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Filtering by Tag: French GP

Controversy at the Canadian GP, Tire Wars & the Competitiveness of Indycar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 102

JT – The Canadian Grand Prix has been the subject of controversy since the race took place. While leading the race, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ran wide between Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s Turns 3 and 4, reentering the track just in front of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. After a brief evaluation of the incident, F1’s stewards gave Vettel a five-second penalty for impeding Hamilton. Hamilton crossed the finish line 2nd behind Vettel but with the five seconds applied, he was declared the winner.  

Vettel was angered by the penalty, as were fans and many current/former F1 drivers and racers from other categories who weighed in with their frustration. Ferrari has requested the FIA review the penalty. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Unfortunately, nothing is new under the sun. The one time this season so far they actually have a great race on their hands which would have been an epic battle to the end, they manage to ruin it by meddling with these random and completely inconsistent penalties. 

I know some people have come out and said the penalty was deserved because Vettel broke a rule. Strictly speaking, this may be true, but this also signifies the problem we have at the moment. Formula 1 already has far too many rules. How many more scenarios are there going to be where they will come up with a penalty instead of letting people get on with racing? If you strictly follow the rule book you could also argue that you are also allowed to change direction once on every straight, which is another stupid rule by the way, which if the argument the stewards put forward was that Vettel changed direction once he had the car under control is then negated by the next rule. Each year the rule book keeps getting thicker, with more and more rules to cover every possible scenario both on the competition side and the technical side, in parallel, as we all know only to well, the racing is getting more and more boring and sanitized. 

I’ve made my view on the random driver stewards/race control situation clear many times. I’ve been totally against it since they started it. I think they need one or two people who could be ex-drivers like Indycar has but they are the same people at every race. It’s been clear for years now that F1’s random driver steward process doesn’t work. I read someone’s argument that this system works great because they have four Stewards that alternate between the races, and five different driver stewards. To me that’s three stewards and four drivers to many! There is no way you will ever get consistency with a system like this, hence we have these random decisions in almost every race that are completely inconsistent from similar incidents that happened in an earlier race. 

It would have been so great to see Vettel and Hamilton go for a real fight to the end, as it were, Lewis was just cruising knowing that all he had to do was finish within five seconds of Vettel, a total anticlimax to what would have probably been the best race of the season.

JT – Apart from the controversy at the Canadian GP, most of the teams continue to voice the same complaint at every race. They cannot get Pirelli’s very temperature-sensitive tires to work. Only Mercedes seems to be able to make them respond consistently.

SJ –  Yes, it’s the same story over and over again up and down the pit lane. On some weekends one or other of the teams may get their car to work but they all seem to struggle apart from Mercedes which seems to have gotten a better handle on the tires than the rest. 

I think a lot of that is just resources. The more money and resources you have the more manageable it is to find a quick solution. But I find it extremely ironic – and it goes back to my “Make F1 Awesome Again” document – that here the teams are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on aerodynamic development and other elements but the bottom line is the majority of the performance comes down to the tires most of the time. 

They’re the cheapest component on the car that really matters by a hundred times. You’ll find performance from the tires a hundred times quicker than you would out of anything else you develop on a car. I just don’t understand the logic of forcing one tire manufacturer to build a terrible tire. It makes no sense. If you opened the tire supply up I can see at least four manufacturers that would jump onboard immediately. 

They would all pour a ton of money into marketing and development for the teams they’d work with and the racing would be really interesting. At some tracks the Michelin’s would be quick, at others the Bridgestone’s would be quick, at some the Pirellis would be fast and at some tracks it might be the Hankook’s or whoever else would choose to supply tires. Some tires will be really good in qualifying and not so good in race trim and vice versa. It would mix up the grid and make the races far more interesting.

Yes, the top teams would want to make sure they were on the right tire but you need to do something to introduce variability, something to make it interesting and less predictable. And I don’t remember the “tire wars” being terrible when we last had them. It was never a problem as far as I can recall. Everyone was happy to compete and get the best out of the tires, do the required tire testing. At some tracks the Bridgestone’s were quicker, and at some the Michelin’s were quicker. 

Eventually, one manufacturer might get an edge but then the others partner with different teams and continue the development – it’s part of the whole process.

JT – Meanwhile, the deadline for presentation of F1’s 2021 rules has been delayed with teams and F1 chiefs opting to wait until October to unveil them. The end of June had been the previous deadline. Disagreements among the teams on some of the fundamentals are said to be the reason for the delay.

SJ – They can keep tweaking the rules until the year 3000. The teams are never going to agree. They haven’t been able to agree on anything so far so what makes anyone think they’ll agree on the new rules?

It’s impossible to get the teams to agree to the same set of rules. Because everything is now run like a democracy and the teams have to have their say in everything we’ll end up with some half-assed compromise that won’t make anyone happy, least of all the fans. That’s the reality of it. As I’ve been saying all along, the series needs to be run like a benevolent dictatorship with people running it who have an acute understanding of the business. They make the rules that all the teams will have to follow, end of story. That’s the only way it can work. 

There is no way you can try to please everyone. Once you set a fair, coherent set of rules that make sense, that’s it. People will say some teams will then leave the sport. If they don’t want to play, let them leave. As long as the barrier of entry to F1 is not so high financially that almost no one can join, which is currently the case, other teams or manufacturers will soon replace them. 

After more than a year of deliberations,  they’re now talking about a $150 million cost-cap – not including engines, drivers and marketing. So you’re basically back at $250 million before you even start. So everyone apart from the top three teams is already screwed because none of them have a budget that size even today. 

JT – The most recent round of the 2019 Indycar season came at Texas Motor Speedway where Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden held off Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi to win, executing a clever pit stop strategy that put Newgarden in front for the final stage of the race. 

Scott Dixon was competitive all evening, leading at times. But with just 19 laps remaining, Scott and rookie Colton Herta made contact while battling for 3rd place in turn 3, sending both into the safer barrier. The DNF saw Scott fall to 4th in the championship standings, 89 points behind leader Newgarden. Felix Rosenqvist finished in 12th position. Obviously, it wasn’t a great outcome for Scott. What did you think of the contact between him and Herta?

SJ – Looking at the video replay a few times afterwards, Herta had both wheels over the inside at the bottom of the track going into the corner, so once they got in the corner there was no room to keep the foot down and his car just crept up the track until they made contact. It’s just one of those things. I think Herta was lucky to get away with several of the moves he made earlier in the race which were also right on the limit. I think his driving was a bit marginal all day long, but It’s to be expected from a guy with the amount of talent that he has. I like his driving a lot I must say, he’s brave and full of confidence, with a huge amount of natural talent. But at places like Texas and Pocono, it’s maybe a little too much considering the consequences if something goes wrong, not only for yourself but also the guys you’re fighting with.  It’s a little like Verstappen in his early years, he just puts the nose in there, and if the guy he’s about to pass doesn’t move or give enough room there will be contact, they’re low percentage moves that look amazing when you get away with them, but as soon as it turns the other way, which it always will eventually, you look like a schmuck. It’s part of the learning curve, especially when you consider how young these guys are when they get their breaks. Verstappen at some point understood this and is now a much more complete driver.

Scott lost quite a few points so that’s going to make it very tough for the championship going forward. It’s not over but it’s not easy to come back from that far back. 

Felix results doesn’t really give credit to the effort he’s put in. He qualified on the second row next to Scott at Detroit but unfortunately things didn’t go his way in the race. It’s just about putting everything together for a whole weekend and a whole race, between the driver, the team and the strategy. That’s what makes Indycar so difficult. At the Indy Grand Prix before the 500, where he started from Pole Position, there were some issues in two of the pitstops and Felix had problems keeping the tires under him during the whole race. And the accident he had in practice for the 500 – that will set you back big time. 

Having the confidence that the car is underneath you at Indy is critical. When it comes unstuck, it will let go pretty quickly as he found out the hard way. It’s a confidence thing and after that you’re never quite sure when you can rely on the back end of the car. It’s always a balancing act.  He got comfortable and did a great job in the race, moving up through the field throughout the race. Unfortunately both him and Scott both got caught up in the Bourdais and Rahal accident.

JT – It’s interesting to look at Indycar on any track and compare the level of competition with what we see in F1. There’s no denying Lewis Hamilton has had a very impressive career with five world championships to his credit. But, at most, Hamilton has to beat only one or two drivers to win those championships. Scott Dixon is a five-time champion as well but in Indycar he’s had to best a large number of competitors to earn each of his championship titles. It seems to me that the depth of the competition in Indycar makes Scott’s achievements more impressive. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I don’t think there’s anyone in the F1 paddock that can touch Hamilton at the moment, he’s on a different level and is just getting better every year, so in my opinion he deserves all the success he’s had without a doubt. But as you correctly point out, the facts in F1 will tell you that there’s never been a world champion in all the history of F1 that did not have the best car. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s a championship in the world that’s harder to win in than Indycar right now. Winning three to four races in a season of Indycar is a huge accomplishment. There are so many factors at play and you don’t have the predictability you have in F1. Look at Texas. I think we were all surprised when Newgarden emerged at the front near the end of the race. He came from nowhere!

Team Penske made a fantastic call on strategy and played their pit stop cycle perfectly. It’s impossible for something like that to happen in Formula 1. Indycar has that variability and so many good drivers and teams. I keep saying it but I think it’s the best racing of any series in the world right now. Nothing comes close. Every single weekend is flat out hard racing. Can you imagine if even one F1 race was like that? People would go crazy.

JT – It strikes me that the complete lack of competitive balance in F1 might induce talented  drivers coming up through the open wheel ranks - from F2, F3, etc – to aim for Indycar rather than F1. If you’re a hot young prospect and you want to compete against top drivers in a championship where the competitive balance between teams is close, why not skip the lopsided soap opera that is F1 and go do some real racing in Indycar?

SJ – To be honest, I think we’re going to see more and more of that. At the same time, it’s not easy for any of those guys to come over here and get a ride at the moment. But if there are drives which open up, I don’t think anyone could disagree that Indycar, tough as it is, is a series where at least you have a possibility of winning. There’s no possibility in F1 unless you’re driving for the right one or two teams. One of the issues though is that the drivers in F1 today make it there at such a young age, which works out great in F1 because the main criteria is just to be able to drive the car as fast as possible, race craft doesn’t matter anywhere as much as it does in Indycar or Sportscar racing. The reason is that everything is so perfect in F1, the engineering of the cars, the simulations, the tracks that are smooth like a dance floor with huge run off areas, the adjustability of the cars through all the devices on the steering wheel. All these things take away a lot of the elements a driver has to deal with in most other types of racing. 

JT – Scott Dixon was one of several Indycar drivers who raced at Le Mans. Predictably, the 24 Hours left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. The overall outcome was never in doubt with Toyota dominating in LMP1, winning over the nearest P1 car by six laps. The GTE battle had great potential even in the final hours. But the pit/safety car rules at Le Mans trapped Jan Magnussen’s Corvette at pit out, allowing the winning AF Corse Ferrari to go by as Magnussen idled in pit lane. 

Scuderia Corsa, where you are the Sporting Director, ended up with a podium finish after the Keating Ford got disqualified after the post race scrutineering.

Scott finished 5th in GTE Pro in the #69 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT after the sister #68 car was disqualified from its 4th place finish for having a fuel capacity .83 liters over the limit. The GTE Am winning Ford GT of Keating Motorsports was disqualified as well for a fuel infraction, a tenth of a liter over the limit. 

What did you think of the race and how did Scott view it?

SJ – I thought the race was unusually uneventful this year, with only two cars in the race with a realistic chance of winning, the only interesting battles was in the other categories. I feel sorry for Mike Conway and his co drivers as they clearly had the pace to win this time. Mike was very impressive to build the gap early on that they were able to maintain throughout the race, until the very end when it all went pear shaped for them.

It was a good result for Scuderia Corsa in the end, we just didn’t quite have the overall pace this year, but the team did a terrific job overall.

Scott was a bit frustrated I think, it seemed the Ford’s never quite had the pace throughout the event, and then they had a few unfortunately minor things go wrong on their car that basically put them out of contention. 

As usual, no one is happy with the BoP unless you’re on the top of the podium. It’s a tricky one and I wish there was a different way to compete, but for the time being I can’t see anything change in this area. 

JT- Finally, last weekend we had the French GP at Paul Ricard and the Indycar race at Road America. Two very different race tracks, do you have any comments on the nature of the tracks and the outcome of the races?

SJ- Yes, two very different race tracks for sure. Although Paul Ricard is quite an old track in F1 terms, it’s been updated and modified significantly since the first GP they held there way back. However, the layout is not that much different, they’ve only added a few standard issue F1 chicanes. After the race we got all the usual complaints of an extremely boring race with no passing and no action throughout. But to be fair this track never invited any great racing, it was always difficult to pass and hard to get a run on the driver in front due to the layout of the track. Most drivers, including myself hated the layout of this track because it has no natural flow, it’s very choppy and you can never get a good rhythm going. I never considered it to be a good track for either racing or testing. Bernie Ecclestone bought it some time ago and turned it into a mausoleum of how a modern GP track should look, the run off areas are incredible with the different surfaces which are also color coded. I remember losing the brakes once during a 24 hour test in preparation for Le Mans,  at the end of the long straight. The car stopped on it’s own before I hit anything, the last rows of asphalt was like glue and it just stopped the car on it’s own, amazing!! Everything including the Pit complex is done the absolute maximum, but the place have no character.

At the other end of the spectrum is Road America, one of the few remaining old school tracks that is incredibly challenging and unforgiving. If you put a wheel wrong it will punish you right away. Every driver I know absolutely love this place, it reminds me of Brands Hatch but it’s even faster and more flowing. The race was again very exciting, if you don’t count Alexander Rossi, who just checked out and left everyone to fight for second. In typical Indycar fashion there were great battles throughout the field. Both Scott and Felix put in some very good recovery drives and salvaged some good points on what looked to be a bad weekend for both at the start of the race.

F1 Japanese Grand Prix, U.S. Grand Prix & Formula 1’s Penalty System

Stefan Johansson

 - #SJblog 78 -

JT – As the 2016 Formula One season races toward its conclusion, the grands prix are coming thick and fast. Here, we cover both the Japanese Grand Prix and the U.S. Grand Prix.

Last weekend Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton took their title fight to the Circuit of the Americas. The race was like most this year – not really compelling or exciting. Lewis Hamilton got away cleanly from pole and led from start to finish. Teammate Rosberg left his second-place grid position well but a good start from Daniel Ricciardo saw the Red Bull Racing driver emerge from Turn 1 in second place with Rosberg third. Ultimately, Rosberg recovered to finish second with Ricciardo third.

We’ll touch on the details momentarily but first I’d like to observe that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a race – open wheel or sports car – at COTA that was especially memorable or exciting. The track doesn’t seem to lend itself to great racing. Do you agree?

SJ – I agree. It’s the nature of the track. It’s another [Hermann] Tilke-designed track basically so it’s built to the same template as most of the rest he’s done. Unfortunately, they don’t produce very good racing in general because they all seem to have one corner followed by a kink or another corner and you can never get a proper run on a guy ahead of you as you’re going through them. The corners leading onto the long straights are all sort of aero-dependent which means that if you get somewhat close to the car in front you lose your front end which means you have to lift slightly and then the gap remains too big to have a go when you arrive to the braking zone – often even with DRS engaged. It’s the same problem you have on so many modern circuits.

JT – With his USGP win, Lewis Hamilton cuts Nico Rosberg’s point lead from 33 to 26. Rosberg did what he needed to do by finishing second, scoring enough points to limit the damage. So their championship battle continues to the next race, the Mexican Grand Prix. What did you think of the USGP?

SJ –Well, there’s not really much to report. Again, whoever gets through the mess at the first corner in the lead – that’s pretty much where they end up. With the cars at the front so closely matched it’s pretty predictable from there on.

JT – As mentioned, Daniel Ricciardo passed Nico Rosberg for second place at the first corner but lost the spot to Rosberg later in the race. Ricciardo blamed the Virtual Safety Car triggered when teammate Max Verstappen’s Red Bull car came to a halt on the circuit for his loss of position. He observed that by pitting under the VSC Rosberg lost less time and thus emerged second after his stop. VSC’s have been seen as preferable to traditional “safety car” or “yellow flag-caution” periods but a number of incidents in sports car racing have some including Audi Sport questioning whether they are consistently more equitable. What’s you view?

SJ – With a full safety car, the whole pack gets closed up and that can be unfair if you have a significant advantage. That’s what we have had in IndyCar since forever and it offers opportunities for much more interesting racing even if it’s not always fair.

If the rules state that you have a safety car when there’s an incident… then it just becomes part of the racing, it’s part of what you do and you build your strategy accordingly. It features in IndyCar pretty much every race. How often have we seen a driver go a lap down at Indianapolis and still end up winning the race by playing the strategy the right way for example?

So safety cars are good and bad. Over the course of a season, your luck with them usually evens out – sometimes good, sometimes bad. Overall, a virtual safety car can be more fair because everybody’s supposed to slow to a certain speed immediately when a VSC is called. On the other hand, I’m not sure exactly how they monitor that because it would be difficult to monitor the gaps between each car. It looks to me that you can at least gain a few seconds by simply slowing down just a fraction later than some others do and by doing so reducing their gap to the car ahead.

And Rosberg obviously took advantage of the VSC. There was nothing Ricciardo could do about when the VSC was declared, so that’s also a smart call, good strategy from Mercedes.

JT – Both Red Bull and Ferrari stumbled. Max Verstappen pitted even though he hadn’t been called to the pits by the team then succumbed to engine failure. Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish due to a loose wheel after his second stop. Sebastian Vettel finished a distant fourth to both Mercedes and Ricciardo’s Red Bull.

SJ – Raikkonen’s DNF was a mishap which could happen to anyone I guess but as far as Ferrari’s progress…. well, once a season is underway it’s hard to overcome whatever car deficit you have. As deep into 2016 as they are, it is what it is now. They just have to try to regroup and get it right for next year. Also, loosing their technical director James Allison mid season obvisously does not help.

Source: Formula 1

Source: Formula 1

JT – McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Williams’ Felipe Massa made contact as Alonso passed Massa for sixth place in the late stages of the race. They disagreed about who was at fault for the contact which punctured one of Massa’s tires but the stewards ruled it a racing incident and no penalty was administered. Later in this blog you speak about the inconsistent application of rules in F1 and the variability introduced by having a succession of different driver stewards. This incident adds to that theme, doesn’t it?

SJ – That corner (Turn 15) is probably one of the easiest corners to cover the inside on any grand prix track worldwide. It makes zero difference if you’re on the outside racing line, inside or wherever you are in that corner.

I think it would have been easy for Massa to stay to the inside of the corner. And when you leave the door wide open a driver like Alonso will always make a move. Knowing how difficult it is to pass around there the only option is really to go for the “surprise” move which is exactly what Alonso did. You have to make a move when the driver ahead least expects it because there’s hardly any other place to pass on that track.

It’s the same thing Rosberg did to Raikkonen in Malaysia but Nico got a 10-second penalty. Alonso got nothing and it’s the same old story – rulings at random. These were almost identical incidents but the stewards’ rulings were not identical. One time you get a penalty, next time you don’t.  What do you do as a driver?

I think [Mark] Blundell who was the steward in Austin did the right thing but it shows there’s no consistency whatsoever in the control tower.

JT – With five races remaining on the Formula One calendar, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton sat anxiously on the grid at the Japanese Grand Prix knowing a good points score would be critical for both in their two-man battle for the championship. When the lights went out Rosberg (on pole) got away cleanly. Hamilton, starting second, bogged down and fell to eighth by the time the field exited the first corner. He recovered to finish third after a heated battle with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who finished in second place.

As you’ve said in previous blogs, the Mercedes driver who gets the start right generally wins. We saw that once again at Suzuka.

SJ – All season long, it seems that’s what it’s come down to now. More than anything else between these two, it really comes down to who gets the start right and at least in Lewis case also some reliability issues. That’s it. That’s all the difference there is between them. That’s why the situation can change so quickly. One missed start or one reliability issue on Nico’s part and a win for Lewis, and it’s all back to square one again. The championship battle won’t be over until the final race, I’m sure of it.

The press has been saying either Lewis or Nico are on form at one time or another. But if you look back to the previous race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lewis dominated the race until he had an engine failure. So it’s not really accurate to say one or another is on or off form. As we’ve said before, when you have two drivers who are so closely matched, whoever gets the start right on the day is going to have an edge.

JT – Max Verstappen’s move in the chicane as Lewis Hamilton was trying to pass him with two laps to go sparked some controversy. Mercedes initially protested Verstappen’s change of direction under braking but later withdrew the protest. Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda sided with Verstappen saying, "If I was him, I wouldn't have let Lewis past on the penultimate lap either.” He added, “This paragraph (rule) could be interpreted in all sorts of ways so it's worthless."

What did you think of Verstappen’s driving, and the lack of clarity in F1 rules?

SJ – This moving under braking – even if it’s just a little wiggle – makes it very difficult for the guy behind. Once you hit the brakes you’re more or less committed to one line, so if you’re the car following and you’ve decided to make an attempt to pass where there is a gap by leaving your braking to the very last moment and the driver in front of you suddenly moves across and the gap is no longer there it makes it almost impossible for the guy behind to avoid even hitting him. You either completely blow the corner or you hit the guy you’re trying to pass, which in fact we have seen numerous times lately, where parts of the front wing suddenly go flying because there was contact under braking.

We’ve talked about this many times but this blocking nonsense in racing goes back quite a few years. There’s a great video of Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve (1979 French Grand Prix at Dijon). If you watch that, it was an intense battle where they traded second place several times and you see how they raced back then. There was no blocking and that’s how everyone raced. Sadly, these dirty tactics slowly crept into the system by a few drivers who then became heroes to the generations that followed and because the FIA didn’t clamp down on it early enough it’s now become the norm and every young driver thinks that’s how you should race.

That’s where we are today. All the young drivers think that’s the way to race and it’s a pity because it’s also taken away a large part of what I call the “Art of Racing”. Even the vocabulary drivers use now is weird – the fact that now people talk about “defending my position”. “Defending” nowadays basically translates into moving in one direction or another so that the other guy can’t get past you, no matter how much faster he is.

To me, that has nothing to do with racing. If you are slower than the car behind you, and he’s started to make his move, whether it’s a corner or what often happens now even on the straights, you can’t simply move across the guy to prevent him from passing. That’s like allowing a boxer to pull out a knife or something when he’s on the ropes and about to go down. In contrast, look back to the race in Malaysia at the beginning of the month. Ricciardo and Verstappen had a great dice with no blocking. That’s racing. There was enough room for both to race hard. Ricciardo managed to keep his position without blocking at any point. He just raced hard but he gave both cars enough room. That’s how you should race – hard but fair, real racing as far as I’m concerned.

There is no skill whatsoever involved in just moving across on a competitor who’s trying to pass you because he’s faster than you. The phrase, “defending your position” didn’t exist in the past. You defended your position by braking later than the guy trying to pass you. If you could brake later and still make the corner, you successfully kept your position.

There should always be enough room for both cars to make a corner. Anything else is completely unacceptable. What drivers do on the straights now is outrageous. It’s the same thing but even worse. There should always be enough room on any straight for two cars, and if one car is faster than the other it’s his right to pass. If you have to lift on a straight because someone ahead just drives across your piece of road effectively, that’s absolutely unacceptable.

JT – Ferrari finished just off the podium with Sebastian Vettel in 4th and Kimi Raikkonen in 5th. But Red Bull Racing has moved into second place ahead of Ferrari in the constructor’s championship. The situation at Ferrari still seems confused. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, more and more people who should know are starting to come forward with some honest assessments of the team. I don’t know enough of what really goes on to make a fair comment but I do know that F1 is probably one of the most difficult businesses to run successfully as there are so many layers to deal with. It’s hard enough to run a company profitably and do everything else correct, on top of that you then have to try and win a race every two weeks against people that are all trying to do the same thing. The top teams now employ over 1000 people and the organization required to manage those people and get the best of out them requires some very strong leadership. We have seen many extremely successful business people come into F1 over the years, but without the experience and the mindset you need to succeed in this cut throat business of Formula One, and all have ultimately failed. The only exceptions I can think of is Flavio Briatore and Dietrich Mateschitz who both were smart enough to hire the best people in the business and basically let them get on with it. Mr. Marchioni is without doubt an extremely intelligent man and his business record speak for itself. Let’s just hope that Ferrari does not end up going down the same road Jaguar did when Ford bought the Stewart F1 team and installed a bunch of car executives and engineers (Premier Automotive Group) to run the F1 team. We all saw how that ended up.

Flavio Briatore and Dietrich Mateschitz.jpg

I say it over and over. Racing is a very difficult business in general, and Formula One in particular. You can’t expect to just arrive and apply your normal business acumen and what you’ve learned in a business school or from running big public companies to running a race team at the highest level. It’s completely different. I certainly haven’t run a car company but I suspect there’s probably another 50 layers of complexity and issues you have to deal with on top of just running a successful business when you’re engaged in F1.

It’s possibly the most competitive environment you can possibly get into. If you make one or two bad strategic decisions it will take several months or even years to rectify them and get back on track. Most of all, you better hire the right people. Even with the “dream Team” of Jean Todt, Russ Brawn, Michael Schumacher and Rory Byrne it still took Ferrari several years before they became a winning team. Right now I don’t see a “dream team” in place.

JT – In other F1-related news, Nico Hulkenberg announced that he will leave Force India at the end of the season and join Renault in 2017. It’s a factory drive, something every driver covets but Hulkenberg must also hope that Renault can make significant improvement.

Meanwhile, ex-Red Bull Racing/current-Porsche LMP1 driver Mark Webber announced that he will retire from racing after the WEC season ends in November at the 6 Hours of Bahrain. What are your thoughts on these moves?

SJ – It’s a good move for Hulkenberg. I’m sure Renault will make progress, assuming the commitment is there. How much they commit and over what period of times, who knows?

It certainly opens up the driver market in a different way now, that’s for sure. An open Force India seat is definitely a desirable seat for a lot of the drivers. And there’s the second seat at Renault as well. There are plenty of very good drivers in the market, let’s hope these seats will be offered to someone that truly deserves an F1 drive.

Mark Webber’s announcement surprised me a little bit. Maybe he’s just had enough or just realized that it’s getting tougher and tougher every year to stay on top. WEC LMP 1 I would say is every bit as hard as F1 at the sharp end, there are some extremely good drivers in every one of the cars from Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

JT – Following up on your comments in the last blog about tire testing and the advantages that can be gained if a team or driver makes themselves readily available to assist Pirelli with development of next year’s new, larger tires, some seem to be waking up to that fact. Nico Rosberg recently tested the new tires on a Mercedes for the first time at Aragon.

SJ – Maybe the penny has now dropped for some of the other teams and drivers. There’s been some noise made about Vettel’s testing for Ferrari and I think the others realize the importance of being at the very cutting edge of that. It’s probably more important than car development in some ways.  We spoke about this in the last blog. I also noticed Alonso made a comments that it’s unfair that all the teams don’t have the opportunity to do the testing. My understanding is that McLaren actually turned down the opportunity to be part of the testing, which I think will ultimately hurt them next year.

JT – Recent rulings on driver/team infractions seem to have you and many other people scratching their heads about F1’s murky penalty system. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Again, we have discussed this so many times now, and if anything it just seems to get worse in fact. The penalties they issue make no sense. Take Rosberg’s penalty in Malaysia (Rosberg was penalized 10 seconds for contact with Kimi Raikkonen while passing the Ferrari driver), that was just hard racing, he went for the surprise move and he pulled it off. The door was left open enough to have a go on the entry.  Yet you get a penalty for that but don’t get penalized for moving completely across the track to block a guy from passing you on a straight line, which has happened numerous times?

The penalties are so random and willy nilly, they vary with every race depending on who is in the control tower for the weekend. For me, this makes a complete mockery of the whole system. You have teams spending hundreds of millions of dollars while some random guys in the control tower decides whether a driver should be penalized for something that is also completely random. Their decisions could have a direct effect on the championship. As it were, it made no difference in Malaysia because Rosberg gained more than 10 seconds on Raikkonen and finished where he would have finished anyway.

But let’s say Rosberg missed out on one point because of a steward’s decision. If that one point is the decider in the championship, the decision of a random steward could make all the difference.

In addition, there seems to be no consistency in the penalties. Esteban Ocon gets a 5-second penalty for speeding in pit lane (Manor Racing’s Ocon earned two penalties for speeding in pit lane in the Malaysian GP)? As far as I’m aware, the penalty for speeding in pit lane has always been a drive-through. In every type of racing I’ve ever done if you speed in pit lane you generally get a drive-through penalty. All of a sudden it’s now a 5-second penalty from one race to the next?

You’ll have a different penalty for that in the next race and then another different penalty after that…The drivers don’t know if they’re coming or going. It’s inexcusable for me that Charlie Whiting (F1 Race Director) and the FIA can pick a driver-steward at random for each and every race. Let’s hypothetically say they ask Mark Webber to be steward. He might still have a beef with Vettel, we don’t know. Or any other driver, we don’t know the full background, maybe they have a vested interest in a particular driver or they may just be mates at some level. Either way, there is a good chance that this will cloud their judgment to some degree at least.

As high level as everything is in F1, there is this opposite side of the spectrum - completely amateur. Most other series have a dedicated steward who is present at every race. It’s so poorly thought out that there’s no way to justify it in my view.

As I’ve said before, they need to get rid of the guest driver-stewards and have one guy that is respected by all the drivers and who can talk to them as peers – who can tell them clearly what the rules are and let them know that if they break these rules they get penalized. Very quickly a pattern will form and drivers will know where the line is drawn.

Every driver should know where they stand with regard to the rules. Now, no one knows. It’s up to Derek Warwick or Alan Jones or Allan McNish or Emanuele Pirro or Danny Sullivan, or whomever is there on a given weekend. No disrespect to any of them. They’re all great drivers but everybody has a different view of what’s right or wrong. And when it really comes down to crunch time, do every one of these guys, not just the guys I mentioned but all of the guys who have at some time been the guest steward over the years, really have the balls to make the right decision if a world championship is at stake. I say categorically no.

One more thing – the penalties issued to teams for engine changes – they’re also mind boggling. I guess the engine change rules were originally created to stop engine manufacturers building grenades basically as qualifying or practice session engines. You get a penalty if an engine breaks before a set number of races have been run with it. The original thinking was that you can only use a limited number of engines so it’s less costly.

In reality it’s probably pushed the cost of engines up by five times compared to what it used to be. The cost of building an engine that will only last for one race is relatively small once you’ve designed and developed it. It’s only metal, it doesn’t cost that much more to produce 200 pistons compared to say 50 for example. Compare that to what it costs to design and build engines with these super exotic materials that have to be highly durable and last over the course of several races.

The current engines produce about 950 horsepower. A NASCAR V8 produces about 900 horsepower and you could probably build 100’s of those engines compared to what it costs to design and build one F1 engine. Does it have to be this complicated, this expensive?

Back to the rules – with the current engine penalties, the teams throw everything but the kitchen sink at a car every time they get one of these penalties. That makes a mockery of the rules. And does anyone understand a 45 grid-spot penalty for an engine change? How is the public supposed to follow that?

And if you have an accident and damage your engine and have to change it out, why are you penalized for that? You’ve already been penalized by having the accident. No one’s going to go and have an accident on purpose just so they can put a new engine in.

JT- Finally, Audi just announced that they are pulling out of WEC LMP1 and the Le Mans 24 hours at the end of 2016 and will instead focus on the Formula E Championship. What are your thoughts?

SJ- We’ve been hearing these rumors for a while now and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. It marks the end of an era and I am proud to have played a small part of the program over the year, being one of their drivers the first year they entered Le Mans and then in subsequent years with my own team (Gulf Audi R8) and then with Champion Racing where we won our class at Le Mans in 2003. Of all the car manufacturers I have worked with over the years they stand out as the one who really made a big impression on me. Dr Ullrich and his team of people created something that will be hard for anyone else to ever get close to. The decision to focus on Formula E instead is a very significant sign of the times, and if they really commit fully the same way they did to sportscars I think Formula E will make a giant leap forward as the other manufacturers will have no choice but to follow. It will be very interesting to follow this development over the next three years, this could be very significant!


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