical. I can see it being justified if they are fighting for the lead or the championship, like Lewis and Nico was a few years back, but I think even those two had better discipline and race craft than the Haas guys do. It’s ridiculous to be fighting as teammates over 10th position and keep bouncing into each other race after race. Something’s not right there. These guys just have no race craft. And how much patience can Haas have, it’s not like either of them are World Champion material or ever will be? Haas shouldn’t have to be thinking about them in addition to making the car better or whatever else, if you are paid driver you are there to enhance the overall performance of the team, not give them an added headache to deal with pretty much every weekend. 

If any of these guys were to race in Indycar, not just the Haas guys but in general, they would have to make some major adjustments in order to be competitive. Execution is everything in Indy Car. If you or the team get one thing wrong you lose several positions immediately and fighting your way back from that is almost impossible as close as the racing is. And at most of the tracks you don’t have run-off areas where you can rejoin the rack after bouncing off someone else or missing the apex, so if you tangle or have to go off track for any reason, your day is pretty much over. 

The irony is that F1 teams are now considering guys like Pato O’Ward who left to join Red Bull in Super Formula in Japan and Colton Herta is being considered by a number of teams. Both of them are super talented but if you look at what they have done in Indy Car – for an F1 team to consider them kind of sums up the mentality of Formula 1. Neither one of them is ready for F1. They have one good race in Indy Car and then a series of others with mistakes or poor execution. It’s the most bizzare situation at the moment, where Formula One has now become some kind of training ground for young talented drivers. Every now and then you will find a Unicorn, like Hamilton or Verstappen for example, but for everyone of those there’s a graveyard of other really talented drivers that got spat out of the system very early on for a variety of reasons but primarily because they simply weren’t ready either mentally or technically. 

But this is how they think in F1. It’s all about really young and fast drivers. If you’re over 20 years old, no one in F1 will even look at you it seems. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be patient and take a driver who’s 23, 24 or 25 years old who’s had four or five years of hard racing behind them duking it out in other series and has shown that they’re a proven winner. 

JT – That’s a great point. Why wouldn’t F1 teams be looking at relatively young Indy Car drivers like Josef Newgarden or Alexander Rossi? Rossi’s been in F1 before but only with a back-marker team. Both guys are proven winners. Newgarden already has an Indy Car championship under his belt (2017) and Rossi is a threat at every race. Both are competitive with the series’ most decorated and experienced racers like Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter Reay, etc. Felix Rosenqvist is another possibility. He’s really beginning to show his talent in Indy Car. 

SJ – Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. These guys have been in Europe in the early days of their careers and now they’ve been racing hard for a few years and have a lot more experience. Now is the time that F1 teams should be looking at them not when they started their careers over there and had virtually no experience with either the tracks or the people they were racing against.