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#SJblog (source page)

Filtering by Tag: Josef Newgarden

F1 Chinese GP, Fernando Alonso gears up for Indy 500 & the Grand Prix of Long Beach

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 84 -

JT – We haven’t had a chance to chat since before the 2017 Formula One season begin with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in late March. As always, the first race of the season offered opportunity for those willing seize it.

Ferrari did just that, showing pace on par with Mercedes and taking the initiative with pit strategy during the race. Sebastian Vettel got away from the grid well, just behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. He then trailed Hamilton closely, forcing the Mercedes driver to use his tires hard. Hamilton pitted on lap 17 but Vettel remained on track until Lap 22.

Hamilton emerged from the pits behind Max Verstappen and was unable to pass the Red Bull Racing driver despite being on newer tires. The delay allowed Vettel to build a gap which saw him emerge from the pits well clear of Hamilton and he remained in front until the checkered flag.

The result was a widely applauded surprise and a hopeful sign for the championship. Ferrari has certainly closed most of the performance gap to Mercedes. However, on-track passing was at a premium throughout the field. Very few passes were made even during the opening laps. What did you think of the Australian Grand Prix?

SJ – Ferrari has certainly improved significantly over the winter and they proved it. Mercedes didn’t get their strategy quite right and they paid for it.

More than that, Ferrari’s pace doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan. They were quick in pre-season testing and they backed up the promise from the tests by being right on the pace when they arrived in Melbourne. If anything, it looks like their tire management may be the best in the field at the moment, at least with Vettel.

That goes back to a conversation we had in the blog last year. At the time I said I’d bet that Ferrari would gain an advantage from Vettel’s willingness to be an integral part of all the tire testing Pirelli did in preparation for the new tire rule for 2017. He was the only driver to put aside the time to do that. I said at the time that I guarantee this would pay dividends for him going into 2017 and it certainly looks like it has.

I can’t understand why no other driver was willing to do that. If there’s one simple way to gain an advantage, it’s in understanding the tires and even better if you can have an influence on how they are built. That was one of the main reasons why Michael Schumacher was so successful. He spent every day he could pounding around Fiorano when Ferrari was using Bridgestone and they came out with a tire absolutely tailor-made for his driving style. Hardly anyone else could make the tire work but it suited him perfectly.

Every tire company always develop a kind of philosophy on how they build their tires for a certain type of car or series and if you can have an influence on that philosophy – if you can affect and learn the nuances of the construction they use – it makes a huge difference. You gain just that little bit more confidence in being able attack a fraction harder on corner entry. That affects the performance through the whole corner, the way you set the car up and everything. It might be minuscule gains but that can be all the difference you need to win.

Good for Vettel and shame on everybody else for not committing to that testing.

JT – Mercedes and Ferrari were again the main story at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. This time Mercedes gained the upper hand with Lewis Hamilton dominating the weekend, earning pole position and leading from the start without ever being challenged. Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel had to fight his way to a second place finish. The race began on a damp track with nearly all of the field on wet weather tires. Vettel gambled, pitting for slicks on Lap 2 during a virtual safety car period. Leaders Hamilton, Valterri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen remained on track. They reaped a reward on Lap 5 when Sauber’s Antonio Giovanazzi crashed exiting the final corner, bringing out a safety car.

The leaders then pitted and emerged in front of Vettel. Mired in sixth place Vettel worked for several laps to pass Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Then he tracked down and passed Ricciardo, going outside the Red Bull Racing driver in Turn 6. Verstappen fell to Vettel’s charge on lap 28 after locking up entering Turn 14.

Vettel’s climb back to second provided some drama as did the performance of the Red Bulls on supersoft Pirellis early on. There was more passing at Shanghai - mostly on its long straights with DRS enabling some competitors to blow by those ahead. But the most interesting passing was pulled off in the corners. What did you think of the Chinese Grand Prix?

SJ – The race showed again that there isn’t much between Mercedes and Ferrari. So far the battle between the two is shaping up to be pretty good. Hopefully Raikkonen and Bottas will step it up and be able to challenge for wins too as we get further into the season.

No one really challenged Lewis at any point in China. There was more passing than we saw in Melbourne and it’s interesting because most of the really good passes were almost all two-lane overtakes. That’s something we touched on before the season began. I mentioned that one possibility resulting from the increased grip of the 2017 cars might be the capability to run more than one line through corners.

That seems to be what happened at Shanghai. In the double right-hander that follows the start/finish line there was passing on the outside and the same in Turn 6. The pass that Vettel made on Ricciardo was spectacular and good fun to watch.

But that can only happen at a track where you have extremely long corners, where you’re loading up the car for a long period of time. You’re not going to be able to do that in a traditional corner or a 90-degree corner. At the next race at Bahrain there just aren’t the type of corners that will encourage that kind of passing because one corner follows another pretty quickly. It’s unlikely.

JT – What do you think of the performance of Valterri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen so far?

SJ – Bottas made a mistake in China, no question. But in fairness anyone can do that at some stage, they were tricky circumstances. He’s on the pace or very close it seems, the only difference is that Ferrari is much closer this year, hence the split on grid positions instead of the usual Mercedes 1-2. He certainly did a good job in Melbourne. I’m sure he’ll improve as the season goes on. I don’t think he’ll beat Lewis but I think he’ll be very close.

It’s harder to say how Kimi will do. It seems difficult for him to have everything come together at once in recent years. He’s quick and then when it really matters there’s always some little thing that trips him up, sometimes it’s just bad luck but it seems to happen to him more than it does with Vettel for sure. Time will tell.

JT – While Ferrari and Mercedes top the field, Red Bull Racing falls into a gap some distance behind them but well ahead of the rest of the teams. What do you make of their situation?

SJ – It’s a bit disappointing - for them at least. I think everyone expected more from Red Bull with the changes in the rules. They’ve obviously missed the mark somewhere. They clearly don’t have the speed or downforce to match the Ferrari or the Mercedes on a consistent basis at least. I don’t think the Renault engine is that far behind now but they seem to be lacking some performance in their overall package.

Ricciardo and Verstappen are very close in terms of speed and they’re pushing but the car’s just not there yet. However, with the crazy development curve in F1 I am sure they will eventually be on the same pace as the Mercedes and Ferrari. The Spanish GP seems to be the first race where all the big updates show up, so let’s see what happens after that.

JT – Meanwhile the best of the rest of the teams are anywhere from 1 to 1.5 seconds off the pace of Mercedes and Ferrari, and the gap expands quickly as you go further into the field. If you’re not racing with Mercedes, Ferrari or possibly Red Bull, you’re miles off the pace.

SJ – That was to be expected. Every time you have a significant rules change the teams without big resources are going to fall further back than they were before the changes took place.

The way F1 is today it’s very difficult to come up with a great and different idea. The development on these cars pretty much comes down to cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. Every now and then someone gets lucky and get it right straight out of the box, but in the big picture it will take the mid-fielders and the back-markers probably another year or two before they’re able to claw back some time to the front runners. Then the gap will be around a second between those teams and the leaders. This happens every time we have a major rule change.

JT – With rules stability costs should also fall a bit. This time around however one wonders whether the mid-field and back-marking teams can hang on financially until the situation stabilizes? There is work going on behind the scenes by the Liberty Media group to try to get teams to agree to reduce costs and spread F1 resources more equitably but will it actually happen?

SJ – There’s been a lot of talk for a while now about cost reduction and how the money will be distributed among the teams going forward. I don’t think anyone really know how to go about the cost reduction issue at the moment, mainly because there are so many opinions on how to do this and to a large degree it comes back to what I’ve been saying for some time now. If you try to accomplish this in a democratic way, there will never be a good solution, a well thought out plan has to come from the top down and if the teams want to play they will have to follow these rules. As it is currently the teams can’t even decide where to have their meetings let alone come forward with any meaningful proposal on how to accomplish any form of cost reduction.

The distribution of funds is another can of worms that could cause some serious problems going forward. I am sure the teams that are benefiting the most will not be willing to give up those benefits freely. This may end up being one of the biggest challenges for the new owners to untangle.

JT – McLaren continues to have a pretty disastrous start to their 2017 season, having failed to finish with either car at Australia or China. Honda’s underdeveloped power unit is the biggest issue for them and it’s costing Fernando Alonso as he languishes in another uncompetitive car for yet another year.

The upside is that there’s a silver lining for IndyCar and its fans. It was announced today that Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix this year, choosing instead to drive one of Andretti Autosport’s Hondas in the 101st running of the Indy 500. This is big news for IndyCar and should be a massive boon for them.

SJ – Yes, this is the best thing that could happen to IndyCar in my opinion. It’s funny, you and I have been talking about this in the blog over the last couple years – that IndyCar really needed to try and get one of the top guys in Formula One to come over and we always mentioned Alonso as a perfect example.

This is really great news and I personally can’t wait to see him go around the Speedway, I’m very excited.

It’s worked out that he’s the driver most likely to want to do this because he’s in an uncompetitive car again. It’s marketing gold and a huge shot in the arm for IndyCar.

JT – That news must have been filtering through the paddock at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend. It was another great event with some good racing, some foul luck for front-runners like Ryan Hunter Reay and Alexander Rossi, and another big dose of frustration for Scott Dixon.

On the other hand, James Hinchcliffe managed to pull off a win for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, one of the smaller teams in the series. He was followed home by Sebastian Bourdais in second place – the winner of the season-opener in St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Racing - another of the series’ smallest outfits. Meanwhile Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished third.
Scott finished fourth and it was obvious that he could have topped the podium if the team’s strategy had been different. They switched to a three-stop pit strategy during the race.

SJ - Scott really should have won, again. He was far quicker than anyone else most of the weekend, just as he was at St. Petersburg. The team chose to go to a three-stop strategy because of the way they thought the yellow flag was going to fall early in the race. The yellow never came and it screwed his strategy completely.

But as frustrating as IndyCar can be with their closed-pit rule during cautions, the racing is still very exciting and I still claim it’s the best racing out there of any major Championship, certainly better than anything else in single seater racing. The first two races show that almost everyone in the series has a chance of winning and the gap between the top teams and the smaller ones is very tight. It was frustrating for Scott to be on the wrong end of the stick again but that stuff usually evens out over the season.

JT – You raced in the Grand Prix of Long Beach in CART from 1993-1996. What are your memories of racing there?

SJ – I always enjoyed racing at Long Beach. The first race I did there, I think I qualified on the second row. But it didn’t turn out to be a particularly fond memory in the race because Mario Andretti put me into the wall at the hairpin before I even got to the start-finish line!

They waved the green flag, we hit each other coming out of the hairpin and it was over before I even got to the flag!

But Long Beach is a great event and it seems to get bigger each year, the crowd is great and the atmosphere is terrific.

JT – Scuderia Corsa has a good finish in Saturday’s IMSA Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan drove their Ferrari 488 GT3 to third place.

SJ – Everybody did a great job. Christina did a great job starting the race and had a good stint. Balzan was very spectacular in his stint and showed some really good race craft. He passed a lot of cars toward the end of the race. He was driving hard and it was a good finish. And the team did their usual brilliant job on the strategy, we gained something like 5 places with the pit strategy we used. We have one of the best teams out there on the scoring stand.

JT – In other news it appears that Felix Rosenqvist will make his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year with DragonSpeed Racing in their LMP2 Oreca 07 Gibson. He’ll share the car with Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.

SJ – Yes, he tested the car for the first time this week in England and he really liked it. It will be a great experience for him to do Le Mans also. It’s a track every driver should experience, along with the Indianapolis Speedway. They are both iconic race tracks and still as difficult and dangerous to master as they have ever been.

Scott Dixon dominates at Watkins Glen, Mercedes wins at the Italian GP & the future of Formula 1

Stefan Johansson

JT – IndyCar returned to Watkins Glen in early September, the first time the series has run there since 2010. Scott Dixon absolutely dominated the weekend, winning the race by over 16 seconds (his 40th career win, moving him to 4th in all-time wins in IndyCar) and smashing the qualifying record by 5.6 seconds for his 25th career pole.

Scott has performed well at Watkins Glen in the past, having won three times there but looked even better two weeks ago. What did you think of his performance?

SJ – It was a very impressive display in every respect. I can’t remember anyone dominating to quite that level for quite some time. It was like he was in a different league all weekend. He dropped back a few places for the restart (on Lap 42 after a caution for a collision between Will Power and Charlie Kimball, and pit stops, Dixon restarted 4th) and within less than two laps he was back in the lead.

Everyone else was struggling to pass anywhere on track but it was amazing how Scott just pulled off passes with his incredible, fluid driving style which is just perfect on a track like that.

It’s been a strange year in that I think he’s been driving more strongly this year than any that I can remember and yet he’s come away with less than almost any year before. Even reliability issues have stopped him at places like Detroit and Road America, where it was almost certain he would have won both races.

JT – The win moved Scott to 3rd in the championship standings but it wasn’t enough to keep him in championship contention. Leader Simon Pagenaud finished 7th at Watkins Glen, putting him 104 points clear of Dixon. Even with double points (100 total) on offer for this weekend’s season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma, Dixon cannot catch Pagenaud. Only his Penske teammate Will Power has a chance. Power would have likely been closer to Pagenaud points-wise if not for the accident with Kimball. With a 43-point lead over his teammate it looks pretty good for Pagenaud to capture his first IndyCar title. Do you agree?

SJ – The IndyCar championship is all about racking up points at every race - being consistent. Last year Montoya kept racking up points and he was on top going into Sonoma. You never know - look at what Scott did last year, particularly with double points available - but it’s most likely that Pagenaud will score well enough to win the championship. Still, if Power wins and Pagenaud gets involved in any incident... well, that could be enough. What is amazing though is that we are again going into the final race with the championship still open, I don’t remember if the Indycar series ever had the championship decided before the final round.

JT – With the offseason rapidly approaching, speculation about the IndyCar driver-market has been plentiful. Josef Newgarden seems to be the main focus of conjecture. He could go to Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing or elect to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing. Depending on what he chooses to do, other drivers might have to adjust. Do you think we’ll see much movement?

SJ – I don’t really know what will happen but I’d be surprised if we see a huge amount of movement among the drivers.

JT – Unsurprisingly, Mercedes won Formula One’s most recent round the Italian GP at Monza. In this case Nico Rosberg, starting from second position alongside teammate and pole winner Lewis Hamilton, made a perfect getaway and won while Hamilton stumbled, dropping to 6th place on the opening lap. He eventually recovered to finish 2nd behind Rosberg. As we’ve said in recent blogs, the result of nearly every grand prix this year has hinged on who got the better start – Rosberg or Hamilton.

If Rosberg starts cleanly, as he did early in the season, he wins. If Hamilton starts cleanly, as he did mid-season, he wins. It’s basically as simple as that, and again the Italian GP didn’t offer much exciting racing. However, just two points separate Hamilton and Rosberg heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.

SJ – Yes, that’s basically what it comes down to. Whichever guy – Hamilton or Rosberg, as they are the only two with a realistic chance of winning all things being equal - gets off the line best and manages to scramble through the first few corners, it’s pretty much job done.

This last race made the championship closer and everyone keeps talking about how Mercedes might struggle again (Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won the 2015 race, followed by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari-teammate Kimi Rakkionen) but I can’t imagine that they won’t have dug deep enough and found out what their tire problems were last year. They’ll be better.

On that note, that’s one of the ironic twists of F1. All the teams are spending copious amounts of money on car and aero development in particular yet every race it basically comes down to the tires and who can manage them best for optimum grip, especially with the crazy pressures they’re required to run now.

I keep joking about it but at the sharp end of the grid they spend well over $300 million a year, of which most of it is development. Then they bolt on a set of tires for a couple of thousand dollars and that makes more difference than just about anything else they do with the car. If you can get a second from the tire by being able to get the most out of it, and manage it correctly over the stint, it’s probably equivalent to $50-100m worth of development on the car to gain that same second!

JT – Ferrari managed to get one of its cars on the podium at Monza with a 3rd place finish from Sebastian Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen finished in 4th place. The team seemed to be pleased with the result and team manager Maurizio Arrivabene stated that while Ferrari has “failed to achieve its target” this year, the team is making progress and the atmosphere inside Scuderia Ferrari is “very positive”. With the departure of some of its key personnel and Ferrari’s inconsistent performance something about Arrivabene’s comments rings hollow. Do you agree?

SJ – It’s a difficult situation for them at the moment, and I don’t envy Maurizio Arrivabene for one second as he was basically thrown in the deep end with all the wholesale changes that took place when Montezemolo left. As we have seen with almost every team at some stage, once you loose the momentum it takes years to gain it back to a point where you can consistently be challenging for wins. Mclaren is a perfect example, Red Bull has had their slump and they were both dominant teams not that long ago. Ferrari still have a lot of challenges ahead, there is no doubt about that, let’s hope that the people at the very top of the company will stay the course and make the right decisions going forward.

JT – The biggest news for Formula One was made off-track last week when it was finally confirmed that Liberty Media, an America conglomerate which owns the second largest U.S. cable television company and has holdings in Sirius/XM radio and Live Nation, a large event promotion company, will acquire F1 from current majority owner CVC Capital Partners.

Bernie Ecclestone will continue in his role as F1 CEO but will now work under Liberty Media’s umbrella. There seems to be some optimism that Liberty can bring more energy and direction to the series and attract more viewers globally. What’s your take?

SJ – I don’t know anything more than what has been covered by the press but one would hope that they’ll look at the business more pragmatically. I think that’s already starting to happen and maybe they’ll bring more of a clean sheet approach to it.

Let’s not forget that F1 is still a hugely popular sport globally, but I think they know they can make it significantly more popular. With the speed at which the world moves today in terms of social media and other digital platforms there are definitely ways to monetize those outlets. Bernie says he’s never made any money on the Internet but I don’t think he’s been dealing with the right people. Certainly not if you look at the F1 website which is full of broken links and quite clunky in general, you can tell that very little effort has been spent in this area.

You see others doing well in that area. NASCAR, for instance, is doing very well in that space. They’ve figured out how to monetize the digital side of their business and they’re making money.

Liberty has already made noise about offering the opportunity for teams to buy into Formula One. I don’t know exactly how that would work but it could potentially be a good move. If you look at other sports, certainly football and soccer, every franchise is worth a fortune. They also spend big money but F1 is still in the stratosphere in terms of the resources associated with it.

If the series, together with the FIA can work out a way to control costs by focusing on areas of development which are prohibitively expensive like aerodynamics and maybe standardize some components, it will immediately be on a better business footing.

For example, the other day I was visiting a new racing simulator here in Los Angeles. There was a two-year old Williams chassis there that a group bought to transform for the purpose of making it into a simulator. They were showing me simple things like the car’s power steering rack. It’s an absolute work of art. That piece alone probably required 50 people to engineer and build. It’s absolutely exquisite, but for what?

I don’t see why you couldn’t just use a standard steering rack that all teams would have to buy from one single supplier that is the same for all the teams. It would cost a tiny fraction of that custom piece Williams built. That piece alone probably cost them more than a million dollars all told. And that’s just one component of the car – a piece the fans will never ever see or understand.

Look at the insanely complicated brake ducts the teams create now… for nothing. Why can’t the teams all agree on standardizing some components and save themselves millions of dollars?

IndyCar has great racing with a basic, standardized package. The best teams still work their butts off and find an edge over their competitors by refining the components they have to work with. Why make every single piece of every car a custom-made item? I’m not saying that F1 should copy Indycar, because I personally think Indycar has gone to far in the other direction where you basically can’t do anything to the car anymore, except the dampers. But, there are several things on any racecar that is just a pointless and extremely costly exercise to make in house, assuming the parts were available to buy off the shelf. To make this work there needs to be firm rules in place otherwise every team will still go their own way even if the parts were available to buy off the shelf, because the engineers are very competitive by nature, just as the drivers, and everyone thinks they are more clever than the other, and that their solution is much better than anything else out there.

The teams all seem to be addicted to their toys, even the smaller ones. It makes no sense. Each team will apparently be receiving something like $100 million from F1 in the next year or two. If you can’t run a team for less than $100 million, something’s fundamentally wrong. If you bring spending down to more sane levels, every F1 franchise should be worth serious money, just as they were for a brief period when Eddie Jordan sold his team for example. Nowadays most teams that are potentially for sale are lucky if they can walk away with new owners clearing their debts.

There are extremely clever people in F1 and the cleverest will still produce the best results even if the series goes to a much more basic formula. Just start fresh. As Flavio Briatore says, F1 is so complicated now that no one understands it, not even the people in the business.

The fact that Bernie [Ecclestone] will stay on is positive. Some people gripe and moan about him from time to time, but deep down, everybody loves Bernie. He’s like the grand-daddy for all of us in the business in one way or the other. Everyone knows that without him F1 wouldn’t be anything near what it is today. I believe that 100 percent. He’s laid every single brick in that business and has a personal relationship with every promoter, TV Network, sponsor, team owner, driver, you name it. There is not one deal going down that Bernie does not have his hand in. I think he should be applauded for what he’s done, not just for F1 but for motorsport in general, because everything filters down from Formula One.

JT – In other off track news, McLaren announced that Jenson Button would be taking a “break” from F1 in 2017 but that his two-year deal with the team means that he could drive again in 2018. He will be replaced next year by GP2 sensation Stoffel Vandoorne. Team principle Ron Dennis insists that Button’s “deal” is not a “retirement”. But everyone understands that Button is basically leaving the sport. Why does McLaren not want to state the truth? Their version of this sounds nuts. Do you agree?

SJ – Well, If Jenson now suddenly feels “like a kid again” because he’s effectively been pushed aside or whatever you’d like to call it then you obviously have to question why he didn’t make this decision on his own rather than wait until he was basically told he’s not driving next year. Can someone please fire me! I want to get fired too, if that’s how it makes you feel. Joking aside, it’s just seem like a very odd statement to claim that this is a new and innovative solution to effectively fire one of your drivers, or at least demote him to reserve driver. It’s good news though to see that Vandoorne has a permanent drive based purely on merit, he deserves it, and the timing could be perfect for him as it’s almost certain that McLaren will be back fighting for wins in the next few years. I am sure he will be one of the superstars of the next generation drivers that are now filtering through.

JT – Much has been made lately of the new, wider tires the 2017 rules will allow for F1 cars. Together with other changes this should give the cars more interesting appearance and may make them significantly faster but as you’ve already noted, it probably won’t improve the racing.

SJ – I would say it’s almost a certainty that it will make passing even more difficult than it is now because the cars will be so fast in the corners and even slower on the straights because they’ll have more drag from both the increased downforce and the wider tires. This will result in even less difference between mid-corner speed and top speed on the straights. Braking distances will be even shorter and grip levels will be much higher. So in other words, the exact opposite of what you want to make the racing more exciting. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.

The cars will look much better though, lap-times will be much faster but once you get used to watching the cars cornering a lot faster then everything will be back to normal again.

It’s been interesting to follow the tire testing for the 2017 cars that has been going on, or at least the little information that’s been made available. The teams doing the testing will without a doubt have an advantage next season. Tire testing is the key to performance. In every team I ever raced for where we were able to do a tire test before a race, or where the designated test team, we were always much better off for having done it.

Just the sheer fact that you’re running a car helps already as you’re always picking up little bits of information every time the car is on the track. Even if a team isn’t told which tire it’s testing – the fact that you’re running on a tire of the same general specification to what you’ll be using next year will already be a big advantage. Watch this space, there will be a lot of moaning about this by a lot of the teams as the new season unfolds.

Bottomline though, overtaking will only get harder next season.


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Indycar Iowa Corn 300, F1 British GP at Silverstone & the #F1TOP3

Stefan Johansson

JT – Usually, we lead off the blog chatting about Formula One. It remains the technical pinnacle of global racing and the most widely known form of motorsport. It was also a huge highlight of your career and a world you’re still intimately familiar with. But some would argue that Formula One is no longer the pinnacle of open wheel racing from a competition perspective.

In recent years IndyCar has returned to the top of the heap competitively. As you’ve observed, even drivers in F1 have taken note. The experience and ability of today’s IndyCar pilots is the rival of any racing series in the world. It makes one think back to the glory days of CART when Nigel Mansell, fresh from winning the Formula One World Championship in 1992, left Europe and F1 to come to America to race Indy Cars in CART. You were there as well, having left F1 in 1991 to join Bettenhausen Racing.

And once again, as is usually the case these days, last weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race – the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway – was the best race of the weekend. It proved more interesting than the British GP even though Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden nearly lapped the field. But the racing was great throughout the field. As I know you agree, that makes IndyCar the right place to start this week’s discussion.

SJ – I agree with you that the actual racing in Indycar is hard to beat. It was a terrific race again. You can’t beat short-ovals. As far as the racing goes, it doesn’t get much better. There’s always action – non-stop. And the action isn’t just at the front. There are battles going on all through the field all the time.

As I’ve said, the competition in IndyCar is the best out there right now. At almost any track, there’s hardly more than a second between the front of the field and the back.

However, I don’t know how many drivers or fans are taking notice, I still think the sharp end of F1 is a good as it’s ever been, maybe even better. There is a lot of depth of talent and a number of World Champions competing at the same time, plus some incredibly talented new guys, like Verstappen and Sainz for example. F1 is still the pinnacle for sure, it’s just a shame they are not able to really display their talent in equipment that is more challenging.

JT – I remember NASCAR driver Mark Martin saying many years ago that a talented driver can overcome poor car balance on a road course by driving around it, essentially “carrying the car”. But he added that there’s no way to do that on an oval. Basically he said that you can be the world’s best driver but if you miss the setup on an oval you’re finished.

SJ – Exactly, there’s nothing you can do. It’s sheer torture if your car is not balanced, and especially so if the car is loose (oversteer). I went through that a few times too many back in the day with Bettenhausen.

I remember one year at Indy when the team did an engine installation before the race. One of the bushings for the engine mount was twisted just slightly. They didn’t realize that. But it was enough so when they did a torque-check with a torque key it was tight.

As soon as the car got loaded up at full speed, which was on the first lap going in to Turn-3, I felt this clunk as the engine came into position. From then on, there was maybe a millimeter of play in that bushing. Over the distance back to the rear wheels, a millimeter of play in the bushing translated to probably five millimeters of play at the wheel.

The car was absolutely un-drivable. It was stupid-loose one lap and on the next it was pushing like a pig! It was totally inconsistent. You didn’t know what it was going to do from one lap to the next. We should have just parked it but stupidly you hang in there hoping there’s going to be a multi-car accident that puts cars out of the race and moves you forward but of course, no way. That was 500 miles of sheer torture.

You’re just spent if the car is off. You’re fighting the thing all the time. Even on the straights it can be a handful.

JT – At one point, Josef Newgarden had lapped everyone but the leading car. He and Ed Carpenter Racing must have absolutely nailed the setup. Have you ever driven a car that worked that well on an oval, and if so, what is that like?

SJ – I had a car that worked quite well but never that good. But when you have a car that’s hooked up on an oval it is the most fun racing you can do. It’s fantastic. You’re racing all the time, every lap.

Scott [Dixon] had a car like that last year on one of the ovals where he was absolutely dialed in. Unfortunately, the team missed the setup on the car at Iowa at the beginning of the weekend and eventually had to revert to last year’s setup. Scott basically ran it like that and improved it as much as possible through the race. On every pit stop they dialed it in to get a decent balance but at least the car was drivable.

Scott finished third but didn’t really gain much in points. (Pagenaud finished fourth) Scott’s been very unlucky with DNFs, scoring no points. He probably would have won Race One in Detroit if the car hadn’t had a mechanical problem. And then again, at Elkhart Lake (Road America) he probably could have fought for the win or at least second place if the car hadn’t let him down.

That’s at least 80 points off the table for Scott and Pagenaud is doing what you do to win championships, scoring points in pretty much every race. He’s won several times this year and he’s basically just having consistently good finishes. With a championship as close as IndyCar’s is, points make prizes. If you score in every race you’re gonna be right up there fighting for the title. So it’s going to be very tough to beat Pagenaud.

JT – The Chevrolets dominated at Iowa. Only three of the top ten finishers were in Hondas. That’s odd considering that Andretti Autosport won just last year with Honda at Iowa and that they won the Indy 500 with Honda this year.

SJ – It’s very strange. Honda kind of dominated Indy but apart from that they’ve struggled at every other track. It’s odd how they managed to be so good at Indy but not anywhere else really.

JT – In the wake of the rain-postponed Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar announced that the race will “resume” at the 71-lap mark where it was halted on August 27. Newgarden, now second in the championship standings, will not be allowed to race as he and Conor Daly had a massive accident before the race was red-flagged. Scott has made the gracious and intelligent point that the Texas race should be re-run in its entirety for the sake of the fans who waited out multiple delays. That seems only logical.

SJ – Yes, it makes no sense to just run a partial race. Everyone will be starting from scratch anyway, going through the whole weekend ritual of practice just as they did before. Obviously, you can’t send them out on track without practice because everything will be different – different track conditions, different temperature, everything.

It would be much fairer to simply start from scratch. It will be a completely different race anyway.

JT – Newgarden is obviously a proven winner with victories on road and street courses, and now an oval. Many are speculating that IndyCar’s top teams have their eyes on him, including Ganassi.

SJ – He’s been the new, young hope since last year when he won and was very impressive. He certainly hasn’t gone backwards this year. He’s doing a very good job and it’s no surprise that people are looking at him. I also think that Ed Carpenter’s team has done an amazing job, their engineering group is clearly on top of things.

JT – The British Grand Prix had a predictable outcome. Mercedes finished first and second on-track with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton winning his home grand prix once again. With the start having taken place under safety car due to rain, he had had an advantage once the field was released. He gained a couple seconds right away and was never really challenged. He was also lucky, as were some others, not to crash after an off course excursion on dry tires.

SJ – Yes, to have a clean track in front of you in a wet race after the safety car releases you is huge. That’s why Lewis pulled 100 yards on everybody right away. You tend to do that when you have no visibility problems and the opportunity to control the start. That was a given almost.

I don’t think the conditions were that terrible to be honest. I don’t know what the current cars are like to drive but I’ve certainly had many races where the conditions were much worse. I think they definitely held the safety car out there for too long. The start is a great element of the excitement of a grand prix and you didn’t get that at Silverstone.

JT – Nico Rosberg became embroiled in a battle with Max Verstappen who passed him after the first round of pit stops. Verstappen’s pass was impressive and delayed Rosberg’s progress. Rosberg finally gained second place back on lap 38 of 52. By then Hamilton was gone but Rosberg left Verstappen behind quickly and was gaining on his teammate until a gearbox issue arose. He couldn’t get drive in seventh gear and asked the team what he should do.

Unlike at the European Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton had electronics issues and the team informed him that they could not advise him on what to do because of F1’s ban on radio coaching, Mercedes told Nico what to do. It’s confusing because in one instance, they opted not to advise Hamilton for fear of a penalty but at Silverstone they did speak to Rosberg and must have known there would be a penalty. That’s what happened and Rosberg was demoted to third with a ten second penalty following the race. The radio ban and Mercedes’ decisions make no sense.

SJ – The whole thing, the radio ban, is a complete joke as far as I’m concerned. I hate to complain again but at least with IndyCar and NASCAR when they see something getting out of hand they nip it in the bud right away.  F1 creates these monstrously complex vehicles and then gets way down the road before they realize that what they’ve done is causing huge problems.

As I’ve said for the last three years, the multitude of complex settings and technical adjustments on the current cars’ steering wheels never should have been allowed – these insanely complicated differentials and gearbox settings and on and on.

Either you have radio communications or you don’t. With the complexity of these cars engineering was telling the drivers on every straight what settings to have for the next corner – which is ridiculous of course. So they then ban all kind of communication. Which effectively means that currently you can’t even tell a driver what to do even if there’s a technical fault on the car.

What does the radio ban have to do with advising a driver how to fix a fault? It’s not like Rosberg’s performance was going to be better than it was before the gearbox issue came up if the team told him how to resolve it, all it will do is allow him to finish the race.

In the case of Perez in Austria it was outrageous that they couldn’t tell a driver that his brakes were about to fail because of this radio ban. Imagine if that happened at Monaco coming out of the tunnel? There’s no logic to any of it.

Beyond that, if you allow the designers to make cars so complex that you have to tell a driver how to drive them during a race…. You’ve got to pull back and get back to basics, fast! What we have now is what I keep repeating – engineering porn. That’s all it is. The drivers don’t even understand half of it so how can the public?

There have been three races in a row – Baku, Austria and Silverstone - where there have been issues with the radio ban.

JT – This seems to be a good illustration of how irrational F1 is these days. Mercedes decides not to tell one driver what to do at Baku to avoid a penalty, then tells the other how to proceed at Silverstone and gets that penalty – a penalty which logically could have been awarded during the race. Why did the decision have to come after the race? The whole thing is nuts.

SJ – Yes totally. I can’t help myself, I get up at 5am every Sunday there’s a GP as I live in California, all excited for the race, get a nice cup of coffee and it starts and then I think, ‘why do I bother?’ You just sit there getting angry. It’s crazy.

I’m the biggest fan in the world. I love racing and I love F1. It’s my passion and I watch every race live and I just end up being frustrated because of the absurdity of what takes place. And if that’s what I’m thinking, I can only imagine what the casual fans think. You have to wonder.

There are so many strange things going on all the time with this subjective rule making that it’s very difficult not to get worked up about it. A good example is this nonsense going on with track limits and white lines. At Silverstone they said if you put four wheels over the line in three of the corners there was a penalty, no compromise. But in all the others it was ok? (The FIA proclaimed a “zero tolerance” policy for exceeding track limits in “certain corners” at Silverstone)

What is that? If you go over the white line anywhere, that should be it. If there’s a penalty for exceeding track limits then apply it to the entire track. In tennis the ball is out if it goes past any of the white lines. They don’t call the ball in if it crosses a white near the net or something. If it’s out, it’s out.

Why is there all this subjective judgment all the time in F1? If the rule is that you don’t exceed the white lines and you go over them then you should get a penalty – simple as that. The officials, not only in F1 for that matter, have gotten so used to these endless gray areas. It’s not the drivers’ fault. If they actually enforced that rule every time someone crossed a white line I guarantee you after two races no one would go over the line.

Make it a stop-and-go penalty for races or take away a lap time in qualifying or practice. And do it during the race or session, not afterwards. They have cameras around the tracks for that. It would be easy to monitor. And as a driver all you want to know is where you stand, black and white. For instance, you already know that if anyone crosses the white line leaving the pits they get penalized. Why shouldn’t it be the same on the race track? That’s the kind of consistency everybody wants.

JT – In the last blog we chatted about the difficulty of following F1 races via television coverage. We agreed it’s difficult to keep informed about what’s taking place in the race for different competitors while it’s in progress. Apparently we’re not alone in that view.

SJ – Yes, I spoke to a couple friends in England, two former F1 designers, after the race. They both agreed that it’s so confusing trying to follow the races live on TV. There’s barely any information on screen and the commentators are all busy yapping away about their own theories or whatever so they miss half the action.

I think there’s a lot more that could be done to make following the race on TV easier. You could present graphics on-screen that would make it easier to understand what various competitors were doing as it happened. That would spice up the coverage and make it a lot more interesting and intelligible for everyone.

Maybe you have graphics for what tire a given driver is on and how many stops he’s made. That gives you an idea of what strategy everyone is on. Pirelli has different color coding for the tires but the problem is you don’t see half the cars on screen during an entire broadcast or at least parts of it.

JT – Again, Max Verstappen’s performance was impressive. He out-qualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo and finished on the podium, ultimately in 2nd place while Ricciardo was 4th.

SJ – I think that everyone, including myself, who had doubts about him is being proved wrong. He’s doing an incredible job apart from that hiccup in Monaco which he seems to have learned from. But ever since he got into the Red Bull Verstappen’s been impressive to say the least. He’s super fast, his race craft is amazing and he’s probably one of the best overtakers in the field already. If he manages to pick the right teams going forward, there is a good chance he could smash every record there is in F1.

JT – Kimi Raikkonen was finally re-signed by Ferrari for 2017. Apparently, Sergio Marchionne wanted the deal to get done and they made it happen quickly. Some have suggested that his re-signing was in part spurred by Kimi’s willingness to be a number 2 driver at Ferrari. You don’t necessarily agree.

SJ – That’s possible but I think more than anything there’s a nice harmony in the team and a good relationship between the drivers. And I’m not so sure that Kimi will play number 2. Right now he’s third in the championship and Vettel is 5th. Ok, Vettel has maybe been faster in general but not all the time.

Had Kimi been in a position to win more often, I think all the effort would’ve gone behind him last year. I wouldn’t by any means count him out. Assuming Ferrari can provide a winning car for both drivers, I’m pretty sure Kimi will be a contender.

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s performance at Silverstone seemed a bit weak and it’s been that way for quite a few races now. I think they’re slipping back. Red Bull’s definitely making gains and their Renault engine is pretty close to everyone except Mercedes.

JT – As the race was the British Grand Prix, it’s even more appropriate to talk about the performance of Williams and McLaren which, to put it plainly, was lackluster at their home GP.

SJ – I think what Williams has done with their car shows they’ve must have taken a gamble in some areas and it’s obviously not working. I touched on it in the last blog but I also don’t think that the engine advantage they’ve had with the Mercedes power unit is what it was in the past.

Everyone’s closed the gap to a degree now so that makes it more difficult. Last year, their chassis looked better than maybe it was partly because they had a bigger advantage with Mercedes power. That’s no longer the case and now Red Bull, Toro Rosso and even McLaren are able to give them fits.

That’s what always happens when you have rules stability. It’s the best way to even out racing. Now for 2017 there will be wholesale rules changes yet again with more aero and bigger tires. It’s just going to lead to the same thing. Mercedes and the big teams will have a huge advantage. One of the mid-fielders will probably get it right and the rest will be nowhere.

I like the idea of the bigger tires for next year but they’re adding even more downforce and now the obsession is faster lap times. Who cares? The cars might go 10 mph faster and five to six seconds per lap quicker but the competition will be just the same because of the aerodynamics. The racing won’t change for the better. It’ll just be a bit faster and it will cost everyone a mountain of money to develop a new car.

No one will still be able to pass because of the aero. You saw that at Silverstone last weekend. All the commentators were going on about Verstappen not giving Rosberg an inch, etc. But you can’t get close enough to the car in front of you now, especially those medium speed corners where aero is so important. You get to a certain point on those straights at Silverstone and then in the corners the front of the car washes away as you get to close behind the guy ahead. It was the same story in Barcelona.

So through the corners you lose enough ground and when you exit them onto the Hangar Straight for example, you can’t get close enough to pass even with DRS. It’s the same for everybody and it was only when they encountered traffic and Verstappen also had dirty air to deal with that Rosberg got close enough to have a go. That’s how he got back by Verstappen.

With McLaren, I have a sneaky feeling that something’s going on because they’re talking a big game - Alonso and even Ron [Dennis]. I don’t see why they would do that unless they know something. I think they’ve definitely got something in the pipeline. I do believe they’ll eventually get back to the front because they have the resources and the people to do it.


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