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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: GT

2017: Year In Review

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 92

JT – As 2017 comes to a close we’re going to look back at the year’s racing a bit and look forward to 2018.

In recent action, the 2017 Macau Grand Prix F3 feature race was absolutely marvelous. Sette Camara and Ferdinand Habsburg had an amazing battle for the lead over the last two laps of the race. Habsburg overtook Camara at the final corner but both carried so much speed they the barrier at the corner exit leading to the finish line. Daniel Ticktum in 3rd position suddenly found himself crossing the line first to win. Lando Norris finished in 2nd while Habsburg made it over the finish line on three wheels to finish 4th.

SJ – Yes definitely! F3 in general is just great racing and always has been. All the kids at the sharp end of the grid are all super talented with a real fighting spirit. They haven’t been jaded by the experience that every move you make may not work out so they all just have a go. There is also a great camaraderie there that seems to get lost the further up the ladder you go, with the added pressure from both the teams, sponsors and the media.

I remember when I was doing British F3 and won the championship in 1980 (driving for Ron Dennis’ Project Four team), my two golf buddies were Kenny Acheson and Roberto Guerrero, they were also my biggest rivals to win the Championship that year. All three of us were fighting tooth-and-nail for the championship. But we were all best mates and the day before the races we’d be playing golf together. Of course, on-track we gave it all we had and never gave each other an inch, but it was always very fair and whomever of us got it right on the day ended up winning the race. It was very pure and it’s the way things still are to a large degree in F3. It’s no coincidence that the majority of all the greatest drivers in recent history all cut their teeth in Formula 3 to begin with.

F3 British GP - 1980 (Archive)

JT – As a fun aside, I happened to be watching a program on YouTube recently called “Ten Forgotten Group C Racers - LM24 Legends You've Never Heard Of”. One of the cars covered in the program was the 1991 Konrad Lamborghini KM 011, a Group C racer Franz Konrad created with the same Lamborghini V12 that powered the machines fielded by the Ligier and Modena teams in Formula 1. Apparently, Franz hired you as co-driver for the season. It didn’t go too well did it?

(Time code: 8:33-9:33)

SJ -  Oh dear! I will never forget that car! That had to be hands-down the worst car I ever drove – that and the Ligier F1 car from 1988 in their respective categories. They went hand-in-hand in terms of being unbelievably bad.

It was almost comical because we had that Lamborghini engine and there were no restrictors or anything back then. It was whatever power you could get out of the engine within a certain range and it had pretty good power. But the car had zero downforce - none.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I think the car must’ve been 50 km/h quicker than the Mercedes (C291 prototype), which was the fastest car at the time, down the straights but about 8 seconds slower per lap! It was ridiculous! I don’t think it had ever been within a hundred-mile radius of a wind-tunnel. It was eyeball design all the way and it had no grip whatsoever. There were so many things that were wrong with this car, apart from the poor handling. The cockpit had virtually no seal to the engine compartment which meant you were constantly breathing all the petrol fumes and the heat and noise inside the cockpit was insane. After about three laps in the car you lost your will to live!

Again, in sort of comedic terms, it would be difficult to make a race car that bad today with all of the advanced tools you have available now, like windtunnels, CFD, Simulators etc, or even just armed the basic knowledge on aero, chassis dynamics etc that exist today compared to back then.  Yet, you can still end up with something like the Nissan Le Mans prototype (2015 NISMO GT-R LM) which we all know was a complete donkey but with a full manufacturer backing. If I remember correctly, someone from Nissan proudly announced at the launch of the project that this car would win the 24 hours outright in two years. Oh well…

JT – Which professional series do you think offered the best racing in 2017? Which was most fun to watch?

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

SJ – I would say IndyCar again. It has always been enjoyable to watch. The series is very competitive and there’s always good battles throughout the field, and some of the races are real cliff hangers. You often don’t know what the outcome will be until the very end of each race.
I’ve been saying this for years now, IndyCar has by far the best racing overall but unfortunately only a fraction of the global race fans watch it. If they could only get more people to tune in so everyone can see how good it really is. I’m not a marketing expert and I certainly don’t claim I have all the answers, but it’s the best kept secret in global motorsports as far as I’m concerned. They need someone like Liberty to come in and really push the series to where it used to be and beyond. Of all the series out there, I think it’s one that need the least amount of changes in terms of the overall product, but they need all the help they can get in marketing themselves.

JT – The 2018 IndyCars with their now-standard lower downforce universal aero kits have received positive feedback from the drivers who’ve tested with them so far. Apparently they will force drivers used to the downforce-heavy Chevrolet and Honda aero kits of recent years to adapt their driving, requiring more finesse and patience. The cars should also move around more, making for more visually exciting racing. What’s your take?

3D Design by:  Chris Beatty

3D Design by: Chris Beatty

SJ – It certainly looks like this package will sort the level of driving out a bit more than what we’ve been used to seeing in 2017 and the last few years. It definitely looks like the cars are not as easy to drive as what we’ve been used to the past couple of years with the huge downforce cars.

They will demand more finesse and car control from the drivers and that’s good. That’s the problem with all of the high downforce cars of today. They can make an average driver look quite good. By definition, if you have more grip you don’t have to balance a car the way you would without it. It’s the same situation you have in F1 and it shows, DTM is the same as well as the WEC prototypes. Yes, the cars were quicker in 2017 and maybe fractionally more physical to drive but with all of the downforce and grip they have, they require less driving skill or feel for the car.
The new IndyCars will force the drivers to work a bit harder to get the last 5% out of the car and they will all have to develop that feel again. They’ll also have an impact on the tires. You will have to manage the tires more with your driving to make sure you don’t slide around too much but always keep them just below the point of losing the grip. This will inevitably lead to more small mistakes by some drivers which is often the chance you’re looking for when you’re battling another driver in a close race. I don’t know if the new car will make the racing any better, it’s already quite good. But I do think it will separate the good drivers from those who are average more than what we’ve been used to seeing the past few years.

And if the cars move around more, that’s what fans want to see. They want to see drivers fighting to control the cars.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2018 IndyCar season in another way, it’s intriguing to see how it’s shaping up with drivers switching teams, new drivers and new teams like Carlin joining the series.

SJ – I think it’s good. It’s probably time there was a bit of a shake-up in the ranks across the board. I think Carlin joining the series will be great. Trevor Carlin is one of the best Team Owners out there, period. They’ve won in everything they’ve ever competed in and they know what they’re doing. I think they’ll add a lot to the series.

JT – Formula 1’s 2017 season started off in interesting fashion with Ferrari able to challenge Mercedes for victory regularly. At the midway point however, Mercedes gained a clear advantage. The result was an early season that featured battles on track at times. After the early races, there was very little excitement. This was confirmed by data Pirelli released in December, showing that there were half the number of overtakes in F1 in 2017 compared to 2016. As you predicted, the larger, higher downforce cars the series switched to this year made passing more difficult.

SJ – Yes, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. It should have been obvious to anyone who write the rules that this was not the way to go to improve the racing. There’s no way to escape the effects of aero unfortunately.

Now they are talking about generating downforce from underneath the cars rather than from the top. That might help limit the turbulence a little bit but it won’t eliminate it. If you follow another car there will still be dirty air. As long as you have a lot of aero, you’re always going to have this problem, and the more complicated the aero is, which an F1 car is the epitomy of, the more affected your car will be from the dirty air. So unless they simplify the front wing considerably, I am certain they will still have the same problem.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. The easiest way to get more grip – and it would be so easy – is to simply improve the tires. Even on a much lower level than F1, like when we used to run LMP2 in sports car racing, you could easily spend a million dollars developing the aero of the car to gain, maybe half a second. Then you bolt on a different set of tires that cost maybe $2,000 and you pick up a second-and-a-half.

Source: Pirelli

Source: Pirelli

It’s beyond me that improving the tires is never even mentioned in F1. There are three things that make a race car go faster or slower not counting the driver of course: Chassis, Engine and Tires. The first two are open for anyone who wants to compete, yet the tires are restricted to one manufacturer, to whomever is willing to bid for the exclusivity. As it is today, I don’t think many tire companies would be interested in competing against each other in F1 with the current rules that mandate the same old 13-inch balloon tires they’ve continued to use since the 70’s or maybe even earlier, because they are completely irrelevant to any tire on the road anymore. But if they could change to tires that look at least remotely like what you see on a road car now then I’m sure the tire companies would jump right in. Michelin have already made that statement.

But it’s the Engineers that effectively write the rules today, and for them all the emphasis is on aerodynamics. So for the time being we are stuck with the current rules and the insane amount of money being spent on aero development. I guess if the focus changed from aero to tire and more mechanical grip more than half of them would be out of work immediately. That’s when you need someone with a birds-eye view who can step in and say, “This is what it is, these are the new rules. Deal with it.”

I’m sure that if you took away 60 or even 70 percent of the aerodynamic grip the cars have now and opened up the regulations to allow different tire manufacturers to compete against each other, you would easily gain back 3-4 seconds per lap, maybe more – almost immediately. Then give the cars an extra 300 horsepower and you gain another 3-4 seconds on an average length track.

There’s another thing which is curious in my mind with the current cars and regulations. Seemingly, someone in a high tower has decided that electric cars are the way to go and that’s it. Across the board, road cars, race cars, it doesn’t matter. No other alternatives are available. Anyone who has even the remotest interest in engineering knows that there are a ton of other alternative technologies out there which could be far more interesting and environmentally friendly and for sure more efficient than electric.

But we now have these so-called environmentally friendly hybrid cars with batteries that add nearly 50 percent more weight to an F1 car. The F1 cars used to weigh 500 kilograms. That alone made the cars way more exciting to watch than what we have now.  They were lively. They were moving around, twitchy and nervous all the time. You could really see the drivers working the cars.

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

I remember when I came from F1 to IndyCar. The IndyCars were quite a bit heavier. Everything happened so much slower in the IndyCar and that made it a lot easier. Now the F1 cars weigh as much as an IndyCar. In the bigger picture where F1 claims to be road relevant – which it isn’t – If you applied the concept of saving weight rather than adding it, let’s assume hypothetically, if you halved the weight of every road car and put the focus on weight loss can you imagine how much that would mean in terms of efficiency and for the environment just in terms of fuel consumption?
It would be massive. That should at least be an alternative direction F1 should be going in but they’re now doing the exact opposite.

If you allowed all the brilliant engineers in F1 to tap into the materials science that already exist out there and let the teams to focus on weight savings as an option in designing their cars. And then work out a target number for thermal efficiency and energy consumed that each car was allowed to consume over the course of a race distance. Then leave it up to the teams whether they want to run a normally aspirated engine in a car that will be lightweight and far more fuel efficient or a battery-hybrid car that’s maybe 200 kilos heavier but might also generate more power in an efficient but different way.

From an engineering point of view that’ll help sort everything out because you’d soon find out what approach was the most efficient. That would also provide interest for the fans with cars that were conceptually different from each other and that also looked and sounded a bit different. As it is, all the cars look virtually the same and truthfully F1 has been nothing more than a glorified spec series since the introduction of the latest engine formula. The rules a written so tight that each team has an extremely narrow window to work within, both on the chassis and the engine, hence all the cars looking and sounding exactly the same.

Take away a lot of the downforce, add an extra 300 horsepower, lighten the cars by 200 kilos and put some proper tires on them. You could soon be back near the same lap times they run today but with cars that were mega-exciting to watch. They would run close to 400 km/h down the straights, have much longer braking distances which would encourage more overtaking under braking, and the cars would move around a lot more so you could really see the drivers trying to tame their beasts. It would be awesome!

Another thing with all this, and maybe the most important aspect of all. Every single race track today, is either modified or built to specifically suit these high downforce cars, full of low speed corners and boring chicanes, in order to slow the cars down because of the high grip they generate from the downforce. If the cornering speeds were lower, but straigthline speeds were much higher we could gradually go back to the type of tracks that were far more exciting to watch, where you could really see a drivers laying it on the line with great car control in a series if medium and high speed corners, but with the modern safety standards applied. Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi is a perfect example of this, how is it possible to build something that awful when you have a clean sheet of paper, it’s probably the worst race track I have ever driven on in my entire career. It has 3 chicanes, and 4 first gear corners! Why would you even put one chicane when you build a new track and you have an endless choice if options.

JT – 2017 featured lots of sports car racing with GT racing remaining strong globally while top tier prototype racing gasped for air. The LMP1 class of the WEC looked less vibrant on and off track than it had for several years, demonstrating that the championship had finally drained the resources of the category’s remaining manufacturers, Porsche and Toyota, with its hugely expensive hybrid-prototypes. Porsche announced its P1 exit in late summer.

The situation was brighter in IMSA with the series’ DPi/P2 class gaining entrants even in a transitional season. IMSA’s GT classes remained strong and the outlook for 2018 looks very good with new teams and cars joining . Contrast that with the WEC where the LMP1 class will consist of Toyota and several privateer squads running non-hybrid ICE-powered machines. There’s little doubt Toyota will dominate.

The upcoming 24 Hours of Daytona should be one for the books with a historic line-up of star drivers and teams that will surpass what Le Mans can offer in the 2018/19 “Super Season”. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I agree. The formula that IMSA have come up with for prototypes is great and it’s clearly working, with more teams than ever joining the series. It’s just a shame that there can never be an agreement between Europe and America on the overall rules for prototypes.

It’s sad that egos have to get in the way all the time because I think they have the foundation here in the U.S. for something could be fantastic for everybody. Now the ACO is talking about a silhouette GT formula which is just going to be another money pit for a few manufacturers as far as I’m concerned.

Source:  Scuderia Corsa

As we’ve discussed before, my point has been for some time now, why not just unleash the current GT cars? If you take the restrictors off them they would have another 200-300HP or more in some cases, then give them maybe another 10 percent more aero and some wider tires and wheel arches that would make them look more aggressive also, and they’d be flying around Le Mans. They’d be in the mid to low 3:30s in no time, and that’s always been the target lap time the ACO wants to see for them to feel the track is safe. Make every manufacturer that wants to compete homologate a car to those specs, the road car version of the Le Mans spec car would be sold out in no time and every manufacturer competing would have their own version of the LM supercar. Each manufacturer would be spend serious money on activation if they were competing for the overall win in the 24 hours. So instead of Audi, Porsche and Toyota being the three manufacturers that had by far the biggest presence for years at Le Mans, you would now have maybe 10 or more manufacturers really using the event as a major marketing tool. The costs would of course go up from the current GT development programs for the cars, but this would be amortized over a period of time by all the private teams buying the same cars and spares as the factory teams were using. Even so, it would never get anywhere close to the money that was spent on the current LMP1 cars over the past 4-5 years. You would have the entire field racing with the same cars you can effectively buy, with the best drivers racing them.

With silhouette GTs, what happens to the existing manufacturer-based GT class? You’ll have the current GTE/GTLM cars and then these similar silhouette GTs? I think It’ll be very confusing.
For this year, unless the Toyotas break in one race or another, no one else has a chance of winning in LMP1. Of course, Audi won lots of races when they were the only manufacturer in P1 years ago but even that was a little different. The technology gap wasn’t as big as it is now and the amount of money the manufacturers have spent in P1 in recent years is on a completely different level.

JT – Still, there is a good level of excitement in sports car racing domestically and we even see the emergence here of touring car racing with TCR-spec cars slated to race more extensively in IMSA and with Pirelli World Challenge in 2018. In some ways, the possibilities for racers are opening up, even as the economic climate for racing remains challenging.

SJ – There’s definitely some exciting stuff and I think it’s great what [Fernando] Alonso is doing, trying other categories. That opens up the eyes of all the guys around him. All of a sudden they realize what’s possible. Alonso is maybe the most respected driver in the world, so when all these other guys in F1 especially see him trying these other categories it will for sure make them curious if nothing else.

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

I know for a fact from a couple of drivers I’ve talked with in F1 that they hate the current format. They’re just not having fun. The cars aren’t fun to drive and they’re not finding the whole experience enjoyable. Even some of the young drivers who are just getting started are seriously contemplating doing something other than F1. They just want to go drive something they can enjoy.

On the other hand, after having gotten a taste of what Super Formula and Super GT in Japan are like working with Felix [Rosenqvist], I think Japan has got it right on many levels. Both their series are full-on racing with no restrictors or BoPs, etc. You have brand new tires every time you leave pit lane and everybody’s going for it, all the time. It’s really good, hard racing. And now Jenson [Button] is there (in Super GT) and that’s going to open the eyes of a lot of European drivers and others. There are definitely some good things happening.

Source:  felixracing.se

JT – Formula E built some momentum over 2017 with the defection of Porsche from the WEC LMP1 ranks benefiting the electric championship and other marques joining as well. It’s not the most compelling racing but it has drawn the interest of manufacturers.

SJ – Yes, in a way Formula E isn’t really a series for the crowd on-hand at any race, not yet anyway. The tracks are relatively small so it’s not that easy to pack in a huge crowd even if you tried. The manufacturers are really what will drive the series in my opinion. They will no doubt start spending serious money not only on the racing but also on activation, as they always do when they get involved with a new category.

You’re going to have a war between Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and BMW – all the German makers who have mostly left DTM and will use this as their new arena to compete. You can already see it starting. And then you have Jaguar, Renault/Nissan and Citroen already there and several other car brands looking at it. It’s definitely the place to be at the moment. Typically, the manufacturers go for it while they are in and committed and then there’s a board decision by one or more of them and boom, they’re out. As quick as they arrive, at some point when it doesn’t serve their purpose anymore, they’re gone. It will be interesting to see how all this will develop.

From a driver’s point of view like Felix’s, it’s an interesting place to be, the teams are starting to get serious and as such they want the best drivers they can get their hands on. That’s why there are so many of these great drivers in the series already.

JT – Looking back at the global racing landscape in 2017, which driver do you think did the best job? Which driver from open wheel, sports cars, NASCAR – you name it – which racer performed best?

SJ – It’s always a very difficult questions because each championship and car requires you to become an expert in that particular category. Take a championship like the Australian V8 for example, it’s super competitive with some really great teams and drivers, I mention it just as an example, because they don’t get the recognition over here or in Europe because it’s a local championship. Any driver that do a guest appearance there generally speaking are nowhere. Indycar is a bit the same, it’s so hard to win consistently because the cars are so close and the race strategy plays a huge part in the overall results. We often see drivers qualifying in the back and then roll the dice on pitstops and end up winning races because they got it right. But in the end it will probably have to migrate back to F1 and Lewis Hamilton, he’s now getting to that point where he’s starting to break one record after the other, and that never happens by accident. He’s always had the ability to dig just a little deeper when it matters and this year he had to dig a lot deeper than usual when the car was not always underneath him.



Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: reflections on 2014 and a look ahead to the world of racing in 2015.

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – As 2014 wound to a close there were several significant pieces of news. Among them, on December 11, McLaren finally confirmed Jenson Button would continue with the team, partnering Fernando Alonso.  That seems a sensible and popular choice. What’s your view?

Stefan JohanssonYes, I think it’s the decision that makes the most sense for a team like McLaren. Jenson has a wealth of experience and anytime you have a new development program as they do with Honda I’m sure his experience will be valuable. With a new development program like this one it’s always valuable to have the opinion from two very experienced and successful drivers. I don’t know enough about either driver but the danger could easily be that Alonso would get a car that suits him but not other drivers, and if a younger driver is there his input may not count as much as an established World Champions do.

I don’t know how much Jenson’s past experience with Honda played a part in McLaren’s decision. He’s probably one of the last hold-outs from Honda’s previous program in F1. I don’t know how many there are left from their previous venture in F1. It’s a fresh start for Honda really and I think for them to go back to F1, this is absolutely the right way to do it rather than trying to be an engine and chassis constructor.

I think any auto manufacturer that has tried Formula One has found what a huge challenge it is to do both the Chassis and the Engine. 

JT – With Button’s confirmation, Kevin Magnussen moves to the role of test/reserve driver for the team. That’s obviously not what he would have wanted but in the long term it could be positive. Many other drivers, including Alonso have done the same thing and gone on to have a great career.

SJ – If you look back at history that’s actually the way a lot of the drivers started out in F1, including Jenson and Damon Hill. I think it’s the way for Magnussen to go as well. It’s certainly not the end of the world for him at the age he is.

It also gives him a bit of a chance to reflect on his first year in F1. There’s no doubt that he’s extremely fast and a great racing driver. I think he’ll come back and he will probably be right with the program when he does.

JT – Funny that you mention Damon Hill. His former Williams F1 teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, spoke out in late December about the signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen (son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen) to Torro Rosso for 2015.

He called the decision an “insult” to F1 and said, “Before you are fighting against the lives of others, you have to learn, and it is not F1's role to teach.” He went on to add that the F1 minimum age – currently 18 – is not enough.

“"It should be 21. You should arrive in Formula One as a winner and with a wealth of experience. F1 is not the place to come and develop as a driver."

Many people agree with Villeneuve. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Really, I don’t think anyone can disagree with him. Things are so different today though. Guys aren’t really even racing anymore truthfully. It’s now about planning your strategy so that you hit the button for DRS or KERS at the right moment and you make the pass. There’s nothing the other driver can do at that point, or is even allowed to do.

So it’s really a matter of driving the car fast and trying not to make any mistakes. The only mistake you can make in normal circumstances today which punishes you is locking up the brakes. If you screw up and go into a corner too fast and miss the apex you end up in the blue part of the runoff area and it costs you time but off you go again.

The race won’t end for you. You may lose three seconds if you really get it wrong but that’s about the extent of it. So, from that point of view, a 17-year-old could certainly be out there. Any of the guys I’ve spoken with who’ve tested the current F1 cars say that they are so easy to drive it’s almost ridiculous. So it really comes down to race-craft at the end of the day.

But how can you tell if a 17-year-old has race-craft? There’s no doubt he’ll be quick but as you can see with Magnussen for example, who’s older but still very young, you can recall that he made some very opportunistic moves in the beginning of the season before he realized that he was racing a different caliber of drivers in F1 than what he had been used to. Many of the moves he tried to pull off early on just didn’t stick.

So, I’m sure Verstappen will be extremely fast but how will he fare when he’s in a dogfight with somebody who’s been around for a while or in the first few laps with a lot of cars ducking and diving? After that, when things settle down and you have a rhythm going, it’s just down to not screwing up and using the DRS and looking after your tires.

I totally agree with Villeneuve’s comment on the age of the drivers and the fact that you should come to F1 with a lot of experience and success. If you give him three more years in other lower formulas and you see a level of competitive consistency that makes it clear he’ll be able to handle whatever situations occur, that’s positive.

You also learn about dealing with teams that may not be the best and so many other variables. Those things have a huge impact.

JT – Yes, those are great points and if we look at a driver like Felix Rosenqvist who you’ve been advising recently as he competed in F3 (and won the Macau GP), and compare him to Verstappen – Felix has had to compete and work hard for some time in the lower formulas. It’s clear he is very competitive. As you say, Verstappen looks to be quick but he’s done so little since he left karting that it’s very hard to know how well he races cars.

SJ – That’s true and with Verstappen, he came into F3 this year with no experience in cars really, straight from Karting. But sometimes it’s better when you’re completely fresh. If things go your way it’s going to be great. But you really see the depth of a driver’s skill and his qualities more in adversity than when they’re having success. You see it when they have to dig themselves out of a hole.

Eventually in your career you will have adversity and there’s such a fine line with confidence and making the right moves on track and making them stick. Sometimes you try to be too opportunistic and you make a move and it’s the wrong one and you end up losing a couple spots. All of that makes a huge difference.

I only saw Verstappen at Hockenheim and Macau and he wasn’t bad but he certainly didn’t do anything to impress me in those two races. He finished fifth I think in Hockenheim and in Macau he basically cracked under pressure, hitting the wall when Felix was behind him. Macau is tough and that could happen to anyone but it shouldn’t happen if you’re at the level where someone like him is expected to be. That’s not a mistake that’s acceptable in my opinion.

JT – Building on the comments you’ve been making for a quite a while now, Villeneuve similarly said, “F1 impressed me when I arrived, even though I came from Indy car. But this F1 is not exciting. The cars seem slow.”

“Verstappen arrives, does 10 laps and immediately looks strong," Villeneuve continues. "It seems that anyone can drive an F1 car, while in my father's day the drivers were considered heroes at the wheel of almost impossible monsters.”

SJ – It’s true, it’s just obvious to see. For example, look at the testing in Abu Dhabi after the race final GP with all the junior drivers getting an opportunity. Within 20 laps they’re within a tenth or two of Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo. It just shouldn’t happen.

There’s something fundamentally wrong if the car is that easy to drive that anyone with virtually no experience can just jump in and be even within a second of the regular drivers  – that’s wrong. A proper race car should be an absolute beast to drive. Then you’ll see the difference between who really knows how to drive, who has the car control, throttle and steering coordination to balance the car on the limit, the bravery, all the elements that constitute a great racing driver. And most of all, who can keep it together, on the limit, in a car like that for 80 laps or more without making any mistakes, that’s where the real skill of a Champion driver will show.

Now it’s just about precision, hitting your marks and it seems there’s no reward for pushing hard. The cars don’t respond to that. That’s what I used to hate with touring cars in the odd races I’ve done with them. You kind of hit the limit after a few laps and if you try to go beyond that you just go slower.

Vettel and Räikkönen are good examples of that with these current F1 cars. They weren’t comfortable with their cars all year. In frustration they then tried too hard and they end up going even slower. You have to have a level of comfort and confidence in the car being half a percent under the limit. But if you go over the limit you just go slower. 

JT – That phenomenon together with F1’s current rules makes the racing seem – to me – more like lapping as opposed to when you raced in F1. It seems as if the drivers, even while sharing the track with others, are in their own personal bubbles pursuing planned lap times in isolation from their competitors. They even get orders to turn down the performance of their cars to comply with F1 rules and save energy. It’s antithetical to racing.

SJ – Absolutely, they get orders three or four times a lap concerning what to do with all the switches and buttons on the steering wheels to save energy, tires and everything else. None of that is down to the driver anymore. It’s all controlled by data coming into the pits.

Like I said when I was in the Ferrari pits at Monza listening to the team radio in qualifying, when the drivers are finished with a run there’s not one single comment from them about what the car is doing. The engineer is on the radio telling them what the car is doing. “we can see you have a small understeer at the exit of the second Lesmo, we’re going to put half a degree of front wing in and they say ‘ok’.”

As soon as the dialog starts the engineers are telling them what the car is doing. It was really bizzare to listen to this and it must be a system they use as I am sure in the debrief the drivers will have more input and a lot more to speak about that will influence the direction they are going with the car set up.

JT – The saga at the back end of the F1 grid continues. Marussia (now being referred to as “Manor”) seems to be finished while Caterham is said to be in negotiations on a pending sale.

SJ – I don’t understand it really. The Marussia thing is a puzzle because they have TV money guaranteed. I would imagine that if anyone would be interested in buying a team they would be more interested in them than in Caterham.

It’s strange but I know there are some things brewing with people looking at both teams. How serious they are, we’ll see.

I don’t think these two teams are the only ones that are in deep trouble, I have a feeling at least two more teams are very shaky at the moment as far as being in a position to even start next year.

JT – On the sports car side, again we have to say that the Pirelli World Challenge series is looking very strong for 2015. The recently released roster of teams planning to compete in the GT (GT3) category looks fantastic and includes Scuderia Corsa for whom you are racing director. Apparently the team will field two full-season cars for Duncan Ende and Martin Fuentes and a third for a partial season for Mike Hedlund. Sounds like it should be very exciting.

SJ – It’s amazing how this championship has developed. All the serious contenders are now in that championship. What’s great about it is that they’re keeping it simple. The GT class is GT3 cars based on the global formula so anyone can come and race. There are so many of these cars around and there’s no messing around with complicated rules.

It’s great racing with relatively short races. I think it’s really going in the right direction so far. More and more teams are defecting from the Tudor United Sportscar Series. That’s certainly driven from the lower cost of World Challenge but it’s also clearly a result of a lot of frustration with Tudor.

JT – Scuderia Corsa also has a couple Ferrari 458s entered for Daytona.

SJ – Yes, we’re running the #63 car with Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, and adding Jeff Segal and Anthony Lazzaro. And we’re running the #64 again, an all-Brazilian car. (Daniel Serra, Francisco Longo).

And then we’ve got an entry for Le Mans as well this year which is great. That will be Sweedler and Townsend with a third driver. We don’t know who that will be yet. 

JT – The LMP1 class in WEC will have the potential to be more competitive for 2015 with the addition of Nissan to the grid and Audi’s return with updated/revised R18 e-tron quattros. Audi has complained recently about WEC regulations which don’t favor its turbo-diesel hybrids. Even for die-hard sports car racing fans the WEC formula is a bit complex to follow, don’t you think?

SJ – Yes, it’s getting too complicated again. It was great for a while because you could show up with pretty much any combination you wanted. But when us who are in the business are having problems understanding it, how are the fans going to be able to grasp it? It’s way too complicated.

Part of the problem in racing in general is that engineers and designers have way too much influence over the rules right now. The FIA has all of these committees, an engine committee, an overtaking committee, a committee for this, another committee for that. It’s become a democracy where everyone has a say, and historically this has never worked out well in motor racing. The best series, i.e. F1 and NASCAR was always run like a benevolent dictatorship and it used to work great for everyone. One leader who had a clear birdseye view of the direction of the series, it didn’t always please everyone but in the end it worked. Now everyone is having views on everything, and as a result things haven gotten so complicated and difficult to manage, and it shows. 

JT – In IndyCar off-season news, many people are still trying to find rides. Among them is ex-Marussia, ex-Caterham test/reserve driver Alex Rossi. He’s an American with a lot of experience in the lower European formulas and some time behind the wheel of the current F1 cars but relatively unknown here in his homeland. Do you have any thoughts on him?

SJ – I don’t know much about Rossi but my first comment would be that he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. He’s obviously a very good driver but he hasn’t been exceptional in anything he’s done in Europe. He’s been good enough to win odd races but I don’t know how he’s risen to the positions he’s been in. I don’t know if he’s got financial backing or whether it’s come purely from results.

But for IndyCar racing it would always be good to have another American and even better if he’s quick and can win. He’s not well known here it’s true but that’s the risk you take when you focus on F1 which I commend him for going that route as it is way harder for an American kid to make it over there than just going the traditional route of Indy Lights and the Indycar if you’re any good.

I remember when I came over here, having spent ten years in F1. Everyone was asking for my resume, asking what I’d been doing before. Nelson Piquet had the same thing. He won the F1 world championship three times and the teams were asking for his CV! I remember when I met Jim Hall the first time and he asked for me for a resume! I thought, ‘Well, this is going to be an uphill battle!’

JT – The new aerodynamic bodywork package for IndyCars for 2015 is causing lots of speculation and some concern. Some have theorized that the package will bring pack-racing back to IndyCar because cars will be able to follow each other more closely on ovals. The previous period in which that was true for IndyCar/IRL was very dangerous. That should be something to be avoided, correct?

SJ – The problem in general is that everybody’s trying to slow the cars down with less horsepower. IndyCars should really have another 200 hp to make a difference in the racing. When I talk to Scott [Dixon] he tells me the cars now are like driving an Indy Lights car. They’re all about momentum. It’s a very different driving style.

On the ovals I remember getting wheelspin coming out of Turn 2 at Indy in qualifying in the CART era. It’s the same thing I come back to again. The cars at this level should be beasts and drivers should be weeded out accordingly. People always figure out a way to make challenging cars work but if they don’t have to they take the easy way out.

That then leads to situations where teams will go for a driver who’s mediocre but brings 80 percent of their budget with him rather than trying a little harder themselves and finding somebody who has greater skill and that can make a difference. You’ve got teams like Ganassi, Penske and Andretti who eat, breathe and sleep racing and they put the effort in and it shows.

I remember at Indy back in the day when I was racing, literally unless you got lucky and the car was really dialed in, you didn’t try to go flat all the way around until qualifying. It was such a big leap to try to go flat around there at that time. It was really something else and it definitely got your juices flowing, like it should. 

JT – Now for some reflections on 2014 in brief and a look ahead, what are your thoughts on Formula One?

SJ – I think the right man won the championship in the end. I think Lewis did an exceptional job all year. Nico [Rosberg] did too, but Lewis seemed to have a couple tenths in hand when he really needed them in the race and he usually had that in hand for 80 laps. Sometimes he didn’t have it on qualifying runs but there’s always a balance. So overall, I think Lewis deserved to win the championship this year.

JT – Do you think the racing in F1 will be better in 2015?

SJ – I think it will get a bit better. I’m sure that the gap to Mercedes will close up a bit. If they leave the regulations alone for another two or three years it will really close. I’m certain the gap will be smaller next season but we can also be certain that Mercedes will be the favorite again for the championship.

JT – Will McLaren be at all competitive in 2015 or will it be a year of development for them with Honda?

SJ – I think McLaren might be the surprise next year. If Honda is somewhere close with their engine - and having had a year in which they didn’t have to comply with any regulations while working on their engine and seeing what everyone else has done – they ought to be close I think.

I assume they haven’t had to be bound by the rule of having their engine frozen in development until they actually enter competition. It’s hard to say without really knowing the rules but that could give them an advantage. And it should have helped from the point of car development and put them back on the right track after their two or three years of having completely lost their way.

[Eric] Boullier (McLaren Racing Director) has certainly put some good new people in place in the team and they’ve already improved the aero on the car. That even showed at the end of this year. So I think they will be competitive, though it should never really be a surprise when they are – they’re McLaren after all and they have probably better resources than any other team on the grid. And Alonso and Button pushing each other should help as well.

JT – Will the new combination – Vettel, Räikkönen and new Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene – produce better results for the Scuderia?

SJ – Well, their 2015 car was obviously well underway before they made the recent changes so I think 2015 will be a tough year for them. They’ve hired a lot of new people and have some very good people from previous years but the boat for the 2015 car left the dock many months ago. It would be hard to change direction on it now. I’m sure it will be something of an interim year for them. It will be more interesting to see what will happen in 2016 and going forward, how the new regime will work in the long term. It worries me though when I hear the words “experiment” and “gamble” associated with anything in motor racing, whenever you attempt to apply any of those words into any plan, it very rarely works out well. The teams and drivers and that will rely on an experiment or a gamble will generally dig themselves into an even deeper hole.  It always takes some time for a completely new management to find its way. Remember it took the “dream team” with Schumacher, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne five years before they won the first title from when they joined Ferrari. These four guys where the best in the business at the time. The current team is clearly all very competent people from the different fields of business they have spent most of their careers, but none of them have any experience in F1 and they have now been thrown straight into the Piranha Club. Although some of the Piranhas may be a bit older than in their prime, they still know how to bite!

JT – How about Red Bull Racing - will Christian Horner, Adrian Newey, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have what it takes to win?

SJ – If Renault steps up on the engine front, I’m sure they’ll be strong. They still may have had the best chassis this year. If they can get another 40 to 50 horsepower out of the engine they will be closer to the front more consistently for sure. And remember, they still won three races in 2014.

Obviously, Ricciardo was the revelation of 2014. I thought he did an extraordinary job. He didn’t put a foot wrong all year and put Vettel firmly in his place. He did the absolute best that could be done with the car given the circumstances in just about every race. He’s no doubt part of the new generation that will be leading the way in the next five years.

JT – And Mercedes GP, will Lewis and Nico be dominant again next season?

SJ – I think that it will be a matter of which one of them gets it right on race day. They’re so close to each other in performance there’s almost nothing between them. However, their methods of getting that performance are significantly different.

I’m sure Nico has had a chance to reflect on where he was lacking this year. What impressed me with him this year was that every time he had problem or made a mistake he came back even stronger and stepped up and responded. I certainly wouldn’t count him out for the championship next year.

JT – Interestingly, Nico’s father (ex-F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg) generally seems to keep a low profile. I’m sure he’s been of help to Nico. But you don’t see him around the F1 paddock all the time like you do Hamilton’s dad or others. He also seems like the consummate, cool racing driver and a very good guy.

SJ – Keke’s great. I’ve known him since I was eight years old. We raced together forever and he’s just a terrific guy. He understands the business and he’s smart enough to know when it’s time to step in or stay out of the way. He’s been around long enough to see every racing dad and the effect they have on their kids. I’m sure he’s had an influence on Nico.

He’s an old fox too. He knows every trick in the book and then some. I’m sure he’s had a massive influence on Nico’s work ethic and mental attitude. Keke, for me, is the epitome of a racing driver. He’s got all of the qualities you’d want and is the coolest guy ever. When he was at his height in F1 he was off the charts in every respect, the bravest guy you’d ever find on a race track. He really was something else.

JT – How will the rest of the F1 grid fare in 2015? Any surprises?

SJ – It’s really hard to gauge the rest. For instance at Force India, you would have expected Nico Hulkenberg to blow the doors off Sergio Perez but if anything, maybe Perez had a better year than Hulkenberg.

But then he showed his less impressive side when he got a bit heated in Austin, making another knucklehead move. With these cars, some guys manage to find a way to drive them and then there are Vettel and Räikkönen for example, who clearly struggled. I suspect that Hulkenberg probably fell into that category as well.

I think figuring out the braking is the trickiest issue with these new F1 cars. With all the energy recovery and stuff going, if you can’t control the rear under braking, you’re screwed basically. The whole corner is wasted before you even get there. The car’s unstable, you’re not where you want to be on entry and as a result you’re off the power at the wrong point of the corner. Everything becomes a chain-reaction from the braking-point forward.

And as I say, the rest of the teams are so difficult to call in terms of how they will perform given the different levels of funding they have and struggles just staying alive.

JT – Will IndyCar hold any surprises for 2015?

SJ – No one really knows what kind of difference the new aero-kits will make but I think there’s a strong chance that one will come out of the gate better than the other. Who knows who that will be?

It will be interesting to see and interesting to see some different looking cars also. There will inevitably be a level of development for all the teams to get on top of the new aero kits and how to best understand the cars, some will get it right and some won’t. As always, the bigger teams will have a better chance of getting on top of it sooner due to the resources they have at their disposal.

JT – Four manufacturers will now be competing in LMP1 in the WEC with the addition of Nissan. That’s as many manufacturers as Formula One has – and there are more really if you count the GT class. How will WEC be in 2015?

SJ – It’s certainly growing stronger. There have even been a couple defections from Tudor with the ESM and Krohn guys racing in P2 and some teams going to GTE. I think the chances of the Nissan being competitive right away are small, I don’t think they have allocated enough resources to take on Audi, Porsche and Toyota to get to the level they are. In addition I believe their car is quite radical. But it’s still good that they are there and if they have the budget they’ll improve. And with a few more P2 cars, WEC could be a pretty good show. 

JT – To wrap it up, who was the standout driver of 2014?

SJ – Without a doubt it was Daniel Ricciardo in my opinion. He did far more than was expected of him, especially considering the circumstances. Personally I like his attitude too, he seems like a great guy who loves his job and it will be interesting to see how he develops in the next few years now that he’s the “boss” of the Red Bull team so to speak.


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