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Filtering by Tag: Indy

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

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 102

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silly Season for Drivers and Teams

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 97

JT – It’s been a few months since the last #SJblog. Since then, the IndyCar, Formula 1 and sports car racing calendars have marched forward. We find ourselves in the middle of the summer break for many series and of course that means it’s silly season for drivers and teams figuring out who will be driving where in 2019.

Formula 1 has made the most news recently with driver shuffles kicking off in early August when Daniel Ricciardo made the surprise announcement that he was leaving Red Bull Racing after four seasons with the team. What do you make of Ricciardo’s move?

SJ – It’s interesting, I don’t think too many people saw that one coming. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye behind his decision to move obviously. Whatever the reason, it’s a major loss for Red Bull.

If you look at it historically, Renault has always won eventually when they’ve been involved in Formula 1. Of course, there’s completely different people at Renault now compared to the past but the commitment is there it seems. Just the fact that they’ve hired Ricciardo tells you the commitment is there. They’ve certainly got some good people in the team and I’m sure they will keep adding more. I am sure they must have given Ricciardo’s pretty firm guarantees that they are prepared to allocate the budget and resources required to win the championship. I see no reason why they would not fight with Mercedes and Ferrari eventually.

This situation is different but it’s not entirely dissimilar to when Lewis Hamilton left McLaren, which was then a winning team, for Mercedes who weren’t winning anything at the time. I’m sure he was shown the big plan and the commitment they had to winning the Championship. Interestingly, Mercdedes also had this driver called Rosberg, that no one was completely sure how good he really was and it ended up being a few of years with epic battles between the two. Renault has Hulkenberg that has shown great promise and great speed but never delivered the results, now he will be paired against a proven race winner, will he be able to step up and finally deliver on the promise or will this be the end of his career? I think he will keep Daniel honest and this dynamic could be great for the team if both of them push each other all the time. I don’t think this is a bad move on Ricciardo’s part, he would have always had to deal with Verstappen being favored at Red Bull, at least if what we’ve seen until now is anything to go by. Now he’s the team leader which makes a big difference also psychologically for a driver. I think there’s a good chance that Renault will eventually be on the pace of the top three, maybe not next year, but if you take a three or five year view I feel there is a very good possibility they will. There are always shifts that will come if the rules stays the same for long enough, history shows that everybody will eventually catch up. The new rules won’t be wholesale like it was when the new engine formula came in to play, where everyone’s been playing catch up to Mercedes until this year. Even when you dominate or win, like Mercedes, every year it gets a little bit harder to stay on top. So I think at some point it’s likely that Mercedes will end up with a car that isn’t the best and the dynamic will change. Ferrari is already as quick or quicker in many places.

It may take longer because a lot of things are different in F1 now. One is the massive amount of resources required to be competitive. That’s the main reason why Mercedes and Ferrari are at the front. They’re simply spending more than anyone else.

I can only assume that Ricciardo has been given pretty strong guarantees about the depth of Renault’s effort. That must have been one of the contributing factors otherwise I doubt whether he would have made the jump. He’s obviously seen what the five-year plan is.

At the same time, I also think Red Bull will be very strong with Honda power in the next five years. I think Honda is on the verge of cracking it, and when they do they are normally unstoppable.

Image by: Red Bull Racing

I think the next few years could become very interesting with both Renault and Honda catching up to Mercedes and Ferrari, it has a good chance of being more competitive than we’ve seen in a long time. I just hope they won’t tinker to much with the rules as we’re now on the verge of everyone catching up which will allow the competition to be much closer. But we should never count on the wisdom of the rule-makers, they seem to be experts at making changes where none are needed.

We all know the current set of rules are far from ideal, but at least we have gotten close to the point of diminishing return on R&D and when that happens the racing is always getting better and closer as the gap from the front to the back keeps getting smaller each year. Let’s hope it will stay this way for a while until everyone has figured out  the bigger picture of what really needs to be done. That is a subject for a whole other conversation and it’s obviously a big topic. I am actually working on a big document on that very subject which I should have ready in a couple of weeks, it’s very radical and will require a complete rethink but I hope people will like what I have in mind.

JT – Less than two weeks after Ricciardo’s announcement, Fernando Alonso announced that he would be retiring from F1 for 2019. In comments on his departure Alonso indicated he could still return to F1 if a good opportunity arose and if the series changed enough to produce a good competitive environment.

Alonso added that racing in F1 is no longer enjoyable on track, stating that the predictability of the racing was far too high with little chance to actually compete. He concluded that most of what is talked about in F1 focuses on off-track polemics and politics, not actual racing. What do you think of his decision to leave the series and the reasons behind it?

SJ – I can certainly sympathize with a driver of Alonso’s pedigree, everybody knows he doesn’t belong where he’s at, but that’s the nature of the beast in F1. It doesn’t matter how good the driver is, if you don’t have the best car you will never win or get close to the front. It’s tough to be motivated when you know before the season’s starts that you’re going to be somewhere around 8th to 12th in qualifying and get the odd point here or there.

There’s also this current obsession in Formula 1 with young, fast teenage drivers or drivers around 20 year old. For sure they’re very quick. There’s no doubt about their speed, but we don’t really know how good they are. F1 has turned into a place where driving fast is just about the only criteria that seems to matter. You can see it very clearly in the races. On Lap 1 and Lap 2 there’s more contact and debris flying off the cars – broken wing-endplates and stuff – than there is at the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch every year.

There’s very little racecraft and very few of the drivers who have any racecraft. Alonso is obviously one of them, one of maybe five or six. The rest, even some of the experienced guys, I won’t mention any names but it’s pretty obvious by now, just should not have the amount of unnecessary accidents they do. As I’ve been speculating, maybe it’s something to do with these new super long wheelbase cars but it strikes me as very strange that these drivers who are supposed to be the best in the world can’t get past the first two laps without three or four cars per race getting damage in pretty much every single race.

I think one of the problems with F1 is that it’s simply too good. What I mean by that is everything is so well done from the engineering to the simulation of the races that there is literally nothing left to chance, there is no unpredictability left, except if there’s a sudden shift in weather conditions or something else that could not be planned for before the race started. We normally get 2-3 races a year like that and everybody is jumping up and down over what a great race we just had. That should tell everybody something right there. But unfortunately, it’s the engineers that are running the show now as far as the technical rules go, and they won’t back down, it’s just more and more of the same. No one’s willing to give up their toys.

JT – Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc are candidates for other drives. With Ricciardo’s departure from Red Bull Gasly is now seen as strong possibility to be a teammate to Max Verstappen. Meanwhile, Leclerc has been mentioned in connection with Ferrari for some time. Each is an example of the youth movement you mentioned.  Neither one has even completed their first season in F1.

SJ – There is no doubt that both of them are very good, I think they are future stars for sure. Just as with Max Verstappen, every now and then we get someone exceptional that pops through that little hole at the bottom of the funnel and I think both these guys are that kind. However, I think it would be foolish to throw them in the deep end with a top team this early, for the same reason I mentioned earlier. They would both fare much better where they are and gain another year of experience in a team with much less pressure and scrutiny than they would get at either Ferrari or Red Bull. If you don’t perform at your very best in every session and race the media is all over you and then the doubt start to creep in and it all goes sideways very quickly. There’s loads of examples of great drivers who never made it once they got the opportunity in the big teams, simply because it was too early in their careers. This works both ways, I don’t understand the rush from Ferrari to put Leclerc in one of their cars at this stage of his career, it will be much better for them to keep him at Sauber and let him gain more experience before they put him in the main team.

JT – In IndyCar news, Scott Dixon resigned with Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott has driven for Chip since 2002, scoring 43 of his 44 IndyCar victories with the team. He seems very content with the decision to stay at Ganassi despite offers from others including Andretti Autosport and the team McLaren may be forming. As his manager, you played a role in the negotiations. Obviously some work was involved despite the fact Scott elected not to change teams.

Photo via: @scottdixon9

Photo via: @scottdixon9

SJ – Yes, there was a lot of talk and a lot rumors, I don’t know where some of these guys get their stories from but it was very amusing to hear some of it. So far from the truth that you have to wonder where the rumors started. Scott certainly had some strong offers but continuing with Ganassi made sense. You know Chip will always put a winning car on the grid, and that is in the end all that matters, the rest kind of falls into place. There’s obviously a huge amount of respect between the two of them and the great success story will hopefully continue for a while longer. And yes, there was a lot of work associated with it and it was quite stressful at times but as a manager you’re there to try and be objective and look at the bigger picture – all the different factors that come into play and I believe Scott made the right decision in the end.