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Filtering by Tag: GT3

Mercedes' 10th win at the Hungarian GP, Felix Rosenqvist's first-ever IndyCar test & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – The Hungarian Grand Prix was largely a procession. That’s typical of racing at the Hungaroring. Lewis Hamilton took the win ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, marking Mercedes GP’s tenth win in the eleven grands prix so far this year.

At the start, the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen challenged pole-sitter Rosberg and second-place qualifier Hamilton. That made for an interesting first corner and in the shuffle, Hamilton emerged leading with Ricciardo briefly holding second. Rosberg quickly repassed him. From there on neither Mercedes was challenged and the race was over at the front. What did you think of the Hungarian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ever since the first race we did at the Hungaroring in 1986 it has been the same. It’s a track where it’s virtually impossible to pass. The layout, with medium-speed corners leading to relatively short straights, never allows you to get enough aerodynamic grip to follow a competitor close enough to get a run on him. That’s the way it is there – even with DRS.

Everyone knows how important the grid position, the start and the first lap are at Hungary. The race is pretty much over after that. The start was very close. It’s very hard to gauge because there was so little between Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo. Ricciardo almost got away with it. It didn’t work out but at least he had a good go at it. It looked like Lewis got of the clutch just a fraction earlier than Rosberg, which was enough to give him the slight edge he needed to get ahead into the first corner.

After the start the race settles down and it’s very tough to pass. That’s the nature of the beast when you have cars which have performance dictated by aerodynamic grip. You’re always going to have the same problems. As soon as you get in the dirty air from the car ahead you lose most of your front downforce and the front washes out just enough. Even in IndyCar now when you get within four car lengths of someone your front is just gone, there’s just no grip.

JT – There wasn’t much action after the first lap until the hydraulic system in Jenson Button’s McLaren failed and he lost braking. He was passed by three cars and told the team that he had no brake pedal. They informed him that it stemmed from a hydraulic sensor issue, advised him to stay on track, and told him how to drive around it.

Button then pitted, as required by a new revision of the radio ban regulations which states that drivers must come to the pits when given technical advice. But he and the team still received a drive-through penalty, presumably because the message had come when Button was still on track.

"It's a stupid regulation," Button said. "I completely understand that drivers should not be fed information that helps us drive the car. I'm totally with that because I think it's wrong that we're told every corner where our team-mate is quicker or slower than us, and fuel saving should be down to us, and so many other things should be down to us.”

"But when it's a safety concern with the brake pedal going to the floor, you shouldn't be penalized for stopping an accident, and that's what we did today.”

Later, Ferrari’s Maurizio Arrivabene, Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen called F1’s rules “a joke”. What’s your take?

SJ – Unfortunately, F1 is mirroring what’s happening in the real world where more and more rules and laws are added but none are ever cancelled it seems. In the end it becomes so convoluted that the outcome of a dispute in civilian life often depend on who has the best lawyers, really. Sadly, it now seems to be heading in the same direction in racing too.

There are now so many grey areas in F1 that allow conflicts to be argued in so many ways that it’s difficult to follow. The rules should never be enforced by a subjective judgment. In my opinion, one of the major problems with the rule making in Formula One is that they don’t nip some of things in the bud before they become glaring issues. This is why we end up with this endless stream of knee jerk rules to fix a problem that should never have existed in the first place. It’s a difficult job for the people that write the Sporting Regulations as things move all the time but I get the feeling that sometimes they are either not able or willing to put their foot down early enough when they see a worrying trend coming, and then it becomes to late and we end up with all this frustration from both the competitors and the fans. Both NASCAR and Indycar do a much better job at policing the rules and stepping in when they see things heading in the wrong direction and before it becomes a huge issue.

They’ve created their own monster with these ultra-complicated cars. When you have an issue like Jenson had, being advised over the radio how to address it, is clearly not going to lead to a performance improvement. And if there’s a safety issue, I can’t see why you shouldn’t be allowed to relay that to a driver. Why should communicating how to address a technical fault that jeopardizes a driver’s safety, and potentially those around him, be against the rules?

Even if the team was able to help him fix it, his performance is certainly not going to be any better than it was before the problem arose.

The other option would simply be to pit and try to fix the problem, without any assistance over the radio from the pitlane or by changing whatever dials on the steering wheel. Of course, if you had a mechanical fault that was bad enough not to be able to continue, that’s what you had to do in the past – come in. There was no data stream that would allow you to fix it while still racing.

But it’s the way the rules like this are applied – or not applied. It confuses everyone, most of all the drivers. And if the drivers and teams can’t make sense of it, how will the public?

Yes, the teams are now complaining about the “joke rules” but the teams shouldn’t be a part of the rule-making. The fact that the FIA is not stepping in and making decisions invites trouble.  Once the teams get involved every single one of them will have a different opinion. They always put their own interests first. It’s always been that way and you’ve just got to get the teams out of the rules making process.

Rules should be made strong enough, interesting enough and clear enough so that everyone can understand them, that will make the racing interesting and exciting for everyone to want to watch and that teams want to be a part of without threatening to leave every time things don’t go the way they want.

JT – Building on that theme, the FIA put sensors in two corners at the Hungaroring (Turns 4 & 11). They were placed there to detect if a car crossed over the track limit with four wheels. Apparently you were allowed to exceed the limit in those corners three times. If you exceeded them a fourth time, you would receive a penalty.

Again, this is confusing. If it’s ok to bust track limits three times on two corners of a circuit why is not ok to do it a fourth time? …And what about all of the other corners?

SJ – Again, subjective judgments should never be allowed. It’s ok to cross the white line at the track edge three times? Why?

You don’t hit the wall three times in Monaco.

It’s just seems odd and very random and as I’ve said many times before, I think F1 really needs firm leadership in the control tower. Currently, there’s a different driver-steward every weekend. Some of them haven’t been near a race car for over 30 years. No disrespect to anyone but I don’t think it’s a logical way to go. I know most of these guys quite well and I think some personalities are much better suited to the driver-steward role than others. But it’s almost like, “who’s available this weekend”?

Criteria for the driver-steward role doesn’t seem to exist or matter and you can tell that some of the people doing this are making decisions or calls purely to justify their presence. They feel like they have to do something. Then other times, someone else does nothing – even when action is warranted.

That leads to the drivers not knowing where they stand because there are different interpretations of the rules at every race. Of course, it’s hard to get people to be a driver-steward. Who’s going to want to do that full time? It’s a thankless job. But if you have one guy who the drivers respect - who can talk to them as an equal and be clear and firm - then everyone will know where they stand. That’s the easiest and most important change they could make in the short term at least, in order to avoid all this negative frustration.

JT – A good example is the collision between Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen during the race. Kimi made contact with the rear of Verstappen’s car while trying to make a pass. Raikkonen said Verstappen moved twice to block him. He had already committed to a side to overtake and could do nothing when Verstappen moved a second time. No penalty was given.

SJ – It’s a perfect example. What is blocking? Is it one move? Is it two? Is it a move and a wiggle?

I can totally sympathize with Raikkonen because he went one way then Verstappen moved, so he went the other way and committed to it but Verstappen moved again. It wasn’t really a big move but it was enough that Kimi couldn’t avoid him. At that point, you’re already 100% committed, you’re braking on the limit and you don’t have even five inches of margin to make another change.

If the driver in front changes his mind, there’s literally nowhere to go. It’s lucky that Raikkonen didn’t hit Verstappen harder.

JT – Red Bull were expected to do well in Hungary and their performance in qualifying and at the start was good but Mercedes is clearly still well ahead of everyone else. Ferrari was able to challenge Red Bull but their inability to win based on car performance and race execution remains.

SJ – It’s a shame. Clearly, there are problems within Ferrari and until they are resolved it’s unlikely that they’ll make any big improvement. We just found out that James Allison has now left the team too, this is obviously not a good sign.

JT - IndyCar’s most recent round in Toronto proved difficult for Scott Dixon but very successful for Felix Rosenqvist. Rosenqvist won both Indy Lights races handily and showed his talent well on Toronto’s tight street course. He’s now the winning-est Indy Lights driver this season and just had his first-ever IndyCar test with Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio.

Scott looked good too, dominating in Toronto until the final stint of the race. Will Power pitted just before a late caution which trapped Scott, Simon Pagenaud and Juan Pablo Montoya behind the pace car. Pitting under yellow dropped them well back in the field. Will Power went on to win while Scott recovered to finish 8th just in front of Pagenaud.

SJ – Felix was amazing, he just cleaned up in both races. So did Scott but unfortunately he got hosed on strategy again. Until the last pit stop he had everyone under control and looked like he was cruising to the easy win on top of the pole he got in qualifying. Unfortunately things have worked against Scott for the last three races.

Going for the championship title is going to be very tough now. Scott’s had two engine failures that left him with no points – that’s at minimum 80 points that he missed out on, plus the win in Toronto. He probably could have won at Detroit and would have been 2nd at worst at Road America. That’s a lot of points to give away.

JT – The Spa 24 Hours is coming up this weekend. This race and the Nurburgring 24 have risen in stature considerably. Both are interesting and fun to follow.

SJ – Both those races are always good and they keep building on the tradition behind them. They always have great crowds these days, particularly the Nurburgring 24. It’s cool, like a racing pilgrimage. And it really has grown. Hardly anyone followed the 24 hours there until like five years ago. It was like an oddball event with old diesel cars and even more classes than they run now.

But it’s become a big event and like at Spa, the manufacturers are involved through the GT3 class. Even I didn’t really know what date the Nurburgring race was until maybe five years ago. Little by little it has grown into an important event. I did it in an MX-5 just for fun a couple of years ago and I loved it.

It’s a big test for the drivers and it’s incredible for the fans. Miniature towns are set up around the circuit basically with grocery stores and all sorts and it’s amazing how the fans get into it – very cool.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: MAVTV 500, Austrian GP & the fantastic GT3 Series

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – Scott Dixon scored well in Texas, winning on the oval. His weekend was less successful in Toronto, finishing eighth. Both IndyCar races were good however – much better than this season’s F1 events. Last weekend, Scott finished sixth in the exciting MAVTV 500 at Fontana Speedway (California).

The racing was incredible with multiple drivers racing side-by-side on many occasions and more than 70 lead changes. But it was also scary - a return to the kind of pack racing that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.

Drivers warned IndyCar prior to the race that the increase in downforce mandated for the new Chevrolet and Honda aero-kits for the weekend would result in this but IndyCar paid them no heed. After the race most of the drivers voiced strong opposition to the pack racing. You were on hand at Fontana. What did you think of the race and what do think IndyCar will do to address the situation?

Stefan Johansson – Yes, Scott did a great job in Texas. In Toronto, strategy got [Joseph] Newgarden to the front which is what makes IndyCar great. You can roll the dice and sometimes-smaller teams can win by gambling a little on strategy.

At Fontana, it wasn’t just the guys in the cars who thought the racing was too crazy. Like many others watching, I thought the racing was exciting at the beginning of the race but as it got closer to the finish all I could think was, “This is not going to end well.”

With everyone getting race-y in the last 50 laps things started to get out of hand. I think on one lap there were six cars abreast going into Turn 1! It was completely over the top. All of the drivers were absolutely in unison that there’s no way they’re going to race like that again.

I think all the teams have had just about enough of these new aero-kits. One of the main reasons the series went away from the old Dallara chassis was because they said they had too much downforce. And now, with these new aero kits they change the level of downforce, again adding more? It defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.

As I’ve said before, they should have taken all the money they spent on the kits which are costing everyone a fortune and spent it on promoting the series instead. (Only a little over 3,000 people were in the stands at Fontana.)

IndyCar is maybe the best racing series in the world right now - pure racing with good battles throughout and uncertainty of the outcome. Why not direct whatever resources there are to make more people aware of that instead of petty rule changes that only the die-hard fans will even notice or appreciate?

The Fontana race was a perfect example of this, it was maybe a bit to gladiatorial, but for anyone watching it was one of the most unbelievable races ever in my opinion.

JT - The Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring was somewhat interesting on the first lap but then settled down into a mostly processional affair. Like most of the F1 rounds this year, there wasn’t that much wheel to wheel racing. Nico Rosberg (starting second) did a good job of beating Lewis Hamilton (on pole) to the first corner and holding him off for the next few corners. Thereafter, he was never really challenged.

Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen somehow came together with Fernando Alonso and the two wound up in the fence with Alonso’s McLaren atop Räikkönen’s Ferrari. It was bizarre and neither driver had a good answer as to why it happened. Kimi has said he lost control of his car for some unknown reason and Fernando couldn’t avoid him.

SJ – This seems to be the norm these days, especially with the Mercedes pair. Whoever gets in front at the beginning of a race stays in front. It’s almost like they’re not even trying to race each other. They just hold position. I wouldn’t say there’s an agreement within the team but it certainly looks like no one’s even trying to race.  

It’s tricky to say what’s going on with Kimi. He’s certainly not a million miles off the pace of his teammate but it seems to be harder for him to get things right with the car than it is for Vettel or than it was for Alonso. I think he’s also had more bad luck in terms of putting everything together in the races and more importantly in qualifying. It doesn’t take much for everything to go pear-shaped, especially if you qualify poorly.

JT – There have been intra-team battles for the F1 Championship in the past of course but I don’t think I’m alone in finding the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry a bit tepid – not really that exciting. What’s your view?

SJ – I agree. There’s certainly nowhere near the level of interest there was between Prost and Senna when they were racing for the championship at McLaren. It seemed a little better last year between Hamilton and Rosberg but clearly something’s changed within the team. Either they’ve been told not to race each other too hard or something else.

At least there was a bit of hate between them last year which made it somewhat interesting. But we don’t even have that this season. Everything’s great – Lewis says Nico did a great job when he wins or the reverse with Nico saying Lewis was great. There are a few sad faces from either of them when they don’t win but everything else is happy and chummy.

JT – There’s always gossip in Formula One but you know things are not going well overall when you hear as much comment as we’ve heard recently from drivers and ex-drivers, team-owners, and F1 chiefs about the state of the series.

Lewis Hamilton has argued that the current cars are harder to drive than they look. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa contends that F1 is more competitive than ever, maintaining that the racing during the often fondly-remembered Senna/Prost era wasn’t as good as today.

Nikki Lauda was quoted recently, saying F1 isn’t exciting now because there’s not enough danger or risk associated with it. Bernie Ecclestone says F1 cannot improve because the teams have too much say in how the sport is managed. Ex-FIA head Max Mosley opines that F1 needs to simplify its currently complex formula and that Jean Todt should be more proactive regarding the series.

What do you make of it all?

SJ – One thing is clear and we’ve mentioned it many times. You cannot run F1, or any racing series for that matter, as a committee. Especially not if the teams are to have any say in the rules or decisions being made. You can’t get the teams to agree on anything. Every single person you speak to in the paddock - anyone with an interest or passion for the business - has their own opinion on how it should be run or what rules they need to implement.

I’ll say it again, there are only two racing series that have been consistently successful - F1 and NASCAR.  Both have been run like benevolent dictatorships by people who understand their business better than anyone else. The teams should not have any say in the way the rules are written or how F1 is run.

There is a governing body, the FIA, and there’s the commercial rights holder, FOM. Between the two of them they need to come up with a fair and sensible package that’s simple and easy to understand. F1 has gotten so complicated now - especially on the technical side - that people inside the business can’t even understand it. It’s a championship for engineers and boffins today.

In terms of the racing, the art of racing is to drive a car on the limit. No one’s doing that anymore. They’re all either driving under the limit or driving over it. When you have tires that can only stand five hard laps before they go off and you have to spend the rest of the stint just maintaining enough speed to make it to the next stop while constantly taking orders from the pits on what settings to use on the steering wheel - I can completely understand the frustration we now start noticing from a number of the drivers.

Everyone’s using the track width and then some. If they lose a little time it doesn’t matter. They just go on. The fine art of keeping a car on the limit whether you’re racing or on your own is kind of gone now. That’s because you don’t have to be on the limit most of the time and you’re not really penalized even if you go beyond it. I think the public can see that too.

Who wants to see a guy blow a braking zone by 20 yards, lock up, miss the apex by a country mile and then just carry on? A lot of guys aren’t even on the racing line anymore. You couldn’t do that in the past because you risked damaging the car or yourself or both. Few tracks had any form of run off area. If you went out past a curb, you were either in the wall, catch fencing or a sand trap. The asphalt in the huge runoff areas we have now is much safer but it allows people to be careless or just ignore the track limits completely.

Spa is a perfect example. Pouhon, the downhill double lefthander, used to be a mighty corner. It’s off-camber, super-fast and getting it right was a balancing act every time. Now, you just hammer a car in there and if you go too fast, you don’t even go over a curb. It’s just kind of a painted suggestion and you don’t even notice it. You just drive outside it.

In the middle of the night during the 24-hour race (the Spa 24 Hours) everybody is just going flat through there. They don’t even lift. You’ve got the track and another track width on top of that and you just keep your foot down. Eau Rouge is the same now. It’s all asphalt to the outside so if you go too fast there’s no real penalty. It used to be one of the most awesome corners at any race track in the world. You don’t even think about it anymore. On the third lap you’re flat – easy.

I don’t necessarily agree that F1 should be more dangerous because racing is still dangerous when the circumstances line up against you. But there has to be some form of punishment or consequence for going over the limit. It should also be more difficult to find the limit.

All the modern tracks are too sanitized in a way. If you took away the concrete wall that follows the Porsche curves at Le Mans for example and made huge run off areas instead, that whole sequence of corners would be a no brainer. Configured as the Porsche curves are currently, it’s a matter of digging as deep as you can to keep your foot in it the whole way. If you get it right and are able to stay flat throughout, the time you gain is massive. You can lose a couple of seconds through that section alone if you don’t get it right from the start.

JT – The recent FIA Formula 3 European Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps is another example of drivers having little regard for track limits. It was nearly as fraught as the races which preceded it at Monza. There were multiple accidents and incidents of contact with many of the drivers behaving poorly or inexplicably. You were there in-person. What’s your take?

SJ – It was pretty bad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse standard of driving - certainly not at the level of where Formula 3 is. Some of the drivers are just clueless when it comes to race craft. It’s one thing to be racing hard and have incidents but what’s happening right now in F3 is just stupid and completely unnecessary. The guys are making moves that don’t gain them anything and they’re certainly costing the teams a lot. It’s weird. It’s like some of the drivers have zero race craft.

Some of them may be coming directly from karting but I think most have had a few years in the junior formulas that follow karting. It’s bizarre. Aside from the big crashes we saw at Spa, there was one guy who must have gone across the chicanes ten times – just straight through them. He never got penalized because he didn’t gain anything I guess. But he also didn’t lose any positions. He just kept his foot in it and rejoined after the chicanes, and just flew out into the middle of the pack about where he was before. It was like watching someone playing a video game.

Again, there’s no penalty anymore for going over the limit so everybody’s on the limit or a little above it. It’s odd that you can now exceed track limits and it’s become the norm. In the past, if you blew a chicane at least you’d have to stop until the rest of the field passed through it. Then the marshals would wave you out onto to the track to rejoin, meaning you effectively had blown your race. There has to be some kind of punishment for going over the limit.

Worse, the same kind of thing was going on in Austria during the F1 race. Cars were leaving the track completely but just kept going. They lost maybe half a second but just carried on.

JT – The 2015 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was a good race with interesting battles in just about every class. Scuderia Corsa did very well on debut with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal finishing on the podium in GTE AM with the Ferrari. You were there with the team throughout the week. It must have been enjoyable. The battle between Townsend and Patrick Long in Patrick Dempsey’s Porsche late in the race was very good.

SJ – That was a great battle – very professional from both drivers, very fair. Patrick was a little defensive but didn’t block, used his mirrors well and drove with full awareness. Townsend had some fantastic stints as did Jeff and Bill and it was terrific to watch. It was a great result for the team, being on the podium on the first trip to Le Mans. Everybody was over the moon.

And every category was pretty tight. The P1 duel between Audi and Porsche was great, and although it didn’t go down to the wire it was still pretty tight all the way.

It was somewhat disappointing to see Toyota being completely off the pace this year. It’s hard to understand the reason after they had the fastest car last year pretty much everywhere. It seems they’ve done almost no development on their cars at all. I can’t imagine they just sat still and expected the others to do nothing, so maybe there were other reasons why they didn’t make more progress.

P2 went right down to the wire. The JOTA Sport car (Gibson 015S-Nissan) was catching the KCMG car (ORECA 05 Coupe), having gained three laps back on them on pure speed. The GTE Pro fight between the Corvette and the Ferrari was great too until the Ferrari lost its gearbox.

JT – Nissan’s debut in P1 was not good. Only one of their three GTR LMs was running at the finish but didn’t complete enough laps to be classified. None of the cars ran with their 2-megajoule hybrid system functioning. They had numerous problems including braking issues and massive understeer. They claimed they would easily out-qualify the P2 cars but only one of their cars managed to post a time faster than the fastest P2 car. Even then it was only a few tenths quicker and more than 20 seconds slower than the lead P1 cars.

SJ – The bottom line is that their performance shows a complete lack of understanding of the business. Any engineers you talk to whether they’re in Formula One or sports cars unanimously agree that this car will never work. It will never be a competitive proposition.

To claim that they would easily out qualify the P2 cars is a very odd statement considering they’re not running in that category, so who cares? The fact that they not only did not do that but they were over 20 seconds slower than the cars they were competing against?  I can’t imagine Audi, Porsche - or any other manufacturer for that matter - showing up to the biggest motor race in the world that far off the pace - and unreliable on top of it.

Having something different may get Nissan noticed and maybe they can market that. But aside from it being cute just because it’s so different or the political correctness around their effort, racing is still about winning. That’s why we go racing – to win races.

To think that you’re going to win - and claim that you’re going to win - with this design against Audi and Porsche and Toyota is not realistic. I can only imagine that someone sold the executives a bill of goods and none of them understand enough about racing to say, “Hang on a minute!”

The way racing is today, everybody operates in a pretty narrow box to be competitive. With the big role that aerodynamics in particular plays now, everyone eventually migrates to the best solution and the best solution usually leads to cars that look a specific way.

Look at the cars in F1. They all look the same because that’s what works. The same holds true for prototype sports cars. They all have very aggressive, stubby front ends and similar aero shapes as you go to the rear of the car because that’s what works.

JT – GT3 racing continues to impress globally. The Blancpain Endurance Series round at Paul Ricard boasted 60 entries. That follows earlier rounds which had similar size grids. It remains a good formula.

SJ – It’s fantastic. When you look at Blancpain and the GT3 regulations, you have to say that [Stefan] Ratel (SRO Group principal) has done a terrific job. The racing works brilliantly, very even. It’s just a shame that Le Mans couldn’t apply the GT3 concept.

P1 has what, eight cars maximum racing right now? And they’re going to slow them down again  because somehow they’ve determined that their lap times are too quick. I don’t understand how that’s determined. Historically, a certain lap time is too quick? Who says so, whether it’s sports cars or F1?

There was a time when F1 cars had aerodynamic side skirts that basically sealed them to the track. Their ultimate speed was determined by how much the drivers could withstand before they started to blackout. That should give you an indication of how far you could possibly go speed-wise. You wouldn’t have to go that far but why not go as fast as reasonable?

My point is, if you took the GT cars, whether they’re GTE or GT3, and let them run without  restrictors they would have all another couple hundred horsepower at least because that’s how much they’re strangled now. Their lap times would be right down in the mid 3-minute, 40s. In 1997 when we won the race (Stefan won with Joest Racing in a Porsche TWR-Porsche WSC-95) our pole time was a 3:47 in the Porsche prototype.

You’d be right there in terms of good, fast laps and then you’d have effectively 56 cars with almost identical performance racing each other. I think that would be pretty cool. And I think they should just make GT one category. The whole division of GTE and GT3, it’s just nonsense. Everybody has to make a special car for Le Mans. It’s ridiculous. 

Stefan Johansson chats with Jan Tegler: Vettel brings joy to Ferrari fans, an unfortunate crash at Nurburgring & WEC bans grid girls

Stefan Johansson


Jan Tegler – The Malaysian Grand Prix proved to be a pleasant surprise for most fans. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari stole victory from Mercedes with good race pace and terrific tactics. Given Mercedes domination to this point, Ferrari’s performance must give the team hope.

Stefan Johansson – Yes, Ferrari beat Mercedes fair and square. Everybody faced the same circumstances. There were no mechanical failures and no external drama that allowed Ferrari to pick up the pieces if you will. It was a great win.

I wouldn’t say yet that Ferrari will have that kind of performance in all the races ahead. I think the stars lined up perfectly for them in Malaysia with the high temperatures and other conditions and there’s no question they picked the right strategy. Staying out and getting to the front when Hamilton pitted was a good call. It was the obvious and in some ways easy thing to do because it’s always tougher when you’re leading - as Mercedes was - to make the right decision.

If you’re behind you can roll the dice, especially if you don’t think you’re going to win. It’s easier to gamble and hope things will fall in your lap. Running up front was the obvious thing for Ferrari because they didn’t have to deal with traffic. I think that - more than anything else - hurt Mercedes.

A, they’re not used to that and B, you saw how dirty the track was offline. If you had to deviate even two feet away from the racing line in some places you’d pick up so much rubber that it would take you a good four or five laps to clean the tires, or they might not ever get cleaned properly.

Stefan Johansson - F1 - Ferrari 1985

JT – When you were racing in Formula One there were periods during which multiple tire suppliers were in the series. Was spent-rubber just offline as much of a problem then?

SJ – Yes, it was bad. That was as big a factor then as it is today.

JT – While Vettel triumphed for Ferrari Kimi Räikkönen looked very quick as well, coming from the back of the pack after being hit by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr to finish fourth. Had he not suffered contact Kimi certainly looked as if he could have challenged for the podium.

SJ – Yes, Kimi would have been a threat as well no doubt. Even in Australia he was extremely unlucky. In both races he got clobbered by Nasr who was extremely lucky to get away with it in Australia. Of course he destroyed his own race in Malaysia basically (finished 12th) with the contact.

That’s two races in a row with contact in the first few laps for him. That’s not very impressive. But as is often the case the true quality of a driver will illustrate itself over a season. It helps to be young and up-and-coming because nothing’s expected of you. Had he been in a Ferrari or a McLaren for example and had the same two incidents, people would have been all over him.

Marcus Ericsson’s off looked like over-exuberance more than anything. He got a blinding start and picked up a couple spots immediately but he was probably so eager to do well it just caught him out. There was plenty of racing left and I think he was just very keen to do well and full of confidence after a great qualifying performance.

Checo Perez - Malayaisan GP - F1

JT – You were surprised that the collision of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez resulted in a penalty for Perez, right?

SJ – Yes, I can’t believe Perez got a penalty. Anytime you try to make a pass on the outside, as Grosjean was, you have to consider it a low-percentage move. In that particular corner at Sepang you have no choice but to rely on the guy you’re passing to give you enough room to make the pass stick. And no matter if you’re on the inside or the outside, you need all the room you can get in that corner even as a single car, let alone with two cars abreast.

I can’t see how it could possibly have been Perez’s fault that he drove into the side of Grosjean. Where was he supposed to go? When they turned into the corner Perez was ahead so by default he owns the corner. At best it was a racing incident. If anyone should have been penalized it should have been Grosjean in my opinion. Besides, Perez tires were completely shot, so all Grosjean would have to do is wait for two more corners and he would have had a straight shot under braking for the next turn. He would have lost a second at the most.

JT – Looking at the big picture, the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and everyone in Formula One, aside from Mercedes perhaps, has to be happy with the result at Sepang. F1 needed a different winner like it needs air.

SJ – Absolutely, anybody beating Mercedes would have been great but there’s nothing like Ferrari winning. Everything gets magnified. Whatever anyone says, Ferrari is critical to F1. They have the most loyal and biggest fan-base worldwide. So their victory is a shot-in-the-arm for the Championship, no question.

JT – Really, even Mercedes may be not so disappointed. They can now claim they have someone to fight against.

SJ – Yes, I think they may be slightly worried about Ferrari but at the same time, they’ve got plenty of powder left in their bag before they need to be too concerned. But at least if Mercedes do have problems you know that Ferrari will be there to keep them on their toes. That’s what Ricciardo and Red Bull did last year. Also, this will effectively mean that all the complaining and moaning by some of the teams that Mercedes need to be slowed down and there needs to be more parity among the teams will have to stop as they have now been beaten fair and square by one of their competitors. Time for the rest to get back to the drawing board or to have done their homework better in the first place.

Ferrari has a good momentum now and there’s no question the car is good. It was quick right from the moment they rolled it off the truck in winter testing. The car’s obviously a lot easier to drive and the drivers are comfortable with it, which is very important. Typically, if a car is easy to drive and the lap-times come relatively quickly it generally means it has a big window of performance. Even if a car is quick in race situations, when it’s peaky any change in conditions or the wrong tire will throw its performance off. But if you have a larger window you can maintain good pace in changing conditions even if the set-up is not absolutely spot-on. That looks to me to be one of the strengths of the Ferrari at the moment.

Ferrari win at Malaysian GP - F1

JT – As has been mentioned elsewhere, the 2015 Ferrari’s improvements are in no small measure due to the work of Marco Mattiacci who led the team between April and November 2014 when work on this new car had begun in earnest. Maurizio Arrivabene, the new team director, and the team have certainly benefitted from the work Mattiacci did and the changes he made.

SJ – I really feel for Mattiacci because the improvements are not something that happened in the last few months. Quite impressively for a guy who hadn’t any great experience in racing, Mattiacci put together a very good package. He orchestrated the whole Vettel deal and he put faith in [James] Allison (Ferrari technical director). Had he been around he would have been a hero now, it’s funny how life works sometimes. That’s not to take anything away from Arrivabene, he’s clearly done a great job getting the motivation back in the team and it seems they are moving forward as one unit. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to rattle the Mercedes guys as the season goes on.

JT – The team from which Sebastian Vettel jumped – Red Bull Racing – continues to have drama with its engine-supplier, Renault. There’s a very public split with Red Bull complaining that Renault has actually taken a step backward from 2014 with their power unit. Meanwhile Renault has intimated that Red Bull’s desire for them to shortcut development in pursuit of performance is the reason they are now so far behind.

SJ – You can see extreme frustration and shock on both sides in the realization that they’re probably less competitive than they were last year.

But I find it comical in F1 in general that everything is aired in the open these days via the media. Nothing seems to happen behind closed doors anymore. You hear Force India complaining that they needed a hand-out before the Australian GP and now this with Renault and Red Bull.

I can’t see how it helps anyone. In Force India’s case, I’m sure they’re having conversations with Bernie. Why does the media need to know this?

I also find it amusing that Cyril Abiteboul (Renault F1 managing director) doesn’t back down from anyone, calling Adrian Newey a liar.

Red Bull Racing Renault - F1 2015

JT – Abiteboul has also said that Renault has never been given enough credit for Red Bull Racing’s success.

SJ – That’s true. Every time Red Bull won the championship it was all about how good the team is but Renault barely got a mention. But I also think that is to a large degree their own fault for not being more active in promoting this. Cosworth used to be the same, does anyone know it was not that long ago they were the most successful Engine builder in F1 history, and it was only at the end of the Schumacher era with Ferrari that they managed to pass them.

JT – As poorly as things have developed for Red Bull, McLaren continues to be the biggest under-achiever in F1. Neither Fernando Alonso nor Jenson Button could get their Honda-powered machines to the finish in Malaysia. Despite the retirements, team principal Ron Dennis said he was impressed with the team’s performance.

SJ – I guess if all else fails, lower your standards. Obviously, there’s no way a team like McLaren can be satisfied with where they are. Maybe they can be satisfied with the progress they’ve made since the previous outing. There were massive improvements from most of the teams last year between every race so McLaren-Honda will probably experience the same thing.

But I can’t see how you could be impressed with the outcome in Malaysia. And with all of the turbulence that teams are experiencing - apart from Mercedes and Ferrari maybe – I don’t think there’s ever been an easier time to score points in F1 than at the moment. Even Red Bull isn’t a lock in for scoring points. Toro Rosso is almost better at the moment. Whomever has their act together the first half of this season should be able to score a lot of very valuable points, that no doubt will come in handy for next year as more and more of the teams are now relying on Bernie’s handout to keep them afloat.

JT – Interestingly, if you consider Honda’s performance across the major series in which they race globally right now, things don’t look so good. Their F1 power unit isn’t reliable let alone powerful even after a year in which they could freely develop it. In endurance racing, their HPD ARX-04b LMP2 coupes are so flawed they have been withdrawn from competition. And as mentioned, the Honda aero-kit looks inferior to the Chevrolet package in IndyCar thus far.

SJ – Yes, it’s amazing really. They’ve had several efforts over the last years that haven’t gone so well. It’s hard to understand why their P2 cars are performing so poorly given that the regulations in that class are very tight and pretty straightforward.

The Zytek (Z11SN) which is a 14 year old design now is still winning! It won Le Mans last year. (Jota Sport won the LMP2 category of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Z11SN)

JT - You’ve been on the road for the last couple weeks, traveling first to Sebring to be with Scuderia Corsa at the 12 Hours then in St. Petersburg for the opening round of the 2015 IndyCar season and the second round of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge (PWC).

The IndyCar race featured the debut of the busy-looking aero-kits from Chevrolet and Honda - new for 2015 with greatly improved downforce. Juan Pablo Montoya won for Team Penske but the race turned into something of a caution-festival with multiple yellow flags resulting from bodywork littering the track after quite a few instances of contact between cars. What did you make of it?

SJ – It’s not unusual for street circuit races to have contact but I think it’s evident that this new generation of cars are not helping to reduce the number of cautions. There are so many appendages hanging off of them that even the slightest touch just covers the track in debris.

I think that will be an issue for most of the season. The drivers are going to have to be very cautious about contact. As for how they look, it took me a good part of three years to get used to the previous cars and I finally started to get my head around them last season. But when you see these new aero-kit cars on track, they look like they’ve come out of a school project somewhere. It looks like they’ve just bolted on stuff anywhere there’s an empty space on the cars.

Of course when you’ve got a free hand you can do what you want. You go after as much downforce and aero as the rules allow. I know we said it in the last blog but the one thing that there wasn’t anything wrong with in this series was the cars. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last iteration of cars when I first saw them to be honest. But I almost had to eat my words because the racing they produced was definitely great.

It was obviously a not a great weekend for Scott [Dixon]. The team started pretty well but worked their way backwards much as they’ve done every other year there. St. Pete seems like the bogey-track for those guys. I don’t think Scott’s ever had a really good race there. He was quite happy with the car the first day of practice. I think it was circumstances that contributed to the difficulty of the weekend.

They didn’t get things quite right in practice then Scott got held up in qualifying by Pagenaud, which meant he didn’t make the top 6 cut. In the race the Air-jack broke on the first stop so they were much sitting ducks for the rest of the race. The first three races in any series you race in are hugely important because as the season goes on it gets harder and harder to score in every race. If you can just have a nice clean run in the first races you generally benefit from a good points score.

But Scott has certainly won championships before coming from behind. The good news is it definitely looks like the Chevy aero package has the edge on the Honda kit at the moment. So for now, he’s definitely in the right equipment.

JT – The week before the IndyCar race in St. Petersburg you were on hand with Scuderia Corsa for the 12 Hours of Sebring. The team’s Ferrari 458 Italia drove to a 3rd place finish in the GTD class with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Anthony Lazzaro at the wheel. Considering the pace of the Vipers and Porsches, a spot on the podium was a good result.

SJ – As it turned out luck was with us and we got valuable points. The BoP (balance of performance) is really not in the favor of the Ferrari or Audi right now. Our car was nowhere all weekend. There was such a big gap, especially to the Porsches. The 458 is something like 300 pounds heavier than the Porsches. That’s ok around Daytona but at Sebring with the long, long corners and bumps the weight makes the car very hard to drive.

The drivers were fighting the car all weekend. I think, in the circumstances, they all did a great job. For most of the race we were in 7th place then got up to 6th, pitting out of sequence. We dropped back to 10th at one point but we were up and down in the bottom half of the top ten mostly.

We were in 8th place with 45 minutes to go and then all hell broke loose. Both Vipers dropped out and some of the Porsches had problems. Long story-short, we ended up 3rd. That’s a big bonus.

JT – Dixon had a pretty good race along with Scott Pruett and Joey Hand in the # 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford Ecoboost Riley DP. They struggled too but wound up 4th overall.

SJ – They had the same problem our Scuderia Corsa car had really. The BoP wasn’t in their favor and the car just wasn’t quick at any point.

Jann Mardenborough - Nurburgring Crash

JT – Unfortunate news came from the Nürburgring a week ago where Nissan driver Jann Mardenborough’s GT3-class GTR went airborne at the Flugplatz. It vaulted a catch-fence and went into the crowd, killing one spectator and injuring several more during the first VLN race of the season. It’s tragic and calls into question the future of the GT3 class on the Nordschleife.

SJ – As much as I love the Nordschleife - because it is so daunting and crazy in a way - the GT3 cars have obviously outgrown the circuit for racing at that level. The way those cars are designed doesn’t help either.

Looking at the underside of the Nissan in the air, you can see how big the flat-bottom it has is. That was the problem with the prototypes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When we ran at Le Mans with Audi after Michele [Alboreto] had his accident they told us that when his rear tire deflated under braking and the car slipped, four degrees of positive yaw was enough to make the car go airborne. The underside of the prototypes used to be the same as the current GT3 cars– just a big flat surface. If you get enough air underneath it just takes off. They’ve since tapered off the flat part with plank going down the middle of the floor with an angle on the rest of the floor to prevent this from happening.

Even the little Miata (MX-5) I drove at the Ring last year went airborne over the Flugplatz. Up it went and it would take you about 100 yards to gather the thing up. What it must be like in a GT3 car I don’t know.

At least back in the day when we raced there properly (in Group C prototypes) we had 5,000 pounds of downforce or something like that! We had so much downforce you didn’t need to worry about taking off. The cars were stuck to the ground.

What’s going to happen after this accident I don’t know. But as always something serious has to occur before anything is done to prevent this kind of thing. Banning GT3 will be sad but it might not kill the Nürburgring 24 because that race has been popular for a long time. I remember people rolling up to race in diesel vans and all kinds of crazy stuff. The race was more for fun.

Then little by little, the manufacturers started to show interest and they showed up with full factory teams with pro driver line-ups. But it didn’t used to be that way. And the 24 is an institution and a fascinating event because it’s dangerous and it has all the right elements.

WEC Grid Girls

JT- Finally, this may not have anything to do with racing as such, but it was announced today by the WEC that all grid girls will be banned in 2015. What is your take on this?

SJ- I don’t know what to say really. My first thought is, this is an April fools joke, but it’s already the third so that’s not it! My second thought is, how do they have time to fit an issue like this into their agenda, when there are clearly a multitude of far more important matters to deal with, both on the competition as well as the commercial side of things with this series. It’s the same nonsense as not allowing the F1 drivers to change the livery on their helmets. Who cares! I am trying to picture the conversation in the meeting when they decided this, a number of guys sitting around a table, “next up, grid girls…they are really projecting a sexist image of our sport and should be banned…”

Sadly, this whole political correctness agenda that seems to have crept into every aspect of society today, is now well and truly manifested in motorsports too. Frankly, someone must have had to spend a lot of time thinking about “what can we do to look more socially responsible” and this is the best they can come up with. It’s pathetic and sad. You would think they would do everything in their power to attract more sponsors to the Championship, especially as they can barely scrape together 10 cars for each of the categories they run, this is the exact opposite of that. If I still owned a team I would go out and hire 20 Chippendale dudes and line them up on the grip just to piss them off.